We have all probably experienced the acute frustration of looking your child in the eye and having him lie to your face. Although every child lies at some point, ADHD kids seem to be above average in that department. This can be annoying and worrisome as a parent. But did you know that it could be just as troubling for your child as well? So, what exactly is the deal with ADHD lying?
Reasons for ADHD Lying
There can be multiple reasons for ADHD lying. Some of them are discussed as follows.
Underlying ADHD Symptoms
Understanding why your ADHD kid lies requires a solid understanding of his diagnosis. Research into the neurobiology of ADHD has shown that the ADHD brain is different. Some of these differences lead to executive functioning problems.
Sometimes a child’s underlying ADHD symptoms can contribute to lying. For instance, inattention or working memory issues (part of executive functioning) may cause a child to forget or misunderstand instructions. And, when confronted about failing to do something he was supposed to do, or taking actions that he was not, he may respond with some version of “That’s not what you said!” or “I never told you that!”
Or, when his ADHD symptoms lead to not finishing homework in a timely fashion for unclear reasons, he may try to fill in the missing blanks with something that seems reasonable — but isn’t truthful.
Likewise, another potential ADHD symptom is impulsivity. This can lead to a child impulsively blurting out an untruthful response in the heat of the moment, and then being too ashamed or fearful to take it back. Perhaps, he then clings to the lie to persuade others that it was true.
Avoiding Negative Consequences
In children with ADHD, lying might not indicate that they are being dishonest. Children with this condition lie to avoid getting into trouble. They don’t want to disappoint others with the truth. So they lie to avoid coping with the consequences that the truth might bring.
ADHD and lying in children may occur simply because the child has difficulty expressing themselves. As a result, they can make untruthful statements when they believe they are attempting to be honest.
Problems with executive functioning, as well as other processing issues, can create communication challenges that appear to be deceptive when that was not necessarily the intent. It could be that your ADHD child doesn’t quite remember what you talked about and tries to fill in the fuzzy parts with something that seems reasonable (but is not actually the truth).
Many ADHD kids have a propensity towards magical thinking. Given that magical thinking is not based on actual facts, this can create words or actions that seem deceptive.
Toddlers and very young children often embrace magical thinking in their daily living. Typically, they grow out of this phase somewhere around 8 or 9 years old. But, since ADHD kids are often a few years behind their peers developmentally, this phase can last much longer.
One version of magical thinking would be believing something to be true simply because you want it to be true. A child with ADHD will use this kind of magical thinking to airbrush away actions or events they don’t like. So, his room must be clean because he isn’t looking at the mess. Or, a monster/intruder/gremlin must have shattered that iPhone.
Practical Tips for Addressing ADHD and lying
Even if you believe that your child’s ADHD lying isn’t evidence of a character defect (which it’s not), you still want to address it in some fashion. Here are some tips and strategies to use when faced with a pattern of deception.
Adopt a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy
If you don’t want your child to lie, then avoid providing opportunities where he may feel compelled to do so. You know that saying “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”? Embrace it!
If you already know the facts, there’s no need for an investigation or a confession. It wastes time and gains nothing. Proceed with the facts in hand without soliciting additional commentary.
If you repeatedly tell your son not to drink juice on the couch and you encounter him staring at a huge puddle of red liquid dripping off the couch puddling in a pool, you really don’t need to ask what happen. You know. Just skip to the remediation.
Likewise, if you’re trying to get out of the house in the morning, and your daughter is still dancing around half-naked in her bedroom, don’t demand an explanation. The “Why?” of it doesn’t much matter at the moment.
Instead of “Did you do your homework?” ask to see it. Instead of “trust, but verify” – just focus on the “verify.”
Identify the Underlying Reason
Are there patterns in your child’s lying? Does she typically only lie about certain issues? Perhaps there’s an underlying problem that you can help solve that will eliminate the impetus to lie.
If your child can’t get all of her chores done in the week, perhaps she has too many. Or, perhaps she needs tips on how to do some things faster. Offer your child a list of steps to follow if they are having trouble completing a chore.
If your son always “forgets” to make his bed, maybe he needs a refresher on the steps to do it.
You should also check whether expectations are out of line with what’s reasonably possible. Set achievable expectations and goals, and that might eliminate reasons for lying.
For example, suppose your child has three homework assignments for the day that would likely take at least two hours to complete. Don’t expect him to sit down and slog through in one stretch. Help him create a plan that breaks it down into shorter steps or periods. Thus, when you ask whether the homework is done, you’re more likely to get a truthful answer.
Consider Whether It’s Really a Lie?
Consider is it really a lie? Could they truly have forgotten, remembered incorrectly as a result of ADHD symptoms? If so, focus on assisting with the underlying problem rather than on dishing out consequences or punishment.
Assess the Intent
There’s a big difference between a malicious lie – one intended to cause or magnify harm – and one that’s benign. Or, one that arises from fear, shame, or self-doubt.
Encourage & Reinforce Honesty
Try to provide your child opportunities to speak truthfully. Then affirmatively praise your child for his honesty.
Consider acknowledging and praising honesty, even if your child is telling you something you really don’t want to hear. So, if he says he didn’t eat the stew because he didn’t like the taste. Or, if he tells you that he doesn’t want to do the assignment for extra credit because it’s boring. Say: “Thank you for your honesty.” or “Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate your honesty.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that he gets out of doing something just because he doesn’t want to do it. But at least his honesty is being acknowledged.
Avoid Negative Labels
Avoid the initial impulse to call out lies, or to confront them using harsh language. Not everything that is untruthful warrants being labeled as a lie. Instead of responding “that’s a lie,” or “you’re lying,” you could neutrally respond with “that’s not correct.”
Remember that with ADHD, not all untruthful statements are intentional. And, even if there’s some level of intent involved, it’s not necessarily the intent to deceive. But, if you frequently label a kid as a liar, untrustworthy, or deceptive, over time that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Your child’s lying could be the product of his ADHD symptoms, so when faced with an obvious untruth try to focus first on what may have motivated it. Try to determine motivations and intent before assessing blame and consequences.