Dealing with a Sneaky Child – Correcting the Problem

The first time your child tells you a little white lie, you may think it’s cute. Lets face it, the four year old that has chocolate all over his hands and face, and swears to you hasn’t eaten the chocolate cake is downright adorable and worthy of Americans Funniest Home Videos. The problem is that children learn from these experiences. Not only do they learn what the limits and boundaries in life are, but they also learn what sort of consequences that they will receive from mom and dad. And what is cute at four years old, is downright troublesome at 14 or 15.

Children learn the basics in life fairly early on. You teach them not to steal, to tell the truth, to be honest. You do your very best as a parent to ensure that kids know the rules of life and stick to them as well as they possibly can. Then suddenly, you notice that a $20 bill is missing from your wallet. Or that your child has come home with an item from school that doesn’t belong to them. For older kids, dealing with a sneaky child is about learning to recognize the signs that they are hiding something from you. For instance, the internet cache is wiped out, or they are constantly on their Ipods typing away but close the browser every time you come close. They may even take to hiding things in their rooms away from you. This type of behavior is deceitful and sneaky. And it is true that teens will be ‘naturally’ deceitful and sneaky as they assert their independence from mom and dad. But experts believe that there are ways to get kids to be honest with their parents.

Children engage in sneaky and deceitful behavior for a reason. Most obviously, kids will lie or sneak things from parents because they KNOW and are AWARE of the expectations that you have as a parent. And since they have done, are doing, or want to do something against these expectations, they hide or lie. The good news is that their behavior shows you that you have been clear on what you expect and what you don’t expect from your children. But many psychologists believe that parents actually set up their kids to lie and be dishonest. How?

The first time your child lies, or is caught being sneaky instead of taking a breath and removing yourself from the situation parents become angry and derogatory. Children automatically feel pushed up against the wall and defensive. And when parent suspect that their child is being sneaky or lying, they become accusing and their demeanor flared. And the first thing that children feel is humiliation and shame. At this point, being honest is too painful for the child and they become absorbed with ‘saving themselves.’

However, if parents can learn to approach their children without angry, and instead by utilizing boundaries and limits as reasons for the inquisition, children can learn to be honest. In fact, when children feel that they have a safe place to discuss their wrongdoings, they are more apt to be honest and less sneaky. This doesn’t mean that a parent should inflict a consequence to action, but rather that the environment should be one about teaching and learning, rather than strictly about punishment.

Even so, setting up a safe environment for your child is not a cure all to lying and sneakiness. Children need to understand that you as a parent value honesty first and foremost. Even if you aren’t going to like the truth, you are going to accept the truth. Remember, that the lie or sneakiness itself, is simply a measure of their conscious that realizes they did something wrong. And, you can pretty much bet on the fact that your child feels badly about their indiscretions.

With older kids, parents often fall into the trap of thinking that they are dealing with a young adult. And since they see the child as grown, they tend to expect more from the child than the child is capable of. Being sneaky, lying, and testing limits and boundaries is atypical of today’s adolescent. Yet still, parents need to remain vigilant and remember that regardless of the lip service teens use to defend their actions, they are not developmentally ready to make certain decisions. And further more, teens need to be reminded that you set expectations and limits for a reason. If they feel that your limits are too harsh, and are turning to lying or being deceptive, then parents should sit down with the kids and try to talk openly and honestly (without anger) about the reasons the rules are in place. Additionally, if you have not had a lot of problems with your teen, it might be time to compromise on some of the rules you have in place which are pushing them to be sneaky.

The most important aspect of a sneaky child is to teach consequence. Parents need to enforce consequences, without anger or force. If you allow them to get away with it and fall to the often-manipulative reasoning of your child you are not doing them any favors.

Last but not least, parents need to spend a lot of time talking about trust. Trust is essential in the parent child relationship. Just as you need to trust your child, your child needs to trust you. This parent child trust is established early on in life and is mostly driven by experiences that both you and your child have with one another. The more adept you are at making these experiences positive and influential in your child’s ability to be honest and forthcoming, the easier your life as a parent will be.



2 Responses

  1. How would you recommend that we build trust with a child we have that is in care?
    I am the main carer and we have had our boy who is now 14 for 13 months. He is academically bright, but socially and possibly developmentally behind for his age in my opinion. He goes through phases where he clicks his fingers a lot and when confronted doesn’t know why or more recently fakes a reason.
    When people say ‘Hi, how are you’ he has a regimented response of ‘fine, yes, thank you, how are you?’.
    The one main issue of trust we have is related to a legal requirement for him not to have unsupervised contact with relatives. To this end, at home we have no internet access available to him unless supervised and often when offered time on the internet he is uninterested. However at the youth club where we attend he has unfiltered internet access which we cannot check unless we sit and watch him for 3 hours straight. We do not monitor this so he can feel free when attending the youth club and we figure that if he is making contact that he would soon ruin his placement like his previous placement.
    For his birthday a few months ago, we got him a Monqi smart phone, but we told him the reasons why and that over time we would derestrict his access schedules, app choice limitations and manually approved contacts as and when allowed or we feel we can.
    He has informed me of a number of workarounds to bypass or reset schedules locally on the device and I have been fortunate enough to be in contact with the developers to make them aware that the issues being fixed would strengthen the image of the secure and robust nature of their product.
    Recently I checked his device for possible ways to open a web browser that would bypass app restrictions allowing him onto website versions of certain platforms.
    While I was checking I noticed he has some saved WIFI network connections, one of which could be related to a device my partner’s child has where it appears he has been tethering. Another network stored was for the barber shop he attends.
    I haven’t broached this with him yet because I have deleted the stored network details and I want to see if they reappear so I can address the issue with more evidence.

    The positive childhood shared experiences don’t exist for us and our teen; though we have tried to provide quite a lot of positive experiences from day one, including giving a degree of autonomy, there seems to be a lack of trust even though opportunities are given where he can show us without knowing it that he is trustworthy.
    We have rules for screen time that he breaks infrequently (maybe 2 times in a 30 day period) and we have a talk about him not self regulating, yet it happens again.
    I find he wastes his own spare time even when screen time is available to him like he has no default setting for ‘Do this if I have time spare’, he’s either on a screen or playing with cats and when the cats have gone he will stand and throw a cat toy in the air for 10 minutes.

    Where could we focus our energy, time or conversations to have a lasting impact?

    Thanks 🙂

  2. Find an area of interest, soccer has great Xbox games that are wholesome. If he has a good group of guys they could do some slip and slide weather permitting. Look on utube to find activities that big boys like. Actual soccer or baseball, basketball game organizations that you can get involved in & sit & watch as a family builds good bonds. Fishing is an all time favorite. You’d be surprised what might come up in casual fishing conversations. Bonding is what he needs. It’s also what you will love. God Bless

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