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What to Do when You Catch a Child Lying

by Deborah Cruz

Do you know what to do when you catch a child lying? How do you handle it? Do you call them out? Do you go along with the lie? Does it depend on the circumstances? The age of the child? Or do you have a strict zero-tolerance policy for lies? If you would have asked me before I had children, I would have said I have no tolerance but life is seldom so black and white.

My daughter has a friend; she’s bright, funny, kind and caring. However, she is a compulsive liar. These lies of hers are not even told maliciously. To be honest, I’m not sure that she even knows what the truth is anymore.

For the longest time, I just listened (as you do to toddlers when they tell you tall tales). I shake my head in agreement and throw in the occasional, “WOW”, to let her know that I’m engaged in her story. But lately, they’ve become so obviously embellished that I realized that pretending to accept these tall tales is not helping her but encouraging the behavior. She’s not my child so what do I do?

I can’t very well have an awkward conversation with her mom telling her that her child is a proficient and avid liar. I’m pretty sure that would go over like a lead balloon. I get it. We mama bears, we don’t want to hear crazy talk from other kids’ moms.

The problem is that they are not toddlers so the other kids are figuring out that she might just be exaggerating in her storytelling. Honestly, these are not small exaggerations they are refutable, fact-checkable lies that she tells with a straight face and is convinced they are the truth or at least wants to convince us that they are.

For example, she told me that a couple weeks ago she was at Walt Disney World with her family when they were riding the “Tower of Terror” when the roller coaster went upside down and they were stuck for hours but were eventually rescued when firefighters arrived and told them to all unbuckle their seat belts and fall to safety. Can you spot the falsehoods in that statement? I can. There are actually so many that I think my mouth may have actually fallen agape while she was telling me the story. Obviously, I could easily Google all of this and know that none of this happened. I’m pretty sure something like this would have made the national news.

The other teens were audibly laughing at the lies because they were so obvious. I could see that she was getting embarrassed by the whisper snickering (that I was adamantly reprimanding on the down low). Still, she continued on. She dug in.

I wasn’t sure what to do but there was no way I was letting this kid go down in flames like this. These sorts of things can really damage a kid’s self-confidence.

But who really knows what to do when you catch a child lying?

She continued on with her stories. She was talking about her IQ of 194 and how she’s enrolled in classes at Harvard for homeschool. She said that she could go to medical school now but she’s not ready to do the residency, “and live with a mentor doctor”. Then, she told the other girls that she spoke 4 languages. This was her fatal flaw because she said 2 of the languages were 2 languages that I actually speak.

My youngest daughter said, “Oh, my mom speaks Italian and French. Say something to her.”

The girl spat out a line of gibberish with o’s at the end of it, really fast. I did not say anything because we were on our way to dinner and I didn’t want to make it my business to embarrass this kid in front of the other teens. But she kept saying gibberish to me as if she were demanding an answer. Finally, I whispered to her, “I don’t know what language you are speaking but those are not any words that I recognize.” I felt terrible but what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t play along, that would only encourage more lying.

Then, she continued on talking about her IQ and telling us how smart she is. Now, believe me when I tell you that this girl is very intelligent. She is obviously lacking in common sense and very naïve but I’m not sure where this need to lie originates from.

My guess, from knowing her since she was a small child, is that it must be some sort of cry for attention. I think she feels like she needs to impress other people and she feels that what she is is not enough. The thing is if you knew this kid, she is very impressive. She is very intelligent and very well-rounded and cultured.

I tried to shift the focus to her real strengths to try and make her see that she is more than good enough. I didn’t dwell on the exaggerations. I also didn’t call her out. I moved on to the strengths she has that I know for a fact she possesses. I even commiserated with her to give her credit. She knew enough to tell me that anything over 140 is a genius. I know this because, not to brag…well, maybe a little, mine is 147. So we high fived for being in the genius club (me just barely but still, it counts) and I listened intently while she explained that she was taking classes at Harvard, even though I am pretty sure that is not true. I asked if they were AP courses. I asked non-threatening questions that made her seem less crazy and more forgetful.

Maybe I shouldn’t have but, like I said, I think her exaggerations are committed out of a need to impress her friends and less out of a desire to try to dupe anyone. But it needs to stop before some stranger kid decides laughing at her to her face is ok. Some kid is going to call her out to her face and she is going to feel ridiculous and I don’t want that for her. That’s why I kindly, whispered that I did not recognize any of the words coming out of her face to be any of the languages that I spoke.

I thought raising teens was going to have its challenges but I had no idea that I’d find myself in the position where I had to worry about the egos of other people’s children. Yet, I do constantly. I don’t want any part of breaking anyone.

I remember my own brokenness started from a blow that began the crack when I was 12.

“Mija, you need to run more.”

Those 6 words set me on a path of self-destruction at almost killed me. The brain likes to twist and bend things at that age. Our mind is like a funhouse mirror complicated by hormones and insecurity. As a mom, it’s my job to guide the girls through this horror show with minimal damage but when something does hurt them, I make it my business to try to be the glue rather than the hammer.

This is what to do when you catch a child lying.


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