5 Ways to Raise Sneaky Kids

kids lying

When our first child was born we had plants in the living room. He loved to touch them, but for obvious reasons, we didn’t want him to. So my husband and I would say, “No. No touch.” when he would touch them. We were wondering if he was understanding the boundary we were instilling. Then one day it became clear. At age one, having just learned how to walk we watched him slowly move backward towards the plants. He kept looking around the room as if to communicate, “Nothing to see here.” After backing up to the plants, still looking away from them, he reached out the back of his hand to brush across them over and over. We started laughing, while thinking, “You are a sneaky little guy!”

We want to raise our kids to be honest. We don’t want our kids lying, right? We tell them from the cradle that the truth is a must and that lying is wrong, but are we undermining that message in subtle ways by the way we act and react to certain situations? Think about the following scenarios to see if any are problems in your plan for parenting honest kids.

1. Failing to practice what you preach.

Kids can spot hypocrisy from a hundred miles away. When your child answers the phone and you ask him to tell Mrs. Johnson that you’re “not here,” you’ve just demonstrated that there are exceptions to the rule. It’s hard work to hold yourself to such a high standard all the time, but trust us; it’s the only way to have real credibility with your kids on this issue.

2. Asleep at the parenting wheel.

Keeping up with busy kids is work, and sometimes it’s just easier to take their word for it that they’re where they are supposed to be and living within the family rules. But we all know that more kids stay within the boundaries if there is regular accountability involved. If your young teen is sleeping over with a friend, take the time to talk with the other parents about curfew expectations and other concerns. Don’t assume that other families are as vigilant as you about protecting your child. If your kid knows you’re the type to make those calls and check up on things, she’ll be far less likely to try to deceive you.

3. Pressuring your child into dishonesty.

Unreasonable expectations— whether they be about grades, behavior, etc.— can leave your child desperate to get some relief from the consequences of failure and tempted to lie or cover his tracks. A home where the standards are high and consequences are real, but (and this is a BIG “but”) grace and understanding prevail in most circumstances, is one where a kid doesn’t need to lie. He can tell you the hard stuff, knowing that even if there are consequences, the world won’t end.

4. Rationalizing their dishonesty.

If your daughter gets caught cheating in school, she has been dishonest. It does not matter if the teacher is tough and unlikable, or that the material was covered in a rush. Sure, those things may be separate issues to explore after the fact, but don’t let any of them become an acceptable excuse for the act of cheating. Integrity is about doing the right thing when it’s hard and no one’s looking. Your child must learn to do the right thing in the moment. Address the other challenges in an appropriate way.

5. Using the world around you as the standard.

It’s tempting to look at your own child’s dishonesty and say, “Well, she didn’t exactly rob a bank; I know kids who do far worse.” But that’s a slippery slope. If we use our cultural standard for personal integrity to decide which failures of character are worth addressing, we’ll seldom, if ever, push our children to expect more of themselves and others. Don’t be part of lowering the bar; be a part of pushing it back to where it needs to be!


Tell us! What are some other ways we help our kids to become sneaky?