Monday, August 27, 2012

White Lies or Story Embellishment: Is there a Difference to a Child Who Lies?

by John and Diane.  
It can take a lengthy conversation to get to the truth.

Dealing with a child that lies is always difficult and this is a topic we have covered often on our blog within numerous postings on RAD as well as in the recent post, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: The Three Kinds of Liars and How to Stop Them .

There are many types of lying and one type we never really talked about was “white lies.” Often seen as harmless amongst adults, and manageable with most kids, when working with foster kids or kids who have a complex history with lying and manipulation, such as RAD kids, impulsive kids like those with ADD or ADHD or any number of other issues, white lies, story-embellishing, or “telling stories” cannot be ignored. 
Children who cannot differentiate between right and wrong or who tend to “follow the crowd” leave no room for gray areas like “white lies” and therefore must be confronted and the untruths must be brought to light in what might seem like a harsh way to avoid later chronic behavior.
Below is a question from a parent that illustrates this point.
Q: I have a foster child who habitually lies to cover up bad behavior like stealing. He is now using imagination to embellish stories about things that happen at school or at home. They seem harmless and seem to be done just to make the stories more entertaining, yet the other kids tell me the stories aren’t true. Is this a problem?
A: John: Foster Parent Rescue:
Yes, I am sorry to tell you this, but using his imagination to embellish stories is harmful.
Just think of it, if a child finds that he or she can lie and get away with stealing or doing something wrong, they will continue the behavior right?  They got something for their work and they may even feel good inside because they were able to pull it off. They are empowered.  Now that is a fact we all can agree on. 
The same holds true for the feeling they get from embellishing a story. They make up facts (lie) and get away with it, the extra attention they get from it makes them feel good, and so they get the pay-off for the behavior. This reaffirms the behavior and then it continues and becomes a habit. (Case in point: Casey Anthony.)
The other problem with story embellishers is that when one child embellishes a story, he or she overshadows other children in the home who do not embellish stories and tell the truth. That child “steals” the spotlight and the attention from the truthful children and if not confronted, teaches (by example) the other children that lying to get attention is a successful method that they, too, can use.
Here is an example:
Tom came home and said “I played football today and made a touchdown for our team!”  Now, you are making dinner and you look up at him, stop what you’re doing, and say “Good job honey you have to tell your dad when he gets home!”  You may even give him a treat for being so good in football. The truth of the matter is that he never even played the game and didn’t even have gym today.  Wow. 
This actually happened to me with one of my foster boys.
So, look what he got for his embellishments. First he got your attention. Then he got your praise and even a treat for the story. He is empowered so in his mind is it a lie or and embellishment or “white lie?” It’s the same thing to him. He does not know the difference. Do you?
If you said you do and you think there is, your wrong! There is no difference.  until you figure that out the child has no chance to learn what is right and wrong.
You are sending him or her a mix message of how the world works. They are too young to understand the gray areas of life, so keep it simple, black and white, yes or no.  After they have mastered that, what a lie is, then you can tell them about “white lies” people tell and why.
How To Deal With The Embellisher
If you think it was an embellished story, just come out and ask him or her if the story is true or made up.   If they tell you that some of it is true, but some is made up, this child probably will be ok.  They know they are using their imagination and are not consciously trying to be deceitful.
If they tell you its all true and another child is shaking his head “no” take the other child into another room and find out the true story.
Then come back and ask the storyteller to tell the story again, but this time ask questions and look for the mistakes. It’s hard to tell the same lies twice and point them out.   If you can get them to admit to the lie now, you are on your way but sometimes you may have to bring in the other child to help.
 Now if it’s a older child it would be safe to do, if it is a younger child, maybe not, because you don’t need a fight between them later.
Now when he tells you the true story, thank him for it and tell him that it is a good story to.  Smile and tell them it is always better not to lie or they will teach you not to listen to them any more! Let them know that you always love hearing the truth.

·  Religious Intervention
As a Christian household, we talk a lot about God and so I can use God to help talk about lying and stealing along with my other methods for dealing with the lying behavior. When faced with this situation I sat my boys down and talked to them about sin and lying.
I tell them what sin is.  Most kids don’t understand it’s lying to God and telling him untrue things makes God not believe in them.
 So, I ask them,  “why would God want you in heaven? I don’t think it would be called heaven if you could lie there and get away with it.”
 “When I say to God I am going to do something, and I don’t do it I have sinned or lied to him.  If I steal something but no one sees me and I got away with it, it’s really only on the earth I have.  God knows I stole and so it was from him I have stolen it.”
“Now if I never try to change, he will know this, but if I ask for forgiveness and stop what I am doing, he will always forgive me and then he will trust me and take me home or let me go to heaven with him.”
“ I do forgive you for the lies you have told me and if you stop lying this home will be yours until you don’t need it anymore.” 

Please see the other blog post on lying mentioned at the beginning of this article for more ways of dealing with kids who lie.
As always, your comments and thoughts are appreciated. 

Image: flickr: 
Attribution Some rights reserved by Katatonic28


  1. Yes. It is definitely important to remember that a lie is a lie, just like popcorn is popcorn, rather it is with butter or sugar or caramel.
    When I was a young girl I was a big time embellisher. I enjoyed the attention because it made me feel stronger. I was always too small for my age and felt somewhat transparent, so embellishing gave me a sense of being "part of the crowd". It is good not to ignore such white lies.

    1. Thanks for your comment Gabriela, yes, you are right, there are so many reasons kids embellish stories, and it can't be ignored. Once addressed though, it can lead to good insights about what is going on in the child's social life and gives the parent and child an opportunity to come up with ideas to cope with those issues in more positive ways.

  2. Hi there! I found you on the Blog Hop and am now following you :) I'd love a follow back at and Pinterest! I follow back all my Pinterest followers!

  3. I was also a massive embellisher (and liar) when I was younger. I wanted the kids at school to like me more so I lied and embellished everything, I also lied to my parents so I could get my own way. I think I just grew out of it eventually, but I don't think I was particularly happy when I was a kid, I had a lot of personal issues. I think communication and truth would have gone a long way.
    I am hosting a blog hop today over at my blog :-)

  4. I have an 8 year old foster child who has a history of molestation and being locked in her bedroom for long periods of time. She lies and embellishes, and steals money from us. She also goes through the other children's things and takes their property also. I have talked with her about God, and right and wrong, and i have tried asking her why she feels like she has to be this way at my home, we love her and treat her no differently than the other children. But nothing I say or do is working with her. She has also been in therapy and that is not working either. I need help. It has gotten somewhat worse, I caught her blowing bubbles into my fish tank and told her not to do that because it could kill my fish, but then two days later I caught her trying to put toothpaste in my fish tank, kind of like she doesn't care that she could kill my pets. What can I do?

    1. Hi there, thanks for writing. Dealing with kids with attachment disorders or RAD is very difficult. Do you have house rules in place? (see ) That would be a good place to start. I would also suggest reading through some of our other RAD or attachement disorder blog posts like building trust ( Start there. Let me think more on the other things...

  5. just no matter how good your intention when lying, but don't forget that it's still a lie, you'll pay for it