Devious Behavior in Children

By Kathryn Hatter
Devilish behaviors might crop up -- deal with these issues smartly to discourage them.
Devilish behaviors might crop up -- deal with these issues smartly to discourage them.

It’s not uncommon for kids to demonstrate devious behavior at some point during childhood. In fact, even 3-year-olds will make up a story or try to cast blame dishonestly if they deem it necessary, according to a University of California, Santa Barbara publication. By learning about deceitful behaviors, you’ll be ready to handle these challenging problems when they present themselves.

Devious Defined

When someone acts deviously, the person plots to achieve personal or selfish goals. The methods used to achieve goals are generally underhanded and slyly achieved. People surrounding the person might be pawns in the plan or unwitting accomplices. A child can engage in devious behavior for a variety of reasons, including having the desire to draw attention to himself, being selfish or having a simple misunderstanding of right and wrong.


The heart of manipulation is selfish ambition -- the desire to maneuver conditions so they fit a person’s desires and wishes. Manipulation tactics might include lying, making excuses, threatening and plotting, according to the Family Education website. As a child grows, rudimentary attempts at manipulation -- tantrums, for example -- gradually give way to more creative and subtle manipulation that is often crafty and devious. A devious kid might plot to get parents to make expensive purchases or give in to privileges. A devious child might learn these tactics from adults who demonstrate these behaviors, and the child might resort to manipulative behavior when he feels insecure or mistrustful of adults.

Lying, Cheating and Stealing

From about age 3, kids are old enough to understand the moral lesson that lying -- and by extension, cheating and stealing -- is wrong, wrote Dr. Ruth Peters, a clinical psychologist and author of six books on parenting. Even with these moral values firmly in place, many kids aren’t above telling fibs, pilfering goodies and bending the rules of a game. The motivations behind these devious behaviors are usually selfish -- either attention seeking or protecting the self.


Your first line of defense when you notice devious behavior in your child is to clearly define what behaviors you expect and which behaviors are unacceptable. Clear standards make it obvious what kids should expect. For example, common standards might include always telling the truth, acting honestly, working your hardest, and respecting other people and their property. These standards are broad enough to cover most devious behaviors. Give your child lots of positive feedback when you see behaviors you want. The “catch your child being good” routine really works because it motivates kids to do more of the praised behavior. Avoid overreacting to devious behavior if you notice it -- that could actually reinforce it so your child engages in more of the same. Give your child relevant alternatives to whatever misdeeds occurred and encourage him to make better choices next time. Keep yourself in check, too. Your child is watching everything you say and do -- ensure your example is as good as it gets.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.