Do you have a tall-tale-teller living in your home?
- Someone who can spin a yarn and look you straight in the eye while doing it?
- A kiddo who comes home from school with the most outlandish stories that you know can’t possibly be true?
- Or maybe he’s a not-so-tall-tale-teller – meaning his stories aren’t so outlandish that it’s hard to know what to believe, and you tend to fall for the fake news!
Ooohhhhhhh….. That can make me sooooooo angry as a mom.
And yet, I have a really soft spot in my heart for these story-spinners.
Why? Because once upon a time, I was a tall-tale-teller. And while it made my mom angry, too (when she knew about it) I’m a perfectly fine adult. No psychopathic tendencies. Scholarships to higher education. Happy and healthy relationships.
Tall-tale-tellers aren’t doomed in life. But they do need to be guided.
Kids are Supposed to Lie, but Why do People Lie?
One of the first things we need to do when we hit a confusing behavior with our children is to take a step back and assess whether this is something you should somewhat expect.
Learning to lie is a developmental milestone of sorts. It’s appropriate for children to learn that their thoughts and experiences aren’t automatically known or visible to others. And they experiment with that understanding, especially lying with ADHD.
When we can take a breath and remember, “this isn’t ideal behavior, but it IS normal,” it allows us to take a breath and relax just a little before we choose how to respond.
ADHD Makes Our Kids Even More Likely to Lie.
The relationship between ADHD and lying is complex, but I’m going to focus on just one primary reason: impulsivity.
When kids have ADHD, their ability to moderate an impulse to tell a tall tale is diminished. Their urges to tell a funny story, avoid trouble or shame, or simply get them attention or approval from others go unchecked and that lie comes out their little mouths before they even think about it. Lying and ADHD is a tricky thing as they get older, too.
As our kids mature and their prefrontal cortices – the part of their brain that acts as that moderator – gets stronger and more active, your child’s lying should gradually diminish. But expect this maturity to come later than it would in a neurotypical child.
Sussing Out White Lies from the Big Ones
Outside of impulsiveness, an ADHD child may lie for other reasons that may not be what you expect. I’m going to cover two common examples to explain some of the mentality of telling lies when it comes to everyday tasks and your kid.
It’s not at all uncommon for kids to lie about getting homework done regardless of whether or not they have ADHD. Discouraging them from lying, however, isn’t as simple as enacting punishments or showing disappointment.
Your ADHD child may face a whole lot of social pressure in public situations to appear “normal.” Lying becomes a method of self-preservation because they don’t want others to think that they’re struggling, or worst of all, stupid. You have to foster a caring, open relationship where it’s safe to talk about their struggles at school without them feeling judged.
While this alone isn’t an antidote for telling lies, it can help you address the underlying issues that cause your ADHD child to feel the need to lie about situations at school.
In another common example that’s commonly misunderstood, you may ask your kid to clean up toys in the TV room. When you ask them if it’s done, they say, “Yes!” But then you check and what do you know, their toys are still strewn all over the floor.
Outside of being a self-preservation instinct, lying can also become a habit because the punishment of lying is less stressful than handling a task on their own. Simply putting away toys or cleaning a room can feel overwhelming when your kid struggles to start tasks, manage their time and remember details.
Setting out visual cues and simple steps to complete tasks can help your child complete chores without becoming so stressed that a lie becomes the only way out of it.
In the end, handling lies that can easily develop into bad habits is often a matter of understanding and offering correction that helps rather than venting your frustration when it happens.
Children that lie can be hard to bear at times, so let me share with you some help on how to address lying and ADHD.
4 Steps to Put A Positive Spin on Addressing Tall Tales.
Let’s be clear: understanding behavior – even empathizing with behavior – is very different from condoning that behavior. You can understand why your child lies, and still be committed to helping him stop. In fact… once you understand why your child does anything really, you’ll be better at helping him or her change behavior!
Clearly, as parents we need to guide our children away from lying.
So how do we stop our children from telling tall tales? Is lying an ADHD symptom? (I will address telling lies to avoid trouble or feelings of shame in a later post.)
First, choose a time to talk to your child outside of a moment in which you’re triggered. Both you and your kiddo have to feel calm and collected.
Second, focus first on a strength. In this instance, I usually focus on the quality of creativity or imagination. I’ll let the child know that I love that her big brain is so incredibly special because it makes her super creative. I might even remind her of all the creative people in the world who have a brain that works just like hers. (Dav Pilkey, the author of Captain Underpants is one of them!)
By focusing on the positive and recognizing her imagination you are helping your child put down their initial defenses. You are setting the stage to have a great conversation. You are making her feel heard, seen, appreciated and loved by you. All of these are necessary for becoming highly influential in the best ways for your child.
Third, the next time they tell you a whopper, address it with your new foundation and vocabulary around imagination. You may ask something like, “Is that your amazing imagination again, or is that real life?” If you don’t want to give them the opportunity to lie on top of your lie, eliminate the question and just say something like, “There goes your imagination again! That sounds like it would have been fun!” or “You could write a book! What would happen next?” And then leave it alone.
Letting your child know that you know their story was a tall tale removes the power of the lie. It removes their motivation for lying without getting tangled in a power struggle.
It also lays the foundation for helping them harness and hone an ADHD superpower – unrelenting creativity! In fact, buying them a journal in which they can write down all those amazing stories may be the beginning of a budding fiction writer!
Fourth, reinforce that although you love their imagination, you equally love and value their reality. Their real-life success in the recess football game, or their real-life conflict in the lunch line are things that interest you about them. Make sure they know that they don’t have to lie to get your attention and love. Compulsive lying and ADHD have an interesting relationship, so bear that in mind.
As frustrating as these tall tales can be, you may be able to look back on them one day and find a little humor. Lord knows, my family has gotten more than a few laughs over the years about one of the more extravagant stories I told as a 5 year old girl. I got caught, my mom got embarrassed, and we’re all here to laugh about it almost 40 years later.
You’ll get through this, too, mama.