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Executive Function Deficits and Dishonesty


As your child grows, you will encounter dishonesty. Remember, rebellion is healthy and a part of establishing independence. However, kids with executive function challenges (especially ADHD) can be more dishonest than their peers. By understanding this connection more deeply, you can approach the situation with empathy and provide the necessary support. 

Several factors related to executive function challenges may contribute to dishonesty: 

Impulsivity: Children with executive function challenges may struggle with impulse control, leading them to blurt out untrue statements without considering the consequences. This impulsivity can manifest as lying in the heat of the moment, as they may not take the time to think through the ramifications of their words. This is not an excuse; we should hold them accountable for dishonesty. However, having an understanding is helpful. Additionally, impulsive behavior can lead to children making promises or commitments they cannot keep, resulting in unintentional dishonesty.

Difficulty with Emotional Regulation: Children with executive function challenges may resort to dishonest responses as a coping mechanism when faced with uncomfortable situations or emotions. Their difficulty in regulating emotions can cause them to feel overwhelmed, leading to avoidance or denial of the truth to escape the discomfort. Furthermore, the fear of disappointing others or facing consequences can trigger an emotional response that results in dishonesty as a means of self-preservation.

Challenges with Flexibility: Rigid thinking patterns, often associated with executive function challenges, can make it difficult for children to admit fault, leading to defensive dishonesty. They may struggle to see situations from different perspectives, causing them to double down on their initial stance even when confronted with evidence to the contrary. This black-and-white view of the world can also contribute to a reluctance to apologize or take responsibility for their actions, as they may perceive admitting fault as a sign of weakness or failure.

Maturity: Children with executive function challenges may exhibit delayed maturity compared to their peers, which can impact their understanding of the consequences of dishonesty. They may not fully grasp the long-term effects of lying on relationships and trust, leading them to prioritize short-term gains or avoid discomfort. As they develop and gain more life experiences, they will gradually learn the importance of honesty and the negative impact of dishonesty on their social interactions and personal growth.

How to Help: 

It’s important to note that occasional dishonest verbal responses are a normal part of child development. When addressing dishonesty in children with executive function challenges, it is crucial to approach the situation with understanding and patience while making it clear that dishonesty is not condoned. 

Clear Expectations: Establish clear consequences for dishonesty and consistently enforce them to help children understand the impact of their actions. Communicate these consequences in a calm and straightforward manner, ensuring that the child comprehends the connection between their dishonest behavior and the resulting repercussions. Students with executive function challenges struggle with the “grey,” so try to be as black and white as possible. 

Be a Mirror: One effective strategy is to act as a “mirror” for the child, reflecting back on their words and actions to help them recognize dishonesty in their statements. By calmly repeating what the child has said and asking open-ended questions, you encourage them to reflect on their behavior and consider the truth. This approach allows the child to take responsibility for their actions and promotes self-awareness that combats impulsivity. 

Supportive Environment: It can be beyond frustrating when your child is habitually dishonest with you. Try your best to be patient and create a safe and nurturing environment that encourages open communication. Model honesty and problem-solving skills, and emphasize the importance of learning from mistakes rather than focusing on punishment. Consistent, loving guidance can help your child develop the executive function skills to communicate more honestly and effectively. 

Positive Reinforcement: Praise the child when they demonstrate honesty, even in difficult situations, to reinforce the value of truthfulness. Acknowledge their courage in admitting fault or sharing the truth, even when it may have been challenging for them. By highlighting and celebrating instances of honesty, you help the child recognize the positive outcomes associated with being truthful, such as building trust, strengthening relationships, and fostering personal growth. 

Summary: Dealing with dishonesty requires a compassionate and supportive approach. Parents and caregivers can better address the issue by understanding the underlying factors contributing to dishonest behavior, such as impulsivity, emotional regulation difficulties, and rigid thinking patterns. 

Establishing clear expectations, acting as a mirror to promote self-reflection, creating a nurturing environment, and positively reinforcing honest behavior are all effective strategies to help children develop the skills necessary for truthful communication. 

Remember that change takes time, and progress is gradual and never linear. Consistency, patience, and understanding are key in helping children with executive function challenges navigate the complexities of honesty and integrity. 

Parenting a child who struggles with executive function can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Let Untapped help!

For More:

Age of Opportunity: Lessons From The New Science of Adolescence

The Truth about ADHD and Lying

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