ADHD and Compulsive Lying: How to Get Your Child to Tell the Truth

May 17, 2010 by Dr.Yannick Pauli

Nothing damages a parent’s trust and creates tension more than habitual lying from their child.  It’s normal for kids to tell the occasional white lie, but compulsive lying is a habit that many children with ADHD can’t get away from.  Lying tends to come with ADHD symptoms, especially if the child has not learned to control them.  For instance, a child with ADHD might lie because his distractible nature made him abandon an important task; when asked about his progress, he quickly saves face with a lie.

However difficult it might be to deal with this behavior, try to understand that most ADHD kids who lie don’t mean to be dishonest.  All children (even those without ADHD) keep a few lies in their tool boxes of responses.  It’s just that children with ADHD (and related disorders) take longer to realize that lying is not a desirable trait for relationships and character building.  Disciplining your child for his or her untruths is one way to stop the habit, as is finding a way to treat the symptoms that triggered the lie in the first place. Meanwhile, here are a few tips that can help you get your child to tell the truth.

Learn the difference between lying and exaggeration

Children often exaggerate, and kids with ADHD are no exception – they have colorful minds and view the world differently from other children.  They are also more impulsive and spontaneous when they tell stories or explain situations.  Try not to confuse this with lying; a child’s embellished stories are a sign of a creative imagination rather than the inability to tell the truth.

Don’t call your child a liar

Lying is a frustrating habit to deal with, but try not to verbally or mentally brand your child a “liar”. A liar is part of a person’s essence – it is something a person is.  The occasional lie does not mean your child is a liar.  It is a response your child chose, but it is not a permanent part of who he or she is.

Show the consequences of lying

Take away privileges if you catch your child lying – and stay consistent. For instance, if your child loses two days worth of TV privileges for lying, make sure that he or she goes nowhere near the TV for exactly two days.  At the same time, don’t promise your child lighter consequences if he or she tells the truth. For instance, let’s say your child broke the window and owned up to it, but tries to wiggle his way out of punishment by pointing out that he told the truth.  This is a type of plea bargaining that confuses children. Praise your child for telling the truth, but he should be held accountable for breaking the window.

Be honest about your doubts

If you’re not sure whether or not your child broke the window, be honest. Say, “I don’t think that’s how it happened.” This way, you don’t accuse your child of lying outright; you are simply sharing what you think about the situation.

Don’t assume that your child is lying

It’s hard to trust a child who has lied more than once, but try not to assume that your child is lying every time.  Your child will lose the motivation to tell the truth; there’s no incentive for being honest if you’re going to assume that what he or she says is a lie.

Transforming behavior takes time

Lying is a habit that won’t disappear overnight, especially if your child is still adjusting to treatments.  Don’t focus on eliminating the habit; instead, look for small improvements in your child’s behavior. As your child’s symptoms improve, he or she will regain more control over behaviors and actions, and the lying will eventually diminish.