Tricky behavior and lying are some of the hardest issues for parents to deal with. When your child lies and sneaks around, it can feel like a betrayal and begins to feel like a moral issue. You start to question their character. You may start to dislike your child. These are the times when parents need to be able to step back, focus on the behavior, and not take it personally. Lying and tricky behavior is not okay, but it doesn’t make your child a bad person. Instead, it means your child has a behavior problem that needs to be addressed.
Let’s face it—many of us were guilty of some type of sneaking around when we were younger. We may have stolen money from our parents. Perhaps we lied about where we were going or who we were going to be with. We may have even thought we were justified at the time and came up with all kinds of reasons to explain our misbehavior. When you catch your child in a lie or doing something tricky, tell them immediately. Remind them that the behavior is unacceptable and issue the consequence. When things are calm, have a conversation about alternative ways to solve their problem (more about this below). When they’ve misbehaved and lied about it, address both the misbehavior and the lying.
If you think your child has been lying to you and sneaking around but you don’t have the details or the full story, let them know your suspicions. Tell them that you’re going to follow up to get more information and that you will be monitoring their behavior more closely. Kids are not being tricky to hurt you. They are being tricky to get what they want or to solve a problem that they have. But they are problem-solving the wrong way, and it’s your job to coach them to do it the right way.
You will need to have a conversation with your child about how to solve their problems the right way—a way that does not entail lying or sneaking. But don’t have this conversation immediately when confronting the sneaky behavior. Instead, take some time for your child to think about what they did and how to behave differently in the future. This gives you time to prepare for this important discussion. It also gives you time to calm down, which is important because these conversations need to be done without getting emotional.
A way to begin these problem-solving conversations is to have your child do some “homework” ahead of time. Ask them to think about their behavior and be prepared, either verbally or in writing, to let you know what they were thinking when they did this, what the problems were with the behavior, and how they might behave in this situation in the future. It’s always most helpful when the problem-solving ideas come directly from your child.