If your kid tells you a story about something that happened at your co-parent’s home, it can be easy to react quickly. You can call up your attorney, file a pleading with the court, and start costly litigation seeking to modify your existing order or seeking to hold your co-parent in contempt. But how do you know if what you are hearing is true? The reality is . . . you don’t.
A story told by a child should be carefully evaluated before you react. Children tell the truth in many circumstances. They also lie. Before you tell me that your child is “always honest” and “never lies”, remember that lying is a normal behavior for children and it doesn’t mean your child is necessarily being naughty. Children lie when they are uncomfortable, unsure, or want attention. This means that your child may lie if he senses that telling the truth will cause you to be upset. In the alternative he could lie to upset you because you give special attention to lies about your co-parent. In addition, children are not necessarily accurate storytellers even when they intend to tell the truth. They lack the experience and perspective to properly evaluate what happened in all circumstances. The untrue story your child tells could be the result of misunderstanding what he saw or heard.
Children are also well known to try lying as a mechanism to obtain a specific result. While this is more intentional behavior, it is also quite normal even in intact families. Children will play one parent off the other to see if they can do or acquire something they want. Co-parents in separate households need to be careful not to fall into this trap. Not only will your child learn that lying is a good way to get something desired, your co-parenting relationship can also be damaged when a child is automatically believed.
If you hear a story from your child that is potentially upsetting, your first step should be to ask questions. While children almost universally try out lying, they are often bad at it. If the story you are hearing does not hold up well when additional details are sought, approach it with caution. If you have questions about the story you are hearing, approach your co-parent to discuss it without judgment. There is a big difference in a conversation that begins with an accusation and one which begins with information sharing and a request to discuss. Ultimately if your child is trying out lying as a way to solve his problems, both parents should be aware and should discuss the best and most effective way to handle the situation in both homes.