Tall tales, little fibs, or flat out lies: how do you work with students who stretch the truth? While some adults might be inclined to tackle lying head on with confrontation, confident counselors know these situations may require more delicate footing. Let’s take a look at a few things to consider when faced with lying behavior.
Determine the Function of the Lie
Perhaps most important when working with students who lie is determining the function of the lie. Is your student lying to avoid punishment or is he lying to gain approval of adults or peers? Like all behavior, understanding the function of the lie will help us to forge the path ahead in working with the student.
Ask yourself, what happened before the lie? What was going on in the classroom or in the social context? Conduct a functional behavior analysis to gain insight into the context of the student’s behavior.
Students Who Lie to Avoid Punishment
If your functional behavior analysis reveals that the lying behavior serves to avoid punishment, consider the classroom and school-wide consequences. Are the consequences in place developmentally appropriate for the student? Does the student feel that the consequences are fair? This might also involve having a delicate conversation with other professionals about appropriate ways to react in these situations. If the student feels that an adult is over-reacting or reacting in a harsh manner, she may be lying to avoid encountering this type of response from the adult. Advocate for trauma-informed classroom training in your building if you suspect these practices are lacking.
Rules and Expectations
When working with the student, revisit school and classroom rules. Reteach rules and expectations, making sure that the student understands what is expected and the consequences in place for not meeting the expectations. Avoid power struggles over what is or is not true – this is never going to change the behavior!
Return to your FBA, and focus on teaching skills to manage the antecedent. For example, if the student lied about completing his homework in order to avoid punishment from the classroom teacher for not having his homework complete, focus on problem solving the incomplete homework. What barriers are preventing the student from completing homework? Does he need additional tutoring? Does he have the supplies he needs to complete the assignment? Guide the student through the problem solving process in order to eliminate the need for the lie altogether.
Role-playing being honest can help your student internalize how it sounds to tell the truth. Create a list of scenarios in which your student might be inclined to lie and work on role-playing together to help your student figure out a way to be honest that feels natural and comfortable to him.
Look for every opportunity to praise instances of telling the truth. Returning to the homework example, if your student shares that he lied because he didn’t do his homework and didn’t want the teacher to yell at him in front of the class, respond with gratitude, “Thank you for being honest with me about your homework. I know that can be hard to do sometimes. Let’s work together to figure out how you can get your homework done in the future.” Empower your student to eliminate his own need to lie in the future! Encourage classroom teachers and other faculty members the student encounters to follow suit by praising him for telling the truth and to avoid punishing him for being honest as well.
Students Who Lie to Gain Approval
If your FBA reveals that your student is lying to gain approval from peers or adults, work on perspective-taking with your student. Help the student consider how her peers feel when they learn that she lied to them. Explore instances when someone has lied to her and help her to process how she felt in that moment to expand her perspective of her peers’ reactions.
Work with your student to create a plan for rebuilding trust with her peers or the adults she’s lied to. Help her to identify specific situations she might encounter in which she can be honest. For your student, this might look like an open discussion with an apology or it might simply be a plan for what facts she is willing to share when given the opportunity.
If your student thrives on the tall tales she creates, give her an outlet! Provide your student with a journal that she can record her stories or tales in rather than misleading others. Empower her to create a fictional world that is just for her. You might even help your student learn more about fiction authors to help her see how her love for creating fictional stories could turn into a future career!
Opportunities for Approval
If your student is desiring approval but going about it in all the wrong ways, create a system that allows the student to receive the approval she desires in an appropriate way. Set up a check-in/check-out system, find meaningful tasks for the student in the classroom or school, find a mentor for the student, or let the student fill a leadership role.
Work on improving your student’s self concept and self esteem so that she feels confident in who she is! Help her to build confidence and find comfort in her own skin so that she can find approval from within.
Recognize that the lying behavior might effectively serve the student in some area of his life. Perhaps the student lies to avoid punishment at home because the punishment truly is not appropriate. Or maybe your student does not feel accepted in certain areas of her life and will do or say just about anything to feel validated by peers or adults. As always, take a look at your student as a whole person with experiences and needs to develop a compassionate view that with help you to positively forge a path to effective behavior intervention.