Ask the Experts

Q: “How Can We Get Our Child to Stop Lying?”

How can a parent discourage and stop lying behavior from children with ADHD? The first step is to understand whether impulsivity, overwhelm, shame, or confusion is the blame — and the second step is to address that root cause.

Child with ADHD and parent confronting lying

Q: “My daughter (11) has a pattern of not telling the truth. She will be quite convincing — even with this Momma, who has a well-honed lie meter. We are now encouraging her to tell the truth, without punishment, and then rewarding her truthfulness. She continues to impulsively do something and then cover her tracks with lies. I am afraid this impulsive behavior will not abate as she gets older. Telling the truth is a strong value in our family and I am not sure what else we can do. Thank you! – NewYorkMomma

Hi NewYorkMomma:

I wish I could tell you when the lies will end. Since I don’t know all the circumstances — What, specifically, does your daughter lie about? How often does it happen? Are the lies about everyday occurrences such as doing homework or household responsibilities? Or are they more significant? — I’m going to focus on the best way for you to approach the situation with your daughter.

It’s important to know that children with ADHD may lie more often than other children. And it may take longer to dissipate. Their lying doesn’t typically stem from a place of defiance. As you mentioned, your daughter is impulsive and, therefore, not always able to stop and think before she acts. So, she does things that get her into trouble and then lies about it. However, sometimes lying happens when a child is feeling overwhelmed or challenged by what is being asked of them.

[Free Download: 10 Rules for Parents of Defiant Kids with ADHD]

Let me give you an example: You ask your daughter to start her homework. A little time goes by, you ask if she has finished, and she answers yes. But when you check to see if the work is complete, you find it’s not and you’re left standing there completely bewildered why she would lie about something so benign — and easy to verify.

The issue isn’t that she intended to lie, but that the task she was given to do was either too hard, too big, or too complicated — she didn’t know where to begin, so she froze. And when push comes to shove, some kids would rather lie and face those consequences than try to do what is being asked. Bottom line? For some kids with ADHD, lying is just easier.

How you respond to the lying makes all the difference in the world. And it sounds like you are doing a terrific job by focusing your efforts and emotions on your daughter telling the truth and then praising her for it. I learned a long time ago not to take the lying personally. And it sounds like you don’t! In my experience, ADHD lies have little to do with disrespect or even hostility. They come from a place of confusion, impulsivity, or lack of problem-solving skills.

[Read: The Truth About Your Child’s Lying]

Here are a few tools I use with my parent coaching clients to help them if they have a child who lies.

  • Take the emotionality out of the equation. To be clear, I’m not saying you can’t be upset or enforce a consequence. But asking your daughter why she lied to you is going to get you nowhere. In my experience, it only escalates the situation and steals time from focusing on the reasons behind the behavior.
  • Instill appropriate consequences. I 100% believe in natural consequences that fit the crime. So a natural consequence to your daughter not doing her homework might be that she can’t watch television until she does. However, focusing on the root of the issue and helping your daughter overcome those challenges is more important. In other words, telling your daughter she can’t watch television until she does her homework isn’t going to get you anywhere unless she knows HOW to start her work. Or until you know what might be getting in the way of her starting, and address that.
  • Set up an appointment to discuss. This strategy is one of my favorites. When your child is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the most typical response is for her to get defensive and deny! The next time your daughter tells a significant lie, present this option to her instead: “I understand that you might need to gather your thoughts to explain to me what happened today. Let’s talk at 8pm so you have some time to prepare what you are going to say.” This strategy allows your daughter to have some space to remember the circumstances leading up to the behavior and to get her thoughts and emotions in order.

My best advice is to give it time. Keep doing what you are doing. And continue to work with your daughter to build the necessary problem-solving skills she needs to minimize the lying.

Good Luck!

Stop Lying: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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