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The Real Reasons Kids with ADHD Lie—and Ways to Help Them Stop

Lying can be a habit for some kids with ADHD. Learn why—and how to help them quit.

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ADHD and lying

Most kids lie or avoid telling the truth on occasion. But if your child has Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you might find yourself often asking him, “Why are you lying again?” If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Not all kids with ADHD tell frequent lies. In fact, some are impulsively honest, which can create its own problems. But for those who do lie, it can quickly become a habit. When they do consistently lie, it’s usually not about big things like stealing or cheating. (Although they may occasionally do that too, just like other kids.) Instead, they may lie about everyday things like chores and work. “This type of lying isn’t about defiance. It’s about having trouble coping with challenges,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and advisor on learning and attention issues for Understood.org. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD in children and frequent lying.

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Lying to avoid accountability

Picture this common scenario: You send your child to clean up his room. After an hour you call out and ask if his room is clean. He says yes. But when you go to check, the room’s still a mess, and he’s on his unmade bed reading. Why would he say something that was so obviously not true, and risk getting in trouble? Especially for something as simple as cleaning up? But that’s the issue: The task of cleaning up isn’t simple for him. His difficulties with starting tasks and planning them out makes it hard for him to do what you’ve asked. And rather than face those difficulties or ask for help, he does nothing. Lying takes away the pressure of having to figure out how to clean his room. And that’s worth getting in trouble for, especially if he’s used to it.

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Lying because of weak executive functioning skills

There can be a number of factors behind why some kids with ADHD often lie about everyday things. Many are related to weaknesses in executive functions. Kids may have difficulty with:

  • Connecting the now to the future
  • Thinking of, or remembering, consequences
  • Organization and time management
  • Understanding how they got to the place of lying to begin with
  • Understanding that it’s the lying that got them in trouble (not what they lied about)
  • Knowing how to fix the original problem behind the lie
  • Also, some kids with ADHD can be unrealistically optimistic. They may think everything will just fall into place on its own.

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How to help

Repeated lying can sometimes make parents view their child as dishonest. But knowing that she’s reacting to a challenge can help you see her in a different light. It can also help you find ways to reduce this behavior. Read on for some constructive ways to help your child stop lying.

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Anticipate tricky situations

If you know your child struggles with sequencing tasks like setting the table, give him a list of steps to follow. Look for patterns in when he lies to figure out where there may be trouble spots.

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Brush it off

Yes, it’s hard, but don’t take her lying personally. Try to remember that she’s not trying to defy or disrespect you. Focus on what led to the lie rather than the lie itself.

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Actively preempt it

Avoid creating situations where lying is an option. If he’s supposed to finish his homework before watching TV, don’t ask if he did it. Go check. And if he didn’t, tell him to turn off the TV and finish his work.

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Remove the shame

Don’t excuse the lie, but show your child you understand how she came to do it. You might say, “It sounds like you were struggling. Let’s figure out how you got to this place to begin with. Then let’s figure out how to get you back on track.”

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Help make connections

Talk with your child what happened and help him recognize what went wrong. That includes what happened when he lied. Then help him brainstorm ways to handle things differently next time.