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Six year old boy engages in sneaky behaviors that he knows he should not do- and worse, he does it while smiling cutely at you and running quickly away. Most recent example is that he has his roku taken away at night so he won't stay up til midnight watching (he knows bedtime is 8). We've been putting it on the table so he can get it in the morning. It was working but he just came out of his room at 10 PM and rushed to the table to get the roku and ran back into his room while smiling directly at me like he thought it was a game. So I went to take it away while he continued to smile like he thought it was cute. Obviously now he'll have to ask for it when mom gets home from work in the morning because we can't trust him to regulate himself.

I want to have a talk with him and explain that he has lost our trust on this and several other issues and that trust is important. The problem is that I can't think of a way to define trust to myself, let alone to a small child who doesn't see the value of it. Every punishment for bad behavior is met with anger because he won't connect his actions to the consequence. He continually does the same things we tell him not to and clearly realizes he's doing wrong by his facial expression and still acts as though consequences are for no reason. At the moment we can't trust him to wash his hands, flush the toilet, brush his teeth, or not watch his television when we tell him not to. He lies whenever caught out about it. Trust, in my mind, is deeply related to freedom. Someone you can't trust has to be constantly micromanaged and monitored. I'd like to be able to instill in him the value of trust for this reason. Does anyone have any ideas of how to talk about it to a child without resorting back to the boy who cried wolf (since that's not quite the same situation)?

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    Okay so it actually got worse tonight. I've been being very calm and I've never once yelled at him, I usually just have "feelings talks" with him after the fact to make him understand how he makes other people feel. Tonight he kept coming out of his room to get me to put the pillow case back on his pillow. After the second time I became suspicious and told him I wouldn't put it on again so he needed to go to bed. Come to find out he did that on purpose as a master plan to manipulate me so he could steal the roku. He's planning this ahead and taking advantage of me. No idea what to do
    – Honestea
    Aug 9, 2021 at 4:02
  • others siblings? or single boy.
    – Nadeem Taj
    Aug 16, 2021 at 19:48

3 Answers 3

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This isn't a trust issue, because he isn't being sneaky. To him, it really is a game. Just like "Hide and Seek", the payoff isn't "winning" the game, its the thrill of getting found. This isn't about the gadget, its about your attention. He grabbed the gadget because he knew you would follow, not because he expected to be able to play with it.

Like any attention-getting behaviour the solution is to manage the attention you give in response. Avoid giving negative attention in the form of lectures and supervised punishment. Emphasise positive attention for small victories instead. This page might have some useful advice.

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A six year old will largely just react to what you are doing: the more you micromanage, the more trigger behavior he will create because to him that's apparently how the world works. Once you are in this groove, it's hard to get out, but here are a few things you can try:

  1. When a transgression happens, sit down and talk to him. "Talking" here means "ask and listen". If your boy is not talking at least 80% of the time you are doing it wrong. Ask open ended questions: "why do you not want to wash your hands". "Why do you think hand washing is important?", "What can we do to make hand washing easier or more fun for you?" Carefully listen to his answers and suggestions and try to understand what he is really thinking. Stay away from blaming or yelling, just focus on finding a solution for the problem at hand together.
  2. Critically assess your own behavior through his eyes. If he gets yelled at regardless whether he fesses up or lies, than it makes no difference to him. If he gets ignored if the does the right thing, he probably prefers getting yelled at for the wrong thing.
  3. Make sure the outcomes for doing the right thing is a lot better for him than doing the wrong thing. That generally means making as little a fuzz as possible about the wrong thing and rewarding and encouraging the right thing. "You did a really good job in the park coming when we called, so we can spend more time here and go for ice ream on the way home". "Sorry, you didn't come when I called so we have no time left to stop for ice cream".
  4. Pick your battles. Start with the behaviors that you find most important and that have enough natural consequences that a six year old can understand and generally agree with. Once you are good on one or two fronts, the rest will get easier.
  5. Work TOGETHER with your son, give him choices. "You know that your bed time is 8pm and you can't use your Roku after this, otherwise you will be tired & miserable in school the next day. Can you manage this in your own, or do you need our help with this?" Then try it: Praise him every day he was able to resist and don't make too much of a fuzz if he fails. "I see that you used your Roku again at night. How about we help with this you for a week and then we try again? What else would you suggest?"

This will be a gradual process and there will be many slip ups but if you consistently focus on positive reinforcement and minimize the negative feedback, you can get there.

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There's no point in trying to make a blind person see colors. Right now, your child is incapable of self-regulating their own desires. They want the Roku, they get the Roku.

I agree that the answer might be in getting attention (as per Paul's answer), but it might also just be a matter of not understanding that you sometimes don't indulge in something just because you want it and it's available. There are plenty of adults who haven't even learned that lesson.

I don't think that you can ever truly expect a 6 year old to regulate their own behavior without any active oversight.

The solution here is to invert the situation. Rather than waiting for him to break the rule, default to putting the Roku out of reach for him. He'll have to wait until one of you gives him the Roku back.
If he ever complains about having to wait for you, this is where you get to propose a deal: you put the Roku where he can reach it, if he promises not to take it before [agreed time].

If he breaks the deal, which he pretty much definitely will at some point (it's in a child's nature), simply explain to them that because they took the Roku when they weren't allowed to, that you therefore cannot leave the Roku where they have access to it.

It is at that precise point that you have painted the full picture for them, and "I trusted you to only take it after [agreed time], but you took it earlier and now I don't trust that you will follow the rule" might start making sense to them.

Maybe they now get it. Maybe they don't yet. That's okay, we all have to learn at our own pace. You can simply revert back to keeping the Roku out of reach, and waiting for them to ask if you could leave it out for them.

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