ADHD and lying: why does it happen and what can we do?

Everyone tells a little white lie now and then, or bends the truth just a little. But ADHD and lying go together more frequently than you might think. As a parent, partner or friend, this can be challenging to deal with. Are you seeing signs of lying in your child, partner or friend with ADHD? There's an explanation for this, and as we like to believe: there's always a solution.

Why do some children and adults with ADHD lie regularly? And what can we do about this? You will find answers in this blog.

ADD, ADHD and lying: a habit?

Most children and adults with ADHD are either impulsively honest – which also causes problems – or regularly tell a lie. Most of the time, it's about little things. They don't lie about stealing or cheating, but about small, everyday things, such as chores and work stuff. Not all people with ADHD lies regularly, but for those who do, it can quickly become a habit.

But why does someone with ADHD/ADD lie?

ADHD and lying children

Why does someone with ADHD lie?

There are many reasons for a person with ADHD to lie frequently. Some explanations might be:

  • Low self-esteem: the lying might happen because the child or adult with ADHD feels insecure and wants to be perceived as ‘normal'.
  • Difficulty expressing themselves: an ADHD-child might struggle with expressing themselves in an honest way, simply because they lack the communication skills that are needed for that.
  • Forgetfulness: a person with ADHD might struggle with their memory, and therefore simply lie because they can't exactly remember what happened.

Lying out of shame or as a coping mechanism

A big explanation for deceitful behavior in children and adults with ADHD, is shame and/or coping mechanism.

Living with ADHD comes with challenges and obstacles. For example, it can be difficult for an ADHD person to perform a simple task; a task that is easy to complete for a neurotypical. Things might never seem to happen as (easy) as they should, and they blame themselves for that. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. To hide their struggle, they might lie.

We could see lying as a coping mechanism here; a way to deal with the challenges that come with ADHD. They might lie to hide that a task is failing. When lying about small things has already become a habit, they might not even realize they are lying.

ADHD and compulsive lying

An example of ADHD and lying in adults

Why would an adult with ADHD tell a white lie? Here's an example of why your partner with ADHD might lie…

Imagine that your partner has finished work at 6.00 pm. ‘Will you come home immediately after work?', you ask your partner, because you'd like to have dinner at 19.00. “Of course honey,” your partner says, because that is his intention. 

It's 6:00 PM, and your partner has finished his work. While walking to his car, he runs into a colleague. She starts a conversation with him and he feels super excited. He hasn't spoken to this colleague for a while, so he is curious how she is doing. What his Wandering ADHD Mind doesn't realize, while being completely in the present moment, is that this talk takes up more than 20 minutes. He quickly walks to his car, but shortly after leaving, he's distracted again. “Oh, we don't have a desert for tonight”, so he makes a stop at the supermarket, that is very busy at this time.

As a result of these distractions, he arrives at home much later than he promised. When you ask him why he is late, with a cranky face, he feels shame. “Our meeting ran late”, he replied quickly. Because he feels embarrassed for being so distracted on his way home, he makes up an excuse.

lying adults iwth ADHD

An example of a child with ADHD that is lying

Why would a child with ADHD lie? Here's an example…

When your child comes home from school, you ask him to clean up his room first. “Of course Mom,” he says (and he means it). He goes upstairs and starts cleaning his room. While cleaning up, he sees a book that he is reading. “Oh yes, I loved the part that I was reading yesterday. I'm so curious how it will end!”. He starts reading with enthusiasm, and before he knows it, he is completely immersed in the story.

When you knock on his door an hour later, he is startled. You stand in the doorway in amazement, facing a still cluttered room. Your son sees your angry face. “I had to send something to my teacher, Mom,” your son says. ‘But I’m done now. I will clean up my room now'.

The child might experience feelings of shame and guilt. He wants to keep his promises, but he got distracted. Because of that, he makes up an excuse. As a parent, without knowing what ADHD feels like, you may not understand. “What's so difficult about cleaning your room?”, you might think. But something that is easy for you without ADHD, can be very difficult for your child… with feelings of shame as a result.

tips for helping with adhd and lying

Simple tasks are difficult for adults and children with ADHD

A simple task, such as driving home from work without getting distracted or cleaning a room, can be difficult for someone with ADHD. Children and adults with ADHD have difficulty starting tasks, planning activities, and completing tasks.

In general, children and adults with ADHD also have trouble estimating time and remembering things (such as appointments).

Instead of facing the difficulties, a form of passivity often arises. This is not unwillingness, because often it is simply too difficult for the ADHD person to deal with these challenges. Therefore, children and adults with ADHD often use medication or supplements to manage their symptoms.

Feeling shame or telling a white lie?

The ADHD person's choice to lie can happen very unconsciously, especially when lying has become a habit. They might not even realize they are lying, because the feeling of shame is so strong, so it seems like the only way to deal with it. The consideration for the ADHD person may at first feel as if they have to make a choice between shame or a little white lie. Shame is a strong emotion, and often experiences as a negative one. It's an emotion that some people simply don't know how to deal with. That's why many choose to lie, consciously or unconsciously.

A little lie can take the pressure off, when things don't work out as they ‘should'. To avoid getting in trouble or being exposed, a lie is an easy escape. It can easily become a habit.

tips for helping with adhd and lying

What to do about dishonesty?

Perhaps this information gave you a little insight into why your son, daughter, partner or friend with ADHD is lying. But what can you do about it?

Find the cause

It's important to figure out why the lying happens and why it persists, according to ADDitude. Does the child or person lie because of shame as a result of struggling with ADHD symptoms? It might be worth it to find a solution together (such as therapy and/or medication/supplements/lifestyle changes), to learn to manage the symptoms of ADHD.

Show understanding

It may help to show understanding for the inability to be truthful, as a result of shame. For example, explain to your child that you are not angry about his room not being cleaned yet, and that you wish to find a solution together. Tell him that you understand it's struggle, and make an agreement for the next time when something like this happens. 

For example, it might help to start cleaning the room together, and to agree that you'll come and see how things are going after 15 minutes. You indicate that the child is not bad or incompetent. You recognize the challenges that your child is dealing with, as a result of ADHD symptoms, and find a solution together.

solutions for adhd and lying

Tips for helping with ADHD and lying

Lying can break the trust between you and your child, partner or friend. It is therefore important to take immediate action if you notice that lying or deception is taking place. A good conversation might be a good start.

Some general tips for lying as a result of ADHD:

  • Confront the ADHD person with their behavior, but always do so in a calm, respectful manner. Try to avoid blaming and criticizing, because this will increase the insecurity, shame and therefore the chance that they will lie again.
  • Try to find a solution together with your child, partner or ADHD-friend. In what way can the ADHD person learn to manage the ADHD symptoms? For example, can you help your child completing a task by making a start together and checking in after a while? Or maybe your partner likes to be reminded with a phone call that he promised to come home after work?
  • Tell them that they can ask you for help. Let them know that you understand their struggles and that they can be fully themselves. Show them that you're willing to help them, and that they are not incompetent. Focus on their positive traits as well, and share with them that nobody is perfect. We all have things we need to work on.
  • Reward honesty. Does your child, partner or friend with ADHD have the courage to admit that something has not worked out? State how much you like that they are honest about it. You can possibly say that it is not a bad thing, and that you wish to find a solution together.
ADHD and deception behavior tips
  • Help them to remove the shame, for example by being open and honest yourself, also about your own struggles. In this way, you lead by example, and make it clear that it's okay to be vulnerable and imperfect. For example, you can say, “I feel like it's difficult for you. Shall we find out together how this happened and how it could be done differently next time?”.
  • Don't take it personally. Remember, someone with ADHD has challenges that people without the label don't have They probably feel ashamed. It's not about unwillingness or disrespect. Your child, partner or friend with ADHD does not consciously try to challenge you or treat you disrespectfully.
  • Focus on what led to the lie, not on the lie itself. That way, you can solve it together.
  • Keep communicating. Talk about what happened so that the ADHD person learns to recognize where things take a wrong turn.

When the lies and deception are extreme and destructive

Do you notice that the ADHD person lies about destructive behavior, such as alcohol, drugs, shoplifting or other delinquent behavior? Is it about other serious lies, or do you notice that lying has become a habit? Then a more vigorous approach may be necessary, and it's time to seek professional help.

Why do ADHD children lie?

What is your experience with ADHD and lying?

You probably read this article because you have experience with ADHD and lying. Maybe you find yourself lying regularly, or you see this behavior in your son, daughter, partner or friend. We'd love to hear your experience with ADHD and lying, and if you have a tip for our readers, please share them in the comments below! :-)

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