If you have recently found out that your child has cheated, try not to panic. You are not necessarily raising the next Tonya Harding. It is more likely that they have made a mistake that they will not repeat often as long as they know exactly what constitutes cheating and what you expect of them.
A 2011 study demonstrated that perhaps the best way to prevent raising a cheater is to clearly and consistently tell them not to cheat. But, rather than just saying, “Don’t cheat, Sally,” explain to Sally what you expect in regard to honesty and integrity in different areas of her life.
How to talk about cheating
Say, “Sally, you are expected to be honest and truthful and never to cheat in sports, games, school or otherwise. Today, you are having a spelling test, be sure to keep your eyes on your own paper and do your best.”
Also, keep in mind, that depending on the age of your kiddo, cheating may seem like an abstract concept. They may also not be able to differentiate between truth and reality in certain scenarios. With young kids, clearly define what it means to be a cheat.
Consequences for cheating
The next thing that they need to understand about cheating is that there are consequences for cheating. They need to comprehend cause and effect in order to understand the consequences.
Very young children do not always understand cause and effect in a social or behavioral sense. While they understand that things are caused by other things – like a golf ball could cause a window to break – but behavioral cause and effect is a bit more abstract.
So, you will have to demonstrate to them consistently that dishonesty and cheating have consequences. Also, talk about feeling pangs of guilt or shame when doing dishonest things and that those feelings are actually trying to keep you from making a mistake.
What to do if your kid cheats in school
The biggest way parents mess up with cheating in school is not supporting the teacher or school’s consequences. Don’t try and get your kid a “lesser sentence.” If you secretly disagree with the consequence, keep it to yourself.
Next, you will need to pinpoint why they are cheating. Kids cheat in school for many reasons:
- Peer pressure
- Academic pressure
- Fear of failure
- Overwhelming goals
- Overloaded schedule
- Too many extracurriculars
If your kid is cheating because they are overwhelmed and overloaded, that is different from cheating because a friend pressured them into sharing answers. Neither type of cheating is acceptable but they need to be addressed differently.
What to do if your kid cheats at games or sports
There are many reasons kids may cheat in sports:
- Peer pressure
- Desperation to make a team or club
- Wanting to look good
- Fear of failure
- Bad coaching
- Too much focus on outcomes
- Parental pressures
- Desperation to get a scholarship
Again, no type of cheating is OK but parents and educators will need to address the root of the problem in order to encourage real change. If your kid’s coach is putting too much pressure on them, then that is a much different issue than wanting a scholarship or wanting to “fit in.”
Keep your cool
A study from 2011 showed that harsh discipline and overall strict punishment causes kids to become very adept liars. Therefore, losing your temper or coming up with an extreme punishment may have the opposite effect.
If you find that your kid has been cheating in some area of his or her life, discuss it with them at length and get to the crux of the issue. Stay calm and give them an opportunity to share their feelings.
Be sure you explain exactly why what they did was wrong.
For example, “Cheating in school is wrong. It cheats you out of your own education and is a habit that we do not want you to continue into adulthood. Cheating has negative consequences. You chose to cheat when you asked Billy to slide his paper over and show you his answers.”
The older your kiddo is, of course, the less overt instruction they may need in order to know what is right and wrong. However, their need for honest and ethical role models will be important all of their lives.
So, when in doubt, do everything that you can to demonstrate honesty in your everyday life.