It can be upsetting if your grade-schooler with ADHD frequently lies — even if you understand why it’s happening. Here are tips to help your child with ADHD build coping skills that can curb the lying.
1. Look behind the lie.
It may seem like your child tells lies for no reason. But those lies can clue you in to real struggles. If your child denies having thrown a toy at a sibling when the deed clearly took place, it may not simply be to avoid blame. Your child might be upset about a lack of emotional control.
A good first step to teaching your child coping strategies is to help with identifying feelings. You can also tell your child you’ll help figure out better ways to for expressing those feelings.
2. Speak with empathy.
Imagine it’s your child’s turn to empty the dishwasher. When you ask later if it happened, your child lies and says yes. In truth, your child started the task, but then became distracted and forgot to finish unloading. The lie was simply a way to avoid getting in trouble.
Showing you understand what led to the lie can make your child more willing to take responsibility. You might say, “I know it can be hard for you to stay focused. But I’d rather you tell the truth and then finish your chore than lie about it. It’s the lying that makes me feel mad and hurt.”
3. Set expectations that work for your child.
Kids with ADHD often lie to get out of tasks that cause anxiety. On a heavy homework day, your child might tell you there’s no homework just to avoid having to think about it.
Setting achievable goals helps remove a reason to lie. If your child has a long reading assignment, you can set a schedule of one break every two pages. Making the task more manageable can reduce stress and give your child confidence that this job is doable.
4. Give your child opportunities to tell the truth.
Even after the lie, it’s important to give your child the chance to be truthful. It’s also key to offer praise for honesty.
Let’s say your child tells you about lending a new jacket to a friend, but later admits to leaving it on the bus. Try to focus on the truth, not the lie. You could say, “Thanks for telling me what really happened. I know it’s hard for you to keep track of things, and I’m proud of you for being honest.”
5. Help your child keep consequences in mind.
When kids with ADHD lie, they often do it on impulse. They’re likely not considering the consequences. Talking your child through past scenarios will help tie the action of lying to the less-than-ideal outcome.
Let’s say your child is not allowed to play video games before a room-cleaning session. The next time it’s time to do that chore, bring up a reminder of what happened the last time. Cleaning up still had to happen but your child missed out on playing video games for a week, all because of a lie.
6. Work with your child to find strategies.
Kids with ADHD often view lying as a way to avoid stress. For your child, “losing” a homework assignment might mean getting into less trouble. Your child might feel less embarrassed about losing homework than about admitting that the work was just too overwhelming.
You can turn this into an opportunity to support your child. Work together to find strategies to help navigate trouble spots. You can also work on ways your child can self-advocate and ask for help before problems arise.
7. Set a good example.
Younger kids look to parents for cues on how to behave. If you use fibs in your own life, especially to get out of doing things you’d rather not do, your child is likely to get the message that it’s OK to tell lies, too. As your child’s greatest role model, it’s important to be truthful whenever you’re together.
8. Give it time.
Remember that all kids lie sometimes, and that behavior takes time to change. Your child might not use coping strategies instead of lying right away. And even once that happens, it can be easy to fall back into old habits when stressful situations arise.
Try not to worry or get upset if that happens, and keep working with your child to build coping skills. Doing that while your child is young will lay the groundwork for using successful strategies in the future.
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About the author
About the author
Rae Jacobson, MS is a writer who focuses on ADHD and learning disabilities in women and girls.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.