The Boy Who Cried Wolf: My ADHD Son's Lying

We may not believe our son's tall tales, but we don't let his “creative embellishments” stop us from having his back.
Boy Without Instructions | posted by Penny Williams
ADHD and Crying Wolf, Lying and ADHD

When you combine feeling things deeply and a penchant for creative embellishment, you get a kid who tells a lot of grand stories.

— Penny Williams

I’m sure you’re familiar with the fable of the boy who cried wolf, and who was eventually eaten by the animal. My son, Ricochet, is that boy. I imagine many of your sons and daughters with ADHD are the kid who cried wolf, too.

Ricochet is a creative kid. He’s also very sensitive. When you combine feeling things deeply and a penchant for creative embellishment, you get a kid who tells a lot of grand stories. He’s not lying with intent, but it is lying. This has happened so many times over the past few years that I no longer take Ricochet’s word at face value.

The turning point happened in fifth grade last year. Ricochet struggled with school avoidance. He tried every excuse in the book on me that morning: I don’t feel good, I threw up, the kids are mean to me, someone is bullying me, a teacher punished me harshly. I knew he wasn’t sick, so that wasn’t going to work on me. I had no doubt some kids were mean to him — kids are mean and he’s an easy target.

With the bullying revelation, I told him we needed to go to school and talk to his guidance counselor, so she could address the bullying and make it stop. He resisted, telling me there wasn’t a particular event he could talk about. I kept pushing him to go to school, and he broke down.

“Momma! I can’t go to school. There’s this sixth-grade kid that picks on me every day at recess. Then yesterday, a teacher grabbed me and said I was in trouble for it,” he continued as he whimpered. “She put me in her office for an hour and I missed lunch."

Certainly this can’t be true, I thought. “Ricochet, we have to go to the school principal and tell her what happened,” I said. “Teachers can’t keep students from eating lunch."

I decided to probe further first, feeling certain this had to be one of his embellished tales. “When we sit down with the principal, you have to tell her what happened, not me,” I added. Up to this point, having Ricochet repeat his story, in all its grand detail, to persons of authority usually caused him to cry uncle. But not this time; he was sticking to his story. So off we went to school so he could tell his tale.

We started with the guidance counselor. Then she brought his classroom teacher in. Ricochet repeated his story each time, never wavering, never asking me to tell it for him. This meant there must be some merit to this story, I thought. Some glimmer of truth under all the peaks.

When Ricochet finished repeating the story to his teacher, the teacher asked him to wait outside the room. Once the door closed, he said bluntly, “Ricochet is lying. That didn’t happen. I would know if one of my students missed lunch. No teacher here would do such a thing. He can’t tell us who or specifically where. This didn’t happen.”

It’s mortifying to have your child’s fifth-grade teacher tell you you’re an idiot and that your kid is a liar. That’s essentially how that went — that’s how it felt, at least.

After I got over the shock and dismay, stopped sobbing, and pulled myself together, I let his teacher and counselor know that lying is not okay, but that this tale was a signal that Ricochet is extremely uncomfortable at school. They weren’t buying in.

We made it through the rest of the year, by the skin of our teeth, but no one at school believed Ricochet again. His dad and I constantly wondered how much truth there was to things he told us.

Now fast-forward a year, to last week. I got a call from school Tuesday afternoon, stating that Ricochet has a bad headache. I assumed that he was trying to get sent home from school early. He has a history of that. I asked the admin to keep him in the office for a bit and see how it went. Twenty minutes later she called again and said he seemed to be in a lot of pain. I went over and picked him up, but I couldn’t tease out how severe the headache was. After he took ibuprofen and lay down for an hour, he seemed OK.

Two days later, the school called again saying he had another serious headache. He’d been lying in a dark, quiet room for over an hour, and it wasn’t any better. I picked him up that morning and we were in the doctor’s office by afternoon. I could tell this second headache was legitimate. As the doctor asked him about the headaches, Ricochet said that he is nauseated and dizzy right before them. This signaled migraines to his doctor.

Later that same night, Ricochet began to complain of a sharp headache again. His dad was quick to dismiss him. He kept telling Ricochet to stop acting and accused him of making it up. I realized how bad that felt to Ricochet, and I lost my cool, forcefully telling my husband to stop talking if he couldn’t be supportive.

Even if Ricochet exaggerates, which I admit is highly likely, we should show compassion for the fact that he’s trying to convey how he feels, or that something is troubling him so much that he feels he has to stretch the truth. We have to show him that we are on his side, no matter what — that’s what truly counts, saving him from the wolf.

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