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ADHD and Lying: Getting Your Child to Tell the Truth

Lying is one of the more problematic behaviors parents of ADHD children have to contend with.  The occasional white lie that everyone tells every now and then is normal, but children with ADHD have a tendency to lie repeatedly. Unlike hyperactivity or poor grades, habitual lying can damage the trust of a parent and create tension in a relationship.   However frustrating this behavior might be, try to understand that your child doesn't mean to be completely dishonest; lying is often part of ADHD, especially if the symptoms are still uncontrolled.  Your child might lie because he or she may have gotten caught up in a situation without realizing it. Children like this can't make sense out of what happened, so they make up a lie to get themselves out of it.  In some cases, their inability to pay attention makes them forget important tasks, which makes them look like they are trying to save face with a lie. For instance:

Forgetfulness. David's mom tells him to come straight home from school because a relative from out of town is coming for dinner.  He is distracted and in a hurry to leave the house, so he says okay.  Throughout the course of a chaotic day in school, he forgets his mom's instructions and gets home two hours late.  When his mom confronts him about it, David argues that his mom never told him about the dinner.  In this case, the child is not lying; he simply forgot what his mom said.  If your child has a tendency to be forgetful, place reminders where he or she can easily see them, such as on the fridge, or leave a note in your child's lunch.

Inability to finish a task. Angela is given a note by her arts teacher, warning her that she has not finished a single project for the semester.  She's scared that her parents will get mad at her, so she destroys the note and doesn't mention it at home. When she gets her report card, she hides it from her parents to avoid getting scolded or embarrassed. Although Angela needs to be disciplined for her behavior, her inability to complete tasks for school calls for time management and organizational strategies.

Impulsivity.  Jana asks to borrow her dad's car to do a project at school. On the way there, she gets a call from a friend asking her to go shopping at the mall.  She accepts the invitation on impulse.  When her dad asked her how the project went, Jana describes how much progress they are making. Unfortunately, her brother has spotted the car at the mall parking lot.  Lies like this should have their consequences, such as no car privileges for two weeks.

Treating the ADHD symptoms will stop the lying eventually, but in the meantime you will need to have a heartfelt talk with your child to discuss the consequences of lying.  Here are some tips that might help you deal with lies.

  • Confront the lie when it happens, but do so calmly.  Try not to criticize your child; instead, teach your child how to be accountable for his or her actions.
  • Lay down the consequences for telling lies, but be fair and consistent about enforcing them. Make sure that the punishment fits the crime.
  • Be honest. As the strongest role model for your child, you should display honesty to encourage the same behavior.