Behavior & Discipline

“It Wasn’t Me!” Why Children with ADHD Lie

Why do children lie? Before you blame your child’s moral character, take a closer look behind the curtain. Their ADHD symptoms may be interfering with truth-telling in several ways.

Girl mischievously stares at a cookie jar on the counter.

Conversations with thousands of caregivers tell us that some children with ADHD tell more than their fair share of lies. While it’s easy to assume your child is twisting the truth to deceive or manipulate, their fibs are more likely a coping mechanism for ADHD symptoms. In the moment, making up stories or acting on impulse might feel easier than admitting to mistakes that are outside of their control.

Here, ADDitude readers share examples of their kids’ lies — and reasons to explain their fibbing impulses:

“I see this all the time. I ask a simple question to my 14-year-old daughter: ‘Did you brush your teeth this morning?’ Her quick response: ‘Yes, Mommy.’ But, when I go and check the toothbrush, it’s bone dry. I think self-preservation is the primary culprit, followed by impulsivity. She is so used to (and fearful of) being wrong that she automatically says the answer she knows I want.” — An ADDitude Reader

“This was me as a young girl. I think it was about imagining another reality, wanting to appear more ‘normal,’ and achieving self-preservation. Ironically, I’m now painfully, detrimentally honest as an adult. The ADHD conundrum!” — An ADDitude Reader

My daughter lies about homework being completed and turned in, and simple things like brushing her teeth. Now 16 and diagnosed with bipolar disorder along with ADHD, she lies to avoid consequences or getting in trouble. She even lies to friends online and at school. The root: a need for attention, acceptance, creating drama, fear of abandonment.” — Gail, Washington

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“Usually it’s because [my son] doesn’t want to disappoint me, so he lies to avoid the truth. Other times, when he avoids telling me something that’s extremely important, it’s because he thinks he should be able to handle certain problems on his own.” — Gayle, Texas

My son, who’s nearly 12, tends to cover up the truth when he wants to push for that extra bit of independence, especially when he knows he shouldn’t do something. For example, he’ll say he hasn’t been on his phone at his dad’s house at 11pm when I know, and he knows, that he has.” — Harriet, England

My son does this no matter how big or small the lie. It drives us crazy because we feel like, at age 14, he isn’t trustworthy, even though he is kind, smart, and helpful. We ask him to take a beat before answering, and not to give us the answer he thinks we’re seeking. It’s a self-preservation tactic… If I feel he’s giving me the answer he thinks I want, I ask him to think it over and try again. It’s a fluid process that I hope gets better with time.” — Dawn, New Jersey

The reason is almost always to cover up a shortcoming or failure. He lies if he makes a bad grade. He lies if he doesn’t succeed in a social setting. He lies if he is afraid to tell us the real story, like not attending therapy.” — An ADDitude Reader

[Read: Fight, Flight, Freeze… or Fib?]

“With my 15-year-old, lying involves self-preservation as well as trying to impress others. If he is caught in a lie, his first instinct is to deny. He will deny right to the point that evidence is presented showing his guilt. He seems to convince himself of the lie and it’s very difficult to discuss the impact to his family and peers when the truth comes out. Sometimes I believe, when confronted, he doesn’t process information and implications quick enough, so he defaults to lying.— Ken, Massachusetts

“My girl is getting better at telling the truth. She used to lie to keep herself out of trouble. It used to almost make me smile when I asked her if she did something. She would say no, even though we both knew she did it! As she gets older, she does this less. She has also learned that she might not get into trouble if she just comes clean. I remember asking her once, ‘Why did you do that?’ And she was as surprised as I was when she said, ‘I don’t know!’” — An ADDitude Reader

“As a strategy, I’m trying to create a safe space where [my daughter] can tell me the truth or take a moment to verify without falling into automatic responses. Her ADHD memory likely also plays a part. Sometimes she remembers what she did yesterday, and then honestly (and innocently) thinks she did it again today. This is all very challenging for a hard-driving, results-oriented neurotypical like me.” — An ADDitude Reader

“My eight-year-old spins wild tales constantly. We tease him that he should write all these stories down so he can make a lot of money as an author and support mommy and daddy. But truth be told, it is incredibly exasperating. We wish we knew why he does it and worry that he can’t seem to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. We try to emphasize to him how important the truth is because if people can’t trust him to tell the truth, then people may not believe him if something bad happens. But, so far, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.” — An ADDitude Reader

“It breaks my heart. She thinks she’s always doing something wrong. I think she believes lying by omission, or lying directly, helps her avoid getting in trouble yet again.” — An ADDitude Reader

“She lies whenever she knows that she did something wrong. For instance, she lied about eating the Dove chocolate bars twice. Then, even after we told her to ask before taking them, she did it again and ate the remaining two. It usually involves eating a sweet. Not only does she impulsively snatch it before asking, but she will lie that she took it.— An ADDitude Reader

“I think it’s mainly due to self-preservation and emotional dysregulation. My son seems to automatically assume he’s being accused whenever someone poses a question to him, and he automatically reacts with an ‘it wasn’t me’ or ‘it wasn’t my fault’ attitude. It’s become so ingrained that even when it’s blindingly obvious that he’s responsible for something, he’ll try and shift the blame elsewhere.” — An ADDitude Reader

“My child with ADHD tends to lie when she forgets to do as she’s been told (I was about to wash the dishes), when she crosses an established boundary (I didn’t know it was past my phone time limit), and in simple situations when she could just say she forgot (I did turn in that assignment). I used to think it was a character trait of a dishonest heart. Now I truly believe that she doesn’t want us to have a negative opinion of her mistakes. Knowing now that she has ADHD has helped us to parent better, recognizing that she truly has trouble remembering, prioritizing, and following through.— Roz, Alabama

Children with ADHD and Lying: Next Steps

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