Is She Lying or Does She Really Believe What She is Saying?
A 4-step way to help young people calm down and process perceptions effectively.
Posted Sep 15, 2019
Since 1991, Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) has been offered as a professional training program for educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, youth workers, and other professionals working with challenging children and adolescents. In recent years, the LSCI Institute has worked to translate its trauma-informed, brain-based, relationship-building concepts to the need of parents and caregivers.
In an excerpt from the LSCI Institute's new book, Parenting the Challenging Child: The 4-Step Way to Turn Problem Situations Into Learning Opportunities, readers “listen in on” a conversation between a mother and daughter in which the mother uses LSCI’s consistent, step-by-step verbal framework to help her daughter begin to understand and alter a self-defeating behavior.
Excerpt from Chapter 6: THE REALITY CHECK INTERVENTION: Clarifying Perceptions of Reality
Devon did not complete her weekly chores and therefore is not allowed to attend a sleepover at her friend’s house on Friday night. Though she received daily reminders from her mother and is bright enough to understand that she did not meet her weekly responsibilities, she is furious with her mother for enforcing the no-sleepover consequence. Devon screams at her mother:
- “You never let me do anything.”
- "You are so unfair! I hate you.”
- “You just didn’t want me to sleepover at Kelly’s and that’s why you’re making this whole thing up.”
Devon’s heartfelt belief is that her mother set her up for failure.
Devon’s mother couldn’t believe her ears. She didn’t know if she should scream back at her daughter for lying, punish her for her disrespect, or take her to the doctor to have her head examined for the way she was perceiving the incident. “How can she possibly twist this into being my fault?” the mother wondered aloud.
There are times when the way our kids view a situation is just so different from how we view it that we wonder if we are even talking about the same thing. In these instances, it’s tempting to conclude that our child is just being difficult or worse, is outright lying. Without a doubt, there are times when people (of all ages) purposely bend the truth in order to avoid getting in trouble. However, it is also certain that people perceive differently. Stress, anxiety, anger, and fear of failure are just a few of the reasons why young people tend to get stuck—and stay stuck—in rigid patterns of perceiving the world.
LSCI's Reality Check intervention is designed to be used with young people who misperceive reality when their emotions unduly influence the way they interpret situations. This common self-defeating pattern of behavior is a major cause of conflict between adults and kids and can pose a significant challenge to healthy relationships. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in helping their kids consider new ways of thinking about problem situations and overcoming the tendency to let emotion color their reality.
The Reality Check approach works because:
- It allows a young person’s version of events to be put into words and acknowledged by a caring adult.
- The very act of talking about the event helps kids gain clarity on things like cause and effect, actions and consequences.
- Dialoguing with a caring adult helps kids begin to understand that there may be more than one way to perceive an event.
- The experience of realizing that people perceive differently opens kids up to considering alternate perspectives in future situations.
Bottom line: While a young person’s perception of an event may be wrong, it does parents no good to say this in the heat of the moment or to refuse to listen to a child's version of reality. At best, shutting down conversation misses the opportunity to help a young person develop skills to consider new ways of perceiving. At worst, refusing to listen to your child’s point of view makes her feel worthless and causes damage to the parent-child relationship in the long-term.
Using the 4-Step LSCI Process With Devon and Her Mother
Below, we offer you an example of what an LSCI Reality Check intervention between Devon and her mother could sound like, using our 4-step process. Note that there is no official “script” to an LSCI intervention. Your conversation with your child does not have to sound precisely like our example. We encourage you to learn from the structure and the key phrases we use, but to always maintain your own authenticity in your interactions with your child.
Step 1: Use the skills of Drain Off to de-escalate the intensity of Devon's emotions.
Your first priority is to drain off the intensity of your child’s intense feelings. Be sure to maintain your own calm and composure, as the steadiness of your demeanor can have a soothing effect on your child’s emotional state.
Devon: (Yelling) You just don’t want me to sleepover at Kelly’s. That’s what this is about.
Mom: (Sits down in a chair to try to bring down the level of tension in the room. Uses a steady voice & makes direct but gentle eye contact) You think I want to ruin your fun.
Devon: (Still pacing) Yeah, this is so completely unfair!
Mom: You are angry because you feel like you aren’t being treated fairly.
Devon: I’m not! You never let me do anything.
Mom: I can see that you are really disappointed right now and really upset with me. Having to cancel plans with friends never feels good.
Devon: Well, we don’t have to cancel the plans then! You can just let me go like you said I could on Monday!
Mom: You are right that we did talk on Monday about you sleeping over at Kelly’s.
Devon: Yeah, and you said I could do it and now you’re taking it back. You’re such a liar!
Mom: (Feels her face get red and hot. Feels angry at being called a "liar" by her daughter. Takes a slow, deep breath to keep herself from reacting angrily) Calling me a "liar" is not going to help us figure this out. Let’s see if we can sit here together and try to talk about the sleepover in a respectful way. Are you willing to do that?
Devon: (Stops pacing. Throws herself into the sofa with her back turned to her mother.) Fine.
Mom: Thank you.
Step 2: Use Timeline skills to help Devon put language to her emotions.
Once Devon’s intense emotions are thoroughly drained off, use Timeline skills to help her put words to her feelings and begin to engage the problem-solving part of her brain. To be effective, the Timeline step must be carried out in a non-judgmental way. The Timeline is not about proving that your perception is right and the child’s way of perceiving is wrong. Rather, it is about helping the child clarify her perceptions of what happened and consider alternate conclusions.
Mom: You are absolutely right that on Monday when you asked me if you could sleepover at Kelly’s house this weekend that I said that you could go.
Devon: See! You admit it. You said I could and now you won’t let me. You’re being unfair!
Mom: I did say that you could, you’re correct. (Pauses briefly.) Do you remember what else I said when you asked me about the sleepover?
Devon: Yeah, you said that I had to be home in time to get ready for my soccer game on Saturday.
Mom: Right, we talked about you needing to get home, eat lunch and change before your soccer game. I’m glad you remembered that detail. Do you remember what else we talked about?
Devon: I don’t know.
Mom: Before we talked about soccer, I told you that the clothes on your floor would have to be picked up and that you needed to vacuum your room. Does that sound familiar?
Devon: (Insistent) Well yeah, but I didn’t know I had to do those things before I slept over. Why can’t I just do it when I get home from Kelly’s? It’s my room!
Mom: It is your room—I won’t argue with you about that. And most of the time, I let you keep it the way you want. But our family rule has always been that once a week, you and your brother have to pick up all of the stuff that you leave on the floor and make sure that your room is vacuumed. This is not a new rule.
Devon: (Sensing a loophole in the family rule) But why do I have to do it before I go to Kelly’s? You’re just trying to make it so that I can’t sleepover at her house! We already figured out plans for what we’re going to do tonight and Kelly is going to be so mad. You are ruining her night too!
Mom: In your mind, I am the cause of the problem you are having. I have a—
Devon: (Interrupts) You are the cause of my problem! You are the cause of Kelly’s problem too!
Mom: I have a different way of thinking about this situation. Can we look at something together for a minute? I need you to help me make sure that I am remembering this week accurately. Sometimes I get busy and forget things so I want to make sure that didn’t happen.
Devon: Sure. I think you probably are forgetting something! Like, that you said I could sleepover.
Mom: It’s possible that I did forget something. Let’s see if we can figure this out together. (Draws a quick diagram of the Conflict Cycle on a piece of paper, starting with the circle at the top, which represents the stressful event.) OK, so, can we agree that on Monday, you asked me if you could sleepover at Kelly’s house this Friday night?
Devon: Yes. And you said that I could.
Mom: Right. What else did I say? (Fills in the Conflict Cycle as details are discussed.)
Devon: You said my chores had to be done.
Mom: Right. And what did you say?
Devon: I said “OK, great!” And I was super excited so I texted Kelly to tell her that I could sleepover.
Mom: I’m glad we are in agreement so far. This is helpful to me. So, did you clean your room right away?
Devon: No, I never clean it on Mondays!
Mom: Ahhhhh, ok. Maybe you were thinking you still had plenty of time to get it done before the sleepover?
Devon: I wasn’t actually thinking about it at all. I was just excited about the sleepover.
Mom: I can understand that. I used to love sleepovers too and remember looking forward to them all week.
Devon: It’s all we talked about at school all week long.
Mom: So, the sleepover was on your mind all week. I did notice you were in a really good mood every day after school, which I love seeing. On Wednesday night, I reminded you that your room needed to be picked up and vacuumed before the sleepover. Do you remember me telling you that?
Devon: Yeah—you almost came into my room when I was getting dressed for soccer.
Mom: That’s right. I was about to walk in but you told me to stop. I just reminded you from the doorway. Do you remember what you said?
Devon: I think I just said, “I will!”
Mom: That’s what I remember too. Did you clean your room that night?
Devon: No, I was busy with soccer practice.
Mom: OK. Do you remember thinking about when you would have time to do your chores?
Devon: Not really. I wasn’t thinking about it. I was thinking about soccer and school stuff.
Mom: OK, I see. You were thinking about the things you had going on that night and weren’t paying as much attention to things that would need to be done later in the week.
Devon: I guess.
Mom: Do you remember what you were thinking last night when I reminded you again?
Devon: I was in the middle of packing for Kelly’s. I think I thought I’d just put everything from my floor into my overnight bag, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning the floor.
Mom: (Laughs.) That’s definitely one way to get clothing off of your floor. I might have done the same thing a time or two when I was your age.
Devon: (Smiles at her mother)
Mom: So, you did have a strategy for getting that part of your chore done. Did you have a strategy for vacuuming?
Devon: Not really. I wasn’t thinking about that part.
Mom: That part of the chore slipped your mind.
Devon: I guess. I mean I do it every week so I sort of think about it by habit but I don’t know—I think the time just sort of flew by this week and I forgot.
Mom: The time flew by this week for me too. I can understand forgetting. (Looks back at the paper with the notes she has written from the Conflict Cycle. Points at each item to summarize what they have discussed so far). So, let me just make sure I’m not forgetting anything here: we agree that on Monday you asked me if you could have a sleepover at Kelly’s. I said you could as long as your chores were done. You said “OK” to this and were feeling really excited. You had a busy week and were focused on things like the sleepover, soccer, and schoolwork. You said that you weren’t thinking about your household chores. I realized this was probably the case, so I gave you a few reminders about getting your chores done before the sleepover. You remember me doing this but also remember being busy at the time. Is that all correct so far?
Mom: Am I forgetting anything up to this point?
Devon: I don’t think so.
Mom: Good. OK, so now it’s Friday and you are wanting me to drive you to Kelly’s. I told you that since your chore never got finished, the sleepover could not happen. Now, you are feeling really angry at me about this and have been telling me that I am the cause of your problem. You said that you think I just don’t want you to sleepover at Kelly’s.
Devon: Exactly. You don’t! You’re just trying to make it so that I can’t sleepover at her house!
Mom: In your mind, this is my fault.
Devon: It is. You are ruining my night and Kelly’s night too!
Mom: Devon, I understand that you were really counting on the sleepover. I feel badly that Kelly’s night is going to be affected by this and I feel bad for you too because I know how much you want to go. Nevertheless, the rule I gave you was that your room had to be clean before the sleepover.
Devon: If you really felt bad, you’d change the rule and let me go!
Step 3: Understand the problem—recognize the misperception of reality.
Once Devon’s perception of the situation has been clarified using Step 2, it is time to shift your focus from information gathering to understanding the problem. In Step 3, your goal is to clarify Devon's perception of reality, while at the same time, helping her consider that alternate perceptions also exist. In shedding light on multiple points of view, you help a child understand that people perceive differently and that being willing to consider someone else’s point of view is a critical part of resolving conflict.
Mom: To be honest with you, Devon, it would be easy for me to change the rule. You would get to have your sleepover and I wouldn’t have my daughter being so angry. We might both even feel better in a way.
Devon: Exactly. So, change the rule!
Mom: The thing is, you are focusing only on the privilege you want to have and disregarding the responsibility you need to carry out in order to earn the privilege.
Devon: (Pauses) So?
Mom: So, I can totally understand where you are coming from that you want me to change the rule in order for you to have your privilege.
Devon: Awesome! So, I can go?
Mom: I’m wondering if there is a part of you that can understand where I am coming from when I remind you that you earn privileges, such as sleeping over at Kelly’s, by carrying out responsibilities.
Devon: I do understand that but I just don’t understand why you can’t make an exception to the rule this one time.
Mom: (Feels her anger rising once again as her daughter persists and persists. Takes another deep breath and exhales slowly.) Devon, I admire your persistence. It will suit you well someday if you want to be a lawyer. In this case, though, you are not arguing for justice; you are arguing to get your way in a situation even when you know you have not held up your responsibility. I’m not asking you to be happy about my decision but I am asking you to consider that your actions played a role in my decision and I am not just cancelling the sleepover to be mean or because I’m out to get you. Does that make sense?
Devon: Fine. I get it. I didn’t finish cleaning my room when I was supposed to. I’m sorry!
Mom: Thank you for the apology. I am glad we could talk about this together without fighting. I appreciate your willingness to try to understand where I’m coming from.
Step 4: Teach your child new skills for perceiving situations from multiple perspectives.
Step 4 is a skill-building stage. Here, rather than punishing Devon for her way of perceiving reality, the parent has the opportunity to teach her the skills she needs to consider alternate points of view in future conflict situations. In a Reality Check situation, teaching kids skills to consider alternate ways of perceiving reality is essential.
Devon: If I finish cleaning it now, can I still go?
Mom: The sleepover is canceled for tonight. If you are invited again and you have your chores done in time, you can go then.
Devon: Fine. (Gets up to leave the room)
Mom: Devon, on Monday when you asked me about the sleepover, I told you the rules. Then, I reminded you two other times this week.
Devon: I know! Don’t rub it in.
Mom: I’m sorry for the way that sounded. I’m not trying to rub anything in. What I want to know is, how can I help you stay organized with things like chores, homework, and other responsibilities, even when you are busy with school and soccer? Would it help for me to put deadlines on the calendar in the kitchen?
Devon: I don’t think so. I never really look at that calendar. (Pauses). Maybe I could set reminders on my phone.
Mom: That’s a great idea. You always have your phone with you so that sounds like a really good way to remind yourself of what needs to be done. Can I help in any other way?
Devon: Maybe you could write down any of the chores I have to do and give me the list at the beginning of the week. Then, I can put them on my phone.
Mom: That sounds like a really solid plan. I’m willing to help you stay organized and keep up with your responsibilities. I’m on your side and want you to be able to enjoy privileges like sleepovers. I also need you to know that it’s up to you to complete the responsibilities and live with the consequences of not completing them.
Devon: Well, I’m definitely learning that right now. I have to go text Kelly.
Mom: Okay. Thank you again for talking this through with me.
Devon’s mother skillfully navigated the waters of this potentially explosive conflict with her daughter, using the Reality Check intervention to turn Devon’s one-sided perception of events into a skill-building opportunity. The mother was particularly effective in maintaining her composure throughout the conversation, using self-calming skills whenever she began to feel herself reacting emotionally to Devon’s name-calling, accusations, and insistence on her own version of the truth.
Sometimes, after using an intervention like the Reality Check and helping kids gain new insights, parents may want to reward their children for taking part in the feel-good conversation. While we would never argue against the feeling of goodwill with your child, we applaud the way Devon’s mother held fast to the consequence of losing the sleepover while still teaching Devon how to avoid the loss of privilege in the future.
Will Using the 4-Step Process Prevent All Future Misperceptions of Reality?
Realistically, one Reality Check intervention is not going to radically change a child’s life or ensure that a young person never interprets events differently from you again. Learning how to view the world from someone else's shoes is a process for all of us. Each time the systematic LSCI approach is used, kids gain additional insights into their patterns of thinking and greater control over their emotions because the 4-steps offer kids these benefits:
- The experience of putting their feelings into words and feeling heard, understood, and valued
- Understanding that alternate perceptions of reality can co-exist
- New skills to better manage differences in perception in future situations
Parents and caregivers who use the 4-step process with kids in a Reality Check situation should not expect to never have to discuss alternate perceptions again; both in school and in life, young people learn through repetition and practice. Thus, with consistency and opportunities to test out their new skills, young people benefit each time the Reality Check approach is used. Over time, using the Reality Check intervention reduces the need to re-use the Reality Check intervention in the future. You’ll know that consistency has paid off when your child begins to examine is or her own set of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during stressful situations and reduces instances of no-win Conflict Cycles.
Click here to learn more about how to use LSCI skills with children who exhibit challenging behaviors.
Whitson, S. (2019). Parenting the Challenging Child: The 4-Step Way to Turn Problem Situations Into Learning Opportunities. Hagerstown, Md: The LSCI Institute.