When Kids With ADHD Lie

Most kids will lie or avoid telling the truth at some point.  It’s a normal stage in their development.  But what do you do when a child with ADHD is lying often about little things?

My son, Oliver, has ADHD.  He lies ALL THE TIME about the silliest things!  I’ll ask “did you feed the cats?” and he’ll say “yup” and then go back to doing whatever he was doing.  In the morning, Olivers’ chores are to make his bed, get dressed and make sure his room is tidy, feed the animals, and then come up for breakfast and brush his teeth.  Only when he has finished his chores is he aloud to do whatever he wants until school.  For me, this means spending my time making sure he’s done everything, while still trying to get my other kids ready (of course it doesn’t always happen that way).  So I go to check if the cats have indeed been fed, only to discover that not only were they NOT fed today, but they haven’t been feed for the last two days!  So what do I do next?  Loose my shit that’s what!

After yelling and getting frustrated and with Oliver in tears, I stop and think about it.  Why would he lie to me?  Especially when it’s so obvious he’d get caught considering the bag of cat food hasn’t even been opened!?!  Oliver is a good kid, and an incredibly intelligent one.  So how on earth is it possible that he would let the cats starve (there are other cat dishes with food in the house by the way, so they weren’t actually starving) and then lie to me about it?

I decided to do a little research.  Surely he wasn’t the only kid doing this.  And I was right!  Turns out, it’s not about defiance, it’s about having trouble coping with challenges.  For kids with ADD/ADHD, no task is simple.  That’s why routine is so important, they don’t have to think so much about all the steps involved in something because they do it everyday.  But when there’s a change to the routine, it’s like a roadblock and it’s incredibly difficult to push past.  So what’s easier?  A little lie.  It’s worth it for them to face the consequences of lying rather than face the challenge.

So when Oliver told me he fed the cats but hadn’t, it was because the cat food bag was unopened and he couldn’t open it.  Sounds simple enough, but for him, there were a lot of steps to this process and even more distractions along the way.  In his mind “Ok, I can’t open the cat food, I could go upstairs and get some scissors, but then mom will ask what I need them for and I’ll have to explain, then I have to come back down with the scissors and try to remember to bring them back up, I’ll probably forget because I usually do, oh look! there’s that toy I was looking for, I wonder how it got in here, this room smells, I’m gonna go put my toy away…” and then he forgets about the cat food until I ask.  He then lies to avoid even trying to go through that process again.

The first thing I’ve learned is not to ask.  Now I simply go and check.  This eliminates the opportunity for him to lie.  If it’s not done, I’ll look for obstacles, help him if needed, or simply just remind him to do it.  But let’s face it, I’m a busy mom of 3 (that includes a 3 year old with communication problems and a 10 month old baby) so sometimes I just don’t have time.  If I do ask, I have to remember to accept the answer and not accuse him of lying.  If I think he’s lying, I’ll give him another opportunity to tell the truth, without consequences.

So let’s say you tell your child to clean up their toys (which are scattered everywhere in their bedroom) before school.  You ask if they cleaned them up because you don’t have time to check.  The cat is puking, the baby is throwing food, and your toddler is refusing to get dressed because “she has an ouchy” (yes this is my life!).  Your child yells “yes it’s clean” as they rush out the door to catch the bus.  You go to grab the laundry from their room, only to step on a Lego, cursing those tiny fucking bricks, and stumbling upon the disaster you were told had been cleaned.  So you sit in the pile crying and screaming “what the fuck is wrong with my kid?” and “I’m a failure as a mother!” while you think about how peaceful it would be at the nut house with some nice drug induced sleep.

Well here’s what you can do instead:  They lied.  But why?  Look around and try to figure out what happened from their point of view.  Was it just too many different steps to clean all that up causing some anxiety about it?  Or maybe they were distracted by one toy and then forgot to clean up the mess.  When you figure out the “why” or at least the “maybe why”, you’ll be able to come up with a plan so it doesn’t happen again.  So leave the mess for now, and include your child in the plan when they get home.  Get their input as well so they feel like they have more control.  Let them know you understand what happened, but it’s the lying that gets them in trouble.

So just to recap:

First, and most important, count to 10 and take a deep breath!

When you give your kid an instruction, make sure you’re at their level and face to face.

Check before you ask to eliminate the opportunity to lie.

If you do ask, accept the answer, but give them a second opportunity to tell the truth if you think they’re lying, without consequence.

If you discover they lied, find the “why” so you can understand.

Come up with a plan (which may just be how to ask for help).

Discipline when necessary, and help them understand that it was the lying that got them in trouble, not the task.

Reward honesty to encourage more honesty

And remember to lead by example!

Tip:  If I’m giving my son a bigger task like cleaning up the playroom, I’ll diffuse 2 drops Peppermint, 2 drops Wild Orange and 1 drop Frankincense to help him focus.  Click here to get these essential oils.