Today, we’re tackling a very sensitive issue, but one that is prevalent in families with ADHD kids. The issue is that of telling lies. Parenting a child with ADHD is challenging even on the best of days. Because these kids spend much of their time seemingly in disobedience, it’s imperative parents develop a system for determining the difference between matters of the heart that require immediate disciplinary action and those that are the coping mechanism of a child with ADHD. One of the most difficult areas in which to judge this is lying.
For most children, frequent lying is often a heart issue. It causes great concern for parents, and children who lie frequently often find themselves losing friends and in trouble with other authority figures. One thing you must determine is this:
Is lying always a heart issue?
Lying may not always be a heart issue for your ADHD child. Instead, it may be a coping mechanism, that while still troubling and in need of your immediate attention, is not as serious an issue as you might think. The bottom line is lying doesn’t always mean your child is dishonest.
It is imperative that parents of children with ADHD open their minds to the idea that these kids while these children need guidance and discipline, not understanding the whys behind lying for kids with ADHD can mean you’ll handle things in ways you may not be proud of later.
Most ADHD kids are acutely aware that this is a constant battle for them. Mine has often brought it up himself as an issue for us to pray over. He has memorized Scripture and is greatly bothered by the knowledge that lying is something that God hates (Proverbs 6:15-19).
Parents of children who lie may hear ugly comments such as, “you don’t know what kind of child you’re raising,” “you child has a black heart,” and “maybe if you smacked him in the mouth once in awhile, he would learn not to lie.” Lying can result in lost friends (for both of you), and for you to be excluded from playdates, birthday parties, and other child-friendly activities (even at church).
Nothing could be further from the truth. My ADHD child is an amazing, bright, joyful, wonderful child with a kind, compassionate heart. He longs to be a truth-teller. He is often frustrated by his own behavior. This is likely true for your child as well.
I would venture a guess that there is no other issue that can cause more pain or heartache for families of ADHD kids than this one. I have watched my son hit himself in the head, call himself “stupid” and an “idiot,” tell us he doesn’t deserve to live in our home, and beg to go live in a foster home so that he wouldn’t disappoint us any more. All over his remorse with telling lies. It is heartbreaking to watch.
So why are children with ADHD so prone to telling lies?
There are two major reasons.
ADHD children lie to avoid consequences of their impulsive behavior or distractability.
Lying is often an impulsive behavior itself, but mostly these kids have grown weary with the constant barrage of punishment being dished out upon them. Let’s face it, ADHD kids get in trouble. A lot. Lying often becomes the first resort for these impulsive kids who are afraid to admit they made a rash and poor decision behaviorally or didn’t finish the work they were told to do, and know this will result in punishment.
ADHD children lie to make friends.
I know, it doesn’t quite makes sense, does it? But many ADHD kids have major issues with making and keeping friends. Ironically, sometimes because of telling lies. These kinds of issues often damage their self-esteem and bring about insecurity. Lying to make themselves look more important, smarter, or more interesting is not unusual.
So what’s a parent to do? We certainly cannot ignore lying or offer our children excuses for doing it.
There are a few things you can do.
Help your child understand the downside to telling lies.
Talk about scenarios in your own life where lying damaged a relationship or left you feeling guilty and in need of repentance and forgiveness.
Establish consequences for lying and make sure your child understands what those consequences will be.
But be fair with the consequences. It’s easy to go overboard out of frustration, with a child who tries your patience every, single day.
Break the cycle.
Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence that will work with these kids. Try breaking the cycle instead. The cycle goes something like this — your child makes a mistake and then lies about it in fear of the repercussions. You discover the lie, confront your child and demand the truth. Your child admits the lie, tells the truth, and then you punish him. Chances are pretty good that the next time he makes a mistake, he’s going to lie again and take his chances. Instead, try breaking the cycle by leaving out the punishment. Replace it with Scripture and a time of prayer so that your child can confess, repent, and receive forgiveness for his sin.
Encourage your child to think before speaking.
If you know that you’ve just asked him a question that is likely to result in a lie, give him a verbal instruction to think first. Impulsive kids tend to answer quickly. Giving your child the chance to stop and think first is more likely to end with a truthful response.
Give your child the opportunity to reconsider.
Your child has just blurted out a lie. You know it and he knows it. Oftentimes, it is beneficial to stop the conversation right there and give him the chance to start over. You can offer a little coaching, if needed. For example, “Son, I want you to think about what you just said. I’ll give you another chance to tell me the truth with no punishment for lying.” Even if you discover hours later that your child lied, you can give him the opportunity to tell the truth.
Demand responsibility and accountability.
Whatever the reason for the lie, you should insist that your child admit to lying, restate what is true, show repentance, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Life should stop for your child until this happens. Once this has happened, be sure to discuss how he could have handled this situation differently. If he can’t come up with a strategy to do better next time, it’s ok to give him one. Role playing can help.
Catch your child telling the truth when circumstances might have tempted him to lie. Praise him for his honesty. Maybe even reward him.
Consider that your child’s ADHD symptoms may not be under good control from a medical or behavioral standpoint.
If you are treating your child’s symptoms with medication or behavior therapy, it may be time for a change. An increase in dosage or a new coping technique may be in order. Please do discuss these concerns with your child’s doctor or therapist.
Connect with your child’s heart.
Making a heart connection with your ADHD child is the most important thing you can do. Lavish him with love and affection. Encourage conversation. Listen to him. Share his interests. Praise him. Help him see who is really is and who he can be. Be available. Let him know what a gift having ADHD really is.
Please don’t ever refer to your ADHD child (or anyone else’s) as “dishonest” or a “liar.” Remain respectful, loving, encouraging and consistent. Remember that the culprit here is not likely the lying itself, but the other behavior issues that he is struggling to get and keep under control.
Thank you for visiting my series on ADHD Awareness. Yesterday, we began by discussing some of the common symptoms of this disorder. If you missed that article, you’ll want to click over and read it also.