Information for Parents about Attention Deficit Disorder and Lying

For children with attention deficit disorder, lying is often unintentional. As a parent, you may have difficulty deciding whether you can chalk the lie up to ADD or if it's a deliberate attempt to deceive. Sometimes you will never know. But with some deductive reasoning, you can tease out the truth.

Why Children Lie

Learning to lie is a normal stage in childhood development. "Most children learn to lie effectively between the ages of two and four," according to child development expert Frances Stott, Ph.D., professor of child development at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

When children are very young, they may lie simply because they have a hard time telling reality from fantasy. By the time, they are four years old, children know the difference between telling the truth and lying, and they understand that lying is wrong. They may lie to avoid discipline and disapproval. When they are older, they may lie to avoid doing homework in favor of playing video games, to maintain privacy and independence or to protect a friend.

Your first reaction to discovering that your child has lied may be anger or disappointment. You may choose to ignore the lie, lecture or discipline, especially if your child has purposely lied to you.

ADD and Lying

For the parent of a child with attention deficit disorder, lying presents a more difficult situation. Psychologist Peter Jaska, Ph.D., president and clinical director of ADD Centers of America, says that when it comes to ADD, what parents may construe as a lie is often an organizational or "record-keeping" issue, rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive you.

Other times, lying may be due to the fact that ADD causes a child to be impulsive and perhaps spin a tale before trying to explain his or her actions or working out the consequences of not telling the truth.

Parents should consider that an ADD child may not have planned the lie or lied on purpose, and while the situation may call for discipline, it also calls for understanding.

What to Consider about Lying in a Child with ADD

Parents should first remember that their child's lying may be a result of his or her ADD symptoms. So, if your child is lying to you, count to 10 and consider the possibilities.

If your child has lied to get out of a boring or unpleasant task, says Jaska, think of a way to make it more exciting—let him or her watch TV while folding towels or listen to music while cleaning the bathroom. If your child is on medication to control ADD symptoms, ask yourself if the dose is right, or if the medication has worn off for the day, making it harder for your child to control his or her actions. If your child is not on medication, is behavior therapy a possibility?

How to Handle Lying

Deliberate or not, ADD or not, lying requires parental attention. Don't lose your temper; it won't accomplish anything. Do not target your child's self-esteem by calling him or her a liar or bringing up past transgressions, says clinical psychologist, Victoria Samuel, director of the Parent Support Service in Bristol, U.K. Instead, be calm and respectful, but firm.

Try to determine why your child feels the need to lie and you can work together to solve the problem. Don't punish; rather, determine a clear, appropriate consequence and enforce it consistently. Most importantly, model honesty, and teach your child to take responsibility for his or her lies by making amends to those affected by them.

Something to Remember

Regardless of whether a child has attention deficit disorder, lying occasionally is not the end of the world. It is a normal development of early childhood, and later, children learn that lying may be acceptable in some cases—for example, when trying not to hurt someone's feelings. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, problems arise when a child or adolescent makes up elaborate lies for attention, falls into a pattern of lying or is not bothered by telling lies.

Written by:
Kira Jaines

Sources: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families: Children and Lying. Accessed: June 22, 2011.

University of California, Santa Barbara. The Truth About Lying. Accessed: June 23, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 20 Jul 2011

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015