Differences between Children who Exaggerate and those who Lie

“I kicked that ball from here all the way to Grandma’s house!”

“No, I did not hit the ball through that window. It was Johnny!”

The first speaker (Timmy) has just kicked the ball a long way – probably farther than he has every kicked it before – and he wants to draw attention to his accomplishment.

There is no possible way that a 5-year-old can kick a football to Grandma’s house more than 100 yards from where he is standing. But he kicked the ball far and he is excited, so he is exaggerating the distance a little bit when describing what he has done.

Speaker Number Two (Greg) has just broken a window with a ball he was probably not supposed to be playing with – and he is trying to deflect attention away from what he has done by blaming someone else.

If Johnny is strong enough to prove that he is not the person who hit the ball through the window, then he will not be punished unfairly. Instead, Greg will be punished for breaking the window – and for lying.

This is an example of the major difference between children who exaggerate and those who lie: the exaggerators want someone to know what they have done; the liars are trying to keep someone (perhaps everyone) from finding out.

Although the look is not always the same, the faces of kids who are exaggerating and lying are usually different, too.

Someone who exaggerates will have wide eyes and probably a smile, because he or she is excited and proud.

The person who is lying will almost certainly have a serious face, since he or she is trying to convince someone about an event that didn’t really happen. The phrase “I’m serious,” may even be part of the presentation.

One thing that exaggerators and liars have in common is that they both have a purpose.

For instance, if a young man tells you he ate 75 jelly beans, he’s not trying to make you focus on that number – it’s just one he picked out. He probably doesn’t believe he ate that many, either. He is just trying to make sure you know he ate a lot of them.

But the one who tells you he has already brushed his teeth when he hasn’t even been in the bathroom? He knows he hasn’t done what he is supposed to, but he is lying to you on purpose because he doesn’t want to stop watching TV or playing with what is in front of him.

Adults may have a difficult time determining which children are exaggerating and which ones are lying – particularly new parents.

But when it comes to people who are around children all the time – like school teachers, for example, they keep a “resume” for each child in their heads.

If a group of kids comes up with a strange story about how the water got spilled on the teacher’s desk when she was out of the room (“I don’t have any plants on my desk!”), the teacher knows which student she can go to for the truth.

For small children, however, the truth must be taught. And even after that they “forget” about it sometimes. That’s why it is important for parents to remember the differences between exaggerating (“Did you see what I did?”) and lying (“I didn’t do that!”).