Fibs, white lies, or straight-up whoppers, call them what you want, but at one time or another, parents may catch their kids in a lie. Sometime around the age of three, children discover that conjuring up tales can impress their friends, get them what they want, or keep them out of trouble. Older children may flat-out lie about things like homework and bad behavior.
But while even adults tell fibs once in a while, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) are more characteristically prone to telling habitual lies. Few things damage the parent-child trust quite like frequent lying. Repeated lies can lead to difficulties and conflicts. If you find yourself frequently asking your child, “Why are you lying again?,” keep reading to learn more about the correlation between ADHD and lying and how you can prevent it.
The Connection Between Lying and ADHD
Not every child with ADHD habitually lies. In fact, many are impulsively truthful, which can lead to an entirely different set of problems. But for those with children who frequently lie, understanding the connection between their behavior and ADHD can help you address it and curb the issue.
In essence, children with ADHD are simply wired differently. The way their brains process everyday things is largely why they may lie more frequently. They struggle with mental skills known as executive functions, which can cause issues such as:
- Remembering outcomes or thinking of potential consequences
- Knowing how or why they are in a position to lie in the first place
- Inability to fix a problem without lying
- Realizing that lying gets them into trouble
- Understanding how they got into the position of lying to begin with
- Connecting the present to the future
- Time management skills and the ability to stay organized
Similarly, children with ADHD have a distorted sense of reality to the point where they are unrealistically optimistic. They may understand that lying is bad, however, they convince themselves that everything will fall into place and adjust on its own.
It is important to understand that your ADHD child is inherently good. In most cases, they are not being defiant or malicious when they lie. They are victims of their uncontrollable ADHD symptoms. Most likely, your child is coping with the challenges related to ADHD.
This is why you will notice that their lying is not about large issues such as cheating or stealing, although if left untreated it can lead to that, just like with other children. Instead, it is common for kids with ADHD to lie about chores and interactions with their siblings or friends.
For instance, your child might lie and say they did a chore because they are hiding their inability to do the task. Instead of being honest about their challenge, they are lying as a coping mechanism. They may not even realize that is what they are doing.
Another scenario may look like this: You send your child to clean up their room. After an hour or so you ask if the room is clean and the child says yes. However, when you go to check, the room is a mess and the child is on the floor playing a game.
This is probably not the first time your child has lied about their chores and you may become frustrated and angry. You wonder why your child would say something so blatantly dishonest and obviously untrue. Why would they risk getting in trouble for something so simple as cleaning their room? Yet, that is the issue.
While a task like cleaning might be simple for some children, it could be extremely difficult for kids with ADHD. Planning and starting tasks are so difficult that it makes it tough for the child to do what is asked of them. Rather than face their challenges or even ask for help, they avoid the task or chore completely. The pressure of figuring out how to clean is so great, the child would rather lie and get in trouble
How to Respond When Your Child With ADHD Lies
Consistent lying might give you the impression that your child is dishonest. But understanding that it is a reaction to a larger challenge can make you see your child differently. Knowing this will also help make it easier to curb their dishonest behavior.
The following are some constructive options to encourage your child to stop lying:
- Avoid forming situations where lying could be an option. For example, if you have a “no screen time” rule until homework is finished, do not ask the child if they are done. Instead, check on them. If the work is not done, tell the child to stop watching the show and get back to work.
- Foresee when your child may need help and offer it. For example, if sequencing tasks is a challenge for your child, then when asking them to organize toys or set a table, look for patterns that may give clues into their trouble spots. Offer solutions.
- Do not take the lying personally. Remember, your child is not trying to disrespect you or defy your rules on purpose. Their lying is not evil. Focus on what led to the lie. From there, you can work on the underlying problem.
- Help your child connect the dots. After a lie occurs, talk to them. Discuss what happened, recognize how things went wrong, and discuss how to handle things differently. This can help encourage your child to try new ways of tackling similar situations in the future.
- Remove the shame of lying. While you should not excuse the lie, discuss with your child how they came to do so. You might try saying things like, “It sounds like you were having a tough time” or “Let’s figure out why you lied and figure out how to get back on track.” These simple tactics can help them overcome any shame and lead them back on track.
Breaking the lying cycle is important to keep your child out of trouble. Ongoing negative experiences can lead to self-esteem issues and make it hard for your child to stay motivated to try new things. Focus on their strengths and offer praise when they do positive things. If your child continues to struggle, consider seeking the professional help of a licensed therapist. You and your child can work with an expert to find solutions to everyday problems that may lead to lying.
- Watanabe, K., Ikeda, H., & Miyao, M. (2010). Learning efficacy of explicit visuomotor sequences in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Asperger syndrome. Experimental brain research, 203(1), 233–239. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-010-2217-3
- Nejati, V., & Yazdani, S. (2020). Time perception in children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Does task matter? A meta-analysis study. Child neuropsychology : a journal on normal and abnormal development in childhood and adolescence, 26(7), 900–916. https://doi.org/10.1080/09297049.2020.1712347
- Miller, C., & Anderson, D., PhD. (2023). ADHD and Behavior Problems. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/adhd-behavior-problems/