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What to Do When Gifted or 2e Kids Lie

Lying often indicates sensitivity, embarrassment, or overwhelm - not purposeful deception

Do gifted and twice-exceptional kids lie more often than other kids?

 

As far as I know, there isn't any research on this question.

 

It's developmentally common for kids to experiment with lying, but I wouldn't be surprised if emotionally intense gifted/2e kids lie or fudge facts more than average. They’re verbally adept, so I think it’s natural for them to experiment more with lying, exaggeration, and other forms of verbal influence. Bright kids may also find it easier to craft compelling lies or imagine half-truths and clever fabrications.

But emotionally intense gifted and twice-exceptional kids often say things that aren't true because of emotional reasons. In my work with intense gifted/2e kids and their families, I've seen that these kids often use lying as a coping strategy to avoid uncomfortable feelings and situations, to compensate for things that are tricky, and to bolster their (sometimes fragile) sense of self.

For intense gifted/2e kids, lying often indicates sensitivity, embarrassment, or overwhelm - not purposeful deception.

Because parents often worry about lying, I wanted to offer a few perspectives and ideas that might help you feel less stressed the next time your kid says something that isn't true.

Read below for tips and strategies to try.

 

(1) Don’t get over-focus on the lying itself.

This is difficult, because lying is an attention-grabbing behavior.

Many of us have learned from our own parents or from society that lying is unacceptable, disgraceful, a character flaw, or even a sin. A lot of parents have an internal alarm that goes off when a child lies - “Danger! This is not allowed! This is not appropriate! Nip it in the bud!”

But lying is developmentally appropriate - all kids lie at some point. And many adults bend the truth regularly, either to ourselves or to others - to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, to feel better about something we regret, to save face, to protect our own feelings or vulnerability.

When a child lies, the act of lying is usually not the most important thing going on in the conversation.

Lying is a behavior, and it's helpful to think about behavior (especially challenging behavior) as the external expression of a kid's internal state. To understand a kid's or teen's behavior, it can help to look below the surface to understand what's happening for the child that's leading to the behavior.

Kids often lie when they're stressed or when it’s too hard to tell the truth. So instead of focusing on the lying itself, you might get curious about why it’s too hard for your child to tell the truth in that moment.

 

(2) Get curious about why it’s too hard for your child to tell the truth.

In my experience, here are some common situations when gifted/2e kids lie because it’s too hard to tell the truth:

  • They have done something "wrong" or against the rules and don’t want to get in trouble, or they feel ashamed/embarrassed about what they did. They may be afraid they’ll get in trouble for breaking a rule (”I didn’t hit her!” even though you saw it happen), or they may lie about their own mistake that distresses them (”The teacher never taught us multiplication!” or “You knocked that over!” when you were across the room).

  • They forgot to do something and they don't want to get in trouble. This dynamic is particularly common for kids with ADHD, who may forget verbal directions or get distracted before they complete something they were asked to do. These kids don't want to disappoint their parents or get in trouble - so when their parents ask them if they've done the task, they say yes - even though that's not true.

  • They want to avoid something. For example, a kid who hates brushing their teeth because of sensory sensitivities may lie and say they've already brushed. Or a child who finds handwriting exhausting may say they don't have any homework even when they do.

  • They want to win or be correct and the idea of losing or being wrong is too upsetting (for example, they may lie about which choice they made, the rules, or which card was on top of the deck in a game).

  • Their emotions are too upsetting, overwhelming, or feel too vulnerable, so they lie about their emotions and reactions - “I’m not upset,” “I don’t care,” or “I was just kidding.”

  • They really want something and feel like they need it, but don’t think they will get it if they ask honestly - “Dad said I could have it” or “I haven’t had any candy yet today.”

(3) If relevant, ​validate the feeling or desire​ behind the lie - ​without trying to teach them anything​.
  • “I know, you didn’t plan to hit her - you got upset because she was yelling so close to you.”

  • “You never learned how to do this multiplication - that doesn’t feel fair.”

  • “You really wish you could have more candy right now. I get that. Candy is delicious.”

  • "Hm, I think you wish you already took your shower." 🙃

You can learn more about validation here.  

Why do I suggest avoiding any teaching in the moment?  You can read more about that here.

(3) If you address the lie, do so gently instead of punitively.

If you think it would be helpful to address the lie directly, try to use a gentle, playful, validating, or open tone instead of a corrective or punitive tone, so you give your child a chance to respond without feeling under pressure. You can pair a gentle tone with an invitation to collaborate or problem-solve together.

 

You could try something like:

  • “Hmmmm…I’m pretty sure Dad would say no to candy right now too.”

  • “I’m confused...I thought it was my turn to go.”

  • “Now wait a second… I’m pretty sure the iPad was at full battery this morning and now it’s at 70 percent…mysterious! I wonder how that happened…”

  • “Now I know you wanted to turn in your homework…but I also know it’s really easy to forget homework sometimes…and that's okay. We can figure out what to do if you forgot. So let me check again… did you actually turn in your homework, or was this one of those forgetting times?”

 

If you show your child that you’re curious about the “why” behind the lie, you're more likely to problem-solve together about the “why” instead of getting stuck at a punishment for their behavior.

 

(4) If your child lies to save face, leave it.

 

I like to conceptualize this type of lying as a coping mechanism.

 

If your kid is horrified that they made a mistake and they lie to cover it up, try leaving it be. Sometimes denial is a helpful first coping step, when a mistake feels so awful it’s hard to think about without feeling horrible.

If you really want to address the mistake or lying, wait until your kid has calmed down and is able to think more clearly. A lot of times, kids can readily name what really happened once they’ve calmed down, if they’re allowed to do so in their own time.

(5) If your child blames you for something they did, try being playful or going with it.

 

Some intense gifted/2e kids, especially those with a PDA profile, can’t tolerate making mistakes or messing up - their nervous system reacts so intensely to even a small mistake that they go into a fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode.

For these kids, mistakes can feel overwhelming, unsettling, and unsafe.

 

This isn’t a conscious response - it’s more an instinctual reaction. I experience this myself - an initial true horror about some mistakes that often feels intolerable.

These kids often blame others for their mistakes as a way to find a feeling of safety in the moment. By externalizing the blame, they can regulate their emotions and come out of panic.

If your kid blames you for things they did, try to go with it or be playful and see what happens. Think of this as a co-regulation strategy - your kid can’t regulate in the moment, so they blame you, and by absorbing the blame momentarily, you show them that mistakes can be tolerated and metabolized.

If your kid says, “You messed me up!” you could say, “Oh shoot, I’m sorry! I gotta be more careful,” or you might say something silly like, “I’m so clumsy!” “Oh noooo!” or “Whaaaat?”, or use exaggerated slapstick to lighten the mood.

Even though it’s tempting to teach your child accountability for their actions in these moments, they’re too panicked to learn anything, and forcing the issue will usually dysregulate them further. By helping them re-regulate to a place of safety, you actually build their capacity for mistakes and grace in the long run.

If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for parents of intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kids.

As you can probably tell from this email, there's no one "best" or "right" way to respond when your kid lies - and there's no one "best" way to handle any other tricky parenting situation, either. That's why my parent coaching program combines practical guidance with personalized coaching. I help you predict what approach will work best for your kid, then we discuss how it went and adjust, tweak, or re-envision your strategies together. If you'd like to feel more confident handling tricky moments like lying, meltdowns, and power struggles, I invite you to check out ​Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid​ to see if it's a good fit!

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