What To Do When Kids Lie

Use rewards and gentle encouragement to discourage fibbing from your child with ADD.

Lying: A Symptom of ADD? ADDitude Magazine

The impulse to tell fibs does not make your youngster a bad person.


When It’s OK to Lie

Adults know that honesty isn’t always the best policy; sometimes you have to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings. But how do you explain white lies to a child you otherwise keep reminding to tell the truth? This little game usually does the trick:

Ask your child to pretend that he has just received a birthday gift that he doesn’t like. Now ask him which response he would most likely give:

A. “Yuck.”
B. “I’m never going to play with this thing.”
C. “Thank you for the nice present.”

If your child picks C, congratulate him, and discuss why that was the right choice. If he answers A or B, explain why the gift-giver’s feelings would be hurt, and tell him that white lies are appropriate in such situations.


All children lie occasionally. But because of impulsivity and low self-esteem — and their tendency to make mistakes that they think need covering up — kids with ADHD are especially prone to stretching the truth. That worries parents. Lying can cause kids to lose friends and get into trouble with teachers and other authority figures.

How should parents react when they catch their child in a lie? What can be done to help a child recognize the importance of telling the truth?

First, realize that the impulse to tell fibs does not make your youngster a bad person, nor is it evidence of a character flaw. It’s just a byproduct of ADHD — almost a symptom. And like other symptoms of the disorder, it can often be helped by medication.

Even with drug therapy, your child may need extra coaching to understand the importance of truth telling. Here are the strategies I suggest to the parents I work with:

Explain the downside of deceit.

Some kids tell lies out of insecurity, concocting fanciful stories in an effort to boost their popularity. One girl I work with, Susan, told her schoolmates that she was friends with a pop star, and that this star was going to pick her up from school in a limousine. When her mom got wind of this tale, she confronted Susan, who tearfully admitted she had made the whole thing up to seem “more interesting.”

Punishing an insecure child like Susan is likely to do more harm than good. Instead, make sure your child understands what will happen if she gets caught in a lie. Ask, “What if your friends discover your lie?” The downside of telling a lie — even a relatively benign one like the one Susan told — may be obvious to grownups. But kids need to be reminded that lying usually causes more problems than it eliminates — and that if they stretch the truth today, there may be fallout tomorrow.

Encourage your child to pause before speaking.

Instead of taking time to respond appropriately (and truthfully) to tough questions, impulsive kids blurt out an answer — even if the answer is an exaggeration or a blatant falsehood. Teach your child to silently count to three before speaking, and to use that time to formulate a truthful answer.

If your child says something you know to be untrue, stay calm. Reacting angrily, or with obvious dismay, will only make your child feel the need to tell additional lies to defuse the situation — and end up digging herself into an even deeper hole.

Give your child the opportunity to reconsider her answer.

Say, “Did you really finish your homework? I don’t think you did. I’ll give you another chance to answer, with no consequences for lying.” Whether this “truth check” is done immediately or a few hours later, it teaches kids to second-guess an untruthful answer. Giving your child another chance does not mean that she can escape responsibility for the underlying matter. For example, even though the child will not be punished for lying about having completed his homework, he should still be required to complete it.

Reward honesty.

When a child lies to cover up mistakes or misbehavior, it can be tempting to pile on the “consequences.” But in encouraging honesty, rewards are often better than punishment.

After one of my clients caught her son, Joe, lying about an incident at school, she decided to try something new: She told Joe that, if she “caught” him being truthful, he would earn a token redeemable for a trip to the movies. Joe has gotten a lot better at owning up to his misadventures.

This article appears in the April/May 2007 issue of ADDitude.
SUBSCRIBE TODAY to ensure you don't miss a single issue.

To share strategies for working with your ADHD to tell the truth, visit the Parents of ADHD Children support group on ADDConnect.

TAGS: Behavior in ADHD Kids, Self Esteem,

No judging! No doubting! Just understanding!
Join ADDConnect's support groups for parents to discuss discipline challenges, school solutions, treatment options and much more.

Copyright © 1998 - 2016 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. See additional information.
New Hope Media, 108 West 39th Street, Suite 805, New York, NY 10018