Nothing can infuriate a parent like a child who lies.

So when ADHD and lying go hand in hand, it results in a lot of infuriated moms and dads out there!

There are all sorts of different reasons kids lie. I’ve written posts about kids who lie about inconsequential things – kids who tell tall tales for what seems like no reason. 

In today’s post, I’m going to expand on this topic of kids with ADHD who lie – specifically lie to get out of trouble {creating double-the-trouble for themselves… grrrrr….} And, I’ll share three specific ways to avoid this maddening situation. 

But before I go there, I want to give you one big piece of advice — stop catastrophizing normal, developmentally-appropriate (yet still wrong) behavior.

Kids lie. It’s normal – ADHD or not. In fact, the smarter your child is, the more likely they are to lie – and lie well. 

What’s worse, whether we like it or not, kids with ADHD are more prone to lying about… well… anything. Children with ADHD are impulsive. They often skip the step in decision-making that considers consequences of their actions. 

As a result, lies to avoid trouble are quick to fire and they may find a lie coming right out of their mouths before they’ve fully thought it through. My son describes this kind of situation as watching the words shoot of his mouth before he has even thought them and wishing with all of his might for a “rewind” button to suck the words right back in. It’s a good visual, isn’t it?

Despite how “normal” lying is for children with ADHD, many parents tend to catastrophize the problem. Meaning, that they express real fear that because their child is lying now they will lie forever. They will never learn the value of truth-telling. They will lie as adults, and – since adults who chronically lie are known as sociopaths, these parents conclude that they are raising sociopaths-in-the-making. Catastrophizing.  

If this is you, stop. Put the problem in perspective. 

Just because a child is lying to avoid trouble or feelings of shame / guilt does not mean they are going to turn into horrible people. 

It does mean that they need both guidance and accountability so that they learn how to handle various situations without needing to lie. That guidance and accountability starts with you. 

Don’t Give Your Child With ADHD The Opportunity to Lie. 

 The very first tip is easy: If you already know the answer to a question, do not ask it in a way that allows them to lie. 

If your child’s toothbrush is dry as a bone, don’t ask them if they’ve brushed their teeth. Tell them to brush their teeth. 

If your teenager didn’t go where she told you she’d be one evening, don’t ask her where she went. Tell her what you know. 

If you’re pretty sure your child has not yet done their homework, let them know it’s time to sit down and do it. 

“Have you done your homework yet?” → turns into →  “Time to sit down and do your homework” See the difference?

As parents of kids with ADHD, we have enough to deal with. Don’t invite a lie on top of other issues you’re dealing with. 

Remove Incentives for Lying for Child

 As much as parents hate lying, many of us have created environments in our households that actually encourage or reward the behavior we most hate. 

Parents often think discipline and punitive punishments are synonymous. Parents who have this mistaken understanding often create harsh environments where every single infraction is met with a huge “consequence.” 

Kids raised in these environments have a lot of incentive to lie – it’s the only way they might avoid the pain of the punishment coming their way. They may think to themselves, “Hmmmm… I can tell the truth and for sure get in trouble, or I can lie and there is at least a chance I won’t get in trouble.”

Some people will read this and interpret me as saying that we shouldn’t discipline our kids. 

Wrong-O. Kids need discipline. I repeat — Kids NEED discipline. 

But discipline and punitive punishment are not synonymous. 

To discipline literally means “to teach.” And there are many ways to teach. 

It’s even more important for parents to remember that the most effective ways to teach rarely incite fear, hurt, or threat. In fact, many of the best teachers often do not use punitive punishments at all. 

So when parents ask me the very common question, “how can I issue a punishment that works?” My first response is to push back on them and ask whether a “punishment” is actually needed. I’ll ask whether there might be another way to teach the lesson or skill needed without a punitive punishment. 

As adults it’s very “trendy” to share quotes about learning from our mistakes. We share memes on social media that say things like, “Mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before…” We encourage our friends and family to take chances because the best lessons in life come from failure. 

Do you apply the same philosophy to your child’s mistakes? Are you committed to helping them become better after they make mistakes, or are you simply committed to making them feel enough pain after a mistake that they won’t make that same mistake twice?

If you’re having a hard time imagining that, use the example of your employer: if you knew that every time you made a mistake your employer docked your pay (punitive punishment), would you be tempted to hide your mistakes? Of course you would be

If instead, that same employer held you accountable for your mistake through extra training, or assigning you a mentor in areas you needed growth… would you be more likely to admit your mistake? Of course you would be.

If you have a child who constantly lies to get out of trouble I want you to ask yourself – If I were in my child’s shoes right now – and I had a parent who reacted to my mistakes the way I react to my child’s – would I be open to telling the truth? 

Reward Your Child with ADHD When They Tell the Truth

 Our kids will be motivated to tell the truth when the benefits for doing so outweigh the cons. 

Benefits can include things like your respect and admiration; your trust and willingness to allow them to continue enjoying their privileges; your expressed pride. Those things are more important to your child – regardless of their age – than we often give them credit for. 

We’ve all heard the phrase “pick your battles,” right? I meet parents every day who are convinced that the only way their child will learn a less is if they “punish” every single infraction. 

If you’re struggling with lying, I’d encourage you to pick your battles here and focus on the lying. Perhaps because your child used their truth-telling-skills they get a pass on any consequence for the underlying issue. They get to have a heart-to-heart conversation instead. They get to experience your graciousness. That might sound something like this: 

“Buddy, I know what you did was wrong, and you know that, too. But the fact that you told me the truth about this is a VERY BIG DEAL. It tells me that you’re learning to be more grownup, you’re learning how to be accountable for and responsible for yourself. Those things are really, really important to me and I’m proud of you for that. And so today we’re just going to do this: I just need you to tell me how you’re going to avoid doing [fill in the blank] in the future and then we can let this go for now.” 

Another approach would be to show your child what their punishment would have been if they hadn’t told the truth. That may look something like this: 

“Hon, I’m very proud of you for telling the truth. When you break someone’s toy, we have to replace it. If you hadn’t told me the truth, I’d have to make you pay for the entire replacement. But since you were honest with me, I will help you pay for ½ of it.”

If you have been living with the cycle of lying for a long time, remember: breaking this cycle and replacing it consistently with a new (more truth-filled) response will not only take time – it will take trust. It will require your child to trust that the changes you are making in your responses to their mistakes will persist through time. 

It will likely require an extended period of time where you consistently demonstrate that your child’s honesty is a valuable thing to you and that you will honor and respect it.

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