Even though we are heading towards the end of spring and the weather is heating up, I have been thinking about how sometimes I freeze. Not because I am cold, but because I am frozen with fear. As in fight, flight, and freeze. I also recently read about another new F – fib, which I think is a great insight.
As parents of 2e kids, it is important to recognize when our kids’ behaviors are motivated by fear and anxiety. It is also equally important that we recognize our own triggers and understand which of the four F’s we may default to in times of stress.
Fight or flight makes a good deal of sense. When facing danger, our bodies surge with adrenaline so that we have the fuel to fight the danger or escape it. Many of our kids can be exquisitely hypersensitive, causing them to perceive ordinary, small challenges as extreme situations that elicit extraordinarily big reactions. This is a familiar scenario for many parents of 2e kiddos. Perhaps you deny their request for some cookies right before dinner and suddenly they start throwing the cutlery you just set on the table. Maybe they are working on a puzzle and upon discovering that a piece is missing, they burst into tears. Or maybe their teacher notifies the students that she is assigning a writing project and your child darts out of class to hide in the bathroom. I imagine at one point or another, your 2e child has had these types of reactions.
Then, there are freeze and fib, two other coping strategies people may adopt when they feel threatened. I have come to realize that I often freeze when I am presented with situations that I perceive as dangerous. I may freeze because I think someone is judging me or speaking to me in a harsh tone of voice. I may also freeze at times when I feel the need to defend myself or my decision-making. Whatever the specifics of the situation, in those moments I feel like I am in real danger, like a squirrel hiding, frozen, on the tree trunk when it sees the hawk swoop down for a meal.
Recently I have been paying more attention to the fact that I do this and it has given me some insight into how this can be a coping strategy for our kids as well. While some kids are more prone to explosions, others can freeze, and like the squirrel, they hide in plain sight. This can look like a student who doesn’t raise their hand when the teacher asks if anyone has a question, even though they are totally confused by the instructions. Or the kid who ignores homework assignments because they believe they cannot do the work perfectly. Or maybe it’s the child who can only say “I don’t know” when they are asked to explain why they did something.
I can also understand why a kid might choose to fib when they feel threatened. My parents always conveyed to me the importance of being honest, even when it was difficult, and that is a value I have passed on to my children. Yet there are times from my childhood when I recalled fibbing, lying, bending the truth or committing the sin of omission because I was paralyzed with fear that if I told the truth – about not understanding something or somehow demonstrating that I was less than perfect – the consequences would be catastrophic.
I have seen this with 2e kiddos as well. They may feel safer hiding behind a lie than admitting they got something wrong, didn’t understand something or actually failed in some way. Sometimes, they do not even realize they are telling a lie. For example, they may agree with a friend about how much they love a video game, when in reality they know virtually nothing about it. They state they know how to play tennis when they have only spent five minutes on a court. For our kids, it may be a fear of not fitting in, a fear of not knowing, not being good at something or not being good enough. As a parent, it can be so frustrating to see our kids telling such obvious lies. Yet it is important to ask ourselves, what are they so scared of that they resort to lying? What feelings are they having that are motivating them to act disingenuously? I believe most children want to please their parents and be successful, and when they realize they are falling short of expectations, including their own, they mistakenly believe that telling the truth is dangerous and lying feels safer.
So the next time your kid lies to you, ask yourself, what must they be feeling right now? Think about what motivates you to lie. It can seem like a convenient form of self-protection. If your kid is lying, it is likely that they feel endangered. Instead of asking them why they lied, ask them what’s going on, or try to let them know you understand they must feel afraid, and that it is ok to trust you with the truth. The sooner they learn it is better to admit to being wrong, making mistakes and even behaving badly, the sooner they can learn to accept themselves and be honest. And so can we.