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.