ADHD and Lying: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Kids with ADHD may lie more often than other kids.

  • They don’t usually lie to be defiant, and they may not even realize they’re lying.

  • How you respond when your child lies can make a big difference.

Most kids lie or avoid telling the truth from time to time. But if your child has ADHD, you might find yourself often asking, “Why are you lying again?”

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 kids with ADHD consistently lie, it’s usually not about big things like stealing or cheating. (Although they may do that sometimes, just like other kids.) Instead, they may lie about everyday things like chores and work.

This type of lying usually isn’t about defiance. It’s more likely that your child is having trouble coping with challenges related to ADHD. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and lying.

Why Kids With ADHD May Lie to Hide Difficulties

Kids with ADHD might lie not to get out of doing a task, but to hide that they’re struggling with the task. It’s a way of coping with challenges. And they may not even realize they’re doing it.

Picture this scenario: You send your child to clean up the playroom. After an hour you call out and ask if the room is clean. Your child says yes. But when you go to check, the room’s still a mess and your child’s on the floor, playing with the toys.

This isn’t the first time your child has lied about doing a chore. So you get angry and frustrated that it’s happened again. Why would your child 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 many kids with ADHD. Their difficulties with starting tasks and planning them out makes it hard for them to do what’s asked. And rather than face those difficulties or ask for help, they do nothing.

Lying takes away the pressure of having to figure out how to clean up. And for them, that’s worth getting in trouble for, especially if they’re used to it.

The ADHD Brain and Lying

The ADHD brain is a big reason why kids with ADHD may lie about everyday things. Kids with ADHD struggle with a set of mental skills called executive functions. This can cause trouble 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.

How to Respond When Your Child With ADHD Lies

Repeated lying might make you view your child as dishonest. But knowing it’s a reaction to a challenge can help you see your child in a different light. It can also help you find ways to curb this behavior.

Here are some constructive ways to help your child stop lying.

  • Anticipate when your child might struggle—and give help. If your child struggles with sequencing tasks like setting the table, provide a list of steps. Look for patterns in when your child lies so you can figure out where there may be trouble spots.

  • Don’t take the lying personally. Try to remember that your child isn’t trying to defy or disrespect you. Focus on what led to the lie rather than the lie itself.

  • Avoid creating situations where lying is an option. If he rule is no TV until homework’s finished, don’t ask if it’s done. Go check. And if it isn’t done, tell your child to turn off the TV and finish the work.

  • Remove the shame of lying. Don’t excuse the lie, but show that you understand how your child came to do it. You could 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.”

  • Help your child make connections. Talk about what happened and help your child recognize what went wrong. That includes what happened when your child lied. Then help brainstorm ways to handle things differently next time.

It’s important to help your child break the cycle of lying and getting into trouble. Having that ongoing negative experience can take a toll on your child’s self-esteem. It can also make it hard for your child to stay motivated to keep trying. You can help avoid that by focusing on strengths and giving helpful types of praise when your child does positive things.

You can also learn about the relationship between ADHD and other behaviors and emotions, including:

Key Takeaways

  • Kids with ADHD may lie to cover up their challenges.

  • Try to focus on what led your child to lie, rather than the lie itself.

  • Talking through challenges that lead to lies can help your child break the cycle of lying.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD 

is the director of LEAP and codirector of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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