On Forgiving Pinocchio
Children with ADHD often lie to cover up bad impulsive decisions. Here’s how one family gets the truth out.
“She has the rottenest friends!” I grumbled in annoyance to my husband as I held a huge skewer with four plastic balls shoved onto it — a giant toy shish kabob of now-destroyed balls.
“Seriously,” he agreed. “Why are all her friends so destructive?”
We were baffled by our daughter’s friends’ behavior – taking $20 in rolled coins from our counter, destroying toys, popping out a window screen on the second floor, and more.
A few weeks later, I noticed a section of hair near her face was suddenly shorter than the rest.
“Did you cut your hair?” I asked my wide-eyed 7-year-old.
She immediately blamed her best friend.
Exasperated, I decided it was time to have a chat with the parents who were so rudely unleashing their naughty children upon my home. But then a nagging thought began to develop: What if my own sweet child was responsible for our destroyed property?
What if she was… lying to me?
We didn’t know she had ADHD at the time, but we were beginning to suspect it for multiple reasons. I had read a few articles about how children with ADHD often lie because of impulsivity — they make a bad choice in the moment, and once it’s pointed out they don’t want to disappoint. So they lie.
My husband and I decided to try an experiment. What if we gave her a clear pathway to the truth, by not punishing her lies? “Sweetie,” we approached her. “We need you to tell the truth about your hair. Even if you already lied, you won’t get in trouble for that lie. This is your chance to start over and tell the truth.”
She squirmed. We high-fived each other with our eyes — because we now knew we were right.
“Well,” she began. “My friend was holding the scissors and I accidentally got too close…”
We interrupted her. “This is your chance to tell the truth.”
“Well,” she started again. “OK, I was holding the scissors, and my hair accidentally got too close…”
“Make sure you tell the whole truth,” my husband interjected. To help her along, he gave her a hug and added, “Did you cut your hair?”
She nodded sheepishly. The truth now in the open, she actually physically relaxed.
We hugged her. “We’re so proud of you,” we told her — and we meant it. She had developed a lying habit that we had bought — hook, line, and sinker. To break that habit – even for a moment – was a big deal.
Now when we suspect she’s lying, we stop her and give the first pardon. “If you’re lying right now, you won’t get in trouble for that lie. But you do need to stop, count to 5, and tell us the truth.”
It hasn’t failed us yet.
Sometimes I worry we’re giving her too many chances. She should just stop lying, right?
But the peace that comes to her eyes when she gets the opportunity to tell the truth tells me we’re going in the right direction.
It doesn’t mean we don’t hold her accountable for her errors. We still help her accept responsibility, and make restitution when necessary. But it does mean we don’t punish the lie. In time, we hope we won’t have to follow this process. We hope she’ll feel comfortable telling the truth on her own. But for now? Our BS radar is getting some serious fine-tuning as we give second, third, and more chances.