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Strategies to Help Your ADHD Child Fib Less

Understand why kids with ADHD are more prone to tell lies — and learn what you can do to help guide your ADHDer to honesty.

by Carol Brady, Ph.D

Liar, Liar

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. How should parents react when they catch their child in a lie? Use these strategies to help your child recognize the importance of telling the truth.

Lying, an ADHD Symptom?

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. But even with drug therapy, your child may need extra coaching to understand the importance of truth telling. 

Explain the Consequences

Some kids tell lies out of insecurity, concocting fanciful stories in an effort to boost their popularity. Punishing an insecure child is likely to do more harm than good. Instead, make sure your child understands what will happen if she gets caught in a lie. The downside of telling a lie — even a relatively benign one — may be obvious to grownups, but kids need to be reminded that lying usually causes more problems than it eliminates.

Practice the Pause

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.

Remain Calm

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. 

Truth Check

Give your child the opportunity to reconsider her answer. When you catch your kid in a fib, give her 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. 

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. For example, giving your child a small token when you catch him being truthful will encourage that behavior in the future.

Telling White Lies

Explain white lies by having your child pretend that he has just received a birthday gift he doesn't like. Now ask him which response he would most likely give:
A. “Yuck.”
B. “I’ll never 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 how white lies are appropriate in such situations.

Additional Resources

Need additional help? Here are more resources to help you prevent your ADHD child from lying:
  • 1. Tips to Minimize Fibbing
  • 2. Expert Q&A: How to Respond to a Lie
  • 3. When You Should Punish Your ADHDer for Lying

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