By Raising Children Network
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Children cheat in many situations and for many different reasons. It can be quite a shock when you find out your child has been cheating. No-one wants to be called a cheat, so why do some children do it? And what can you do about it?
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Why do children cheat?

Children cheat for several reasons:

  • Some feel they have to meet high expectations – their own or those of others – and they can’t do this without cheating.
  • Some might want to win because they don’t know how to cope with the disappointment of losing. After all, learning to lose takes time.
  • Children might cheat when they find a task too difficult. They might be trying to keep up as the difficulty level of schoolwork or a sport increases.

Occasional cheating is usually harmless, and is not so much a concern in the early years. But if children cheat because they feel pressured to win or succeed, or if cheating becomes a pattern as they get older, you might need to get involved. 

Before children cheat, they must first be able to understand the concept of rules, and the difference between right and wrong. Younger children might break or change rules as they play, but this isn’t really cheating. School children usually understand rules, so you can teach them about fairness. For more information, read our article on fair play.

What to do when your child cheats

The strategies below can help you to send the message that cheating is not appropriate. Try to avoid telling your child that she is a ‘cheat’ – it’s a label that might stick.

  • Try to find out why your child cheated . Ask your child why he felt the need to cheat. His answer can guide your response. For example, if he cheated because he wanted to please you, this gives you the chance to let him know that winning is not everything, and that you’re proud of his effort – whether he succeeds or not.
  • Help your child to understand the consequences of cheating . You can also explain what might happen when she cheats:
    • It might upset other children.
    • Other people might not trust her next time she plays with them.
    • She might never find out how well she can do without cheating.
    • She might get caught. How would she feel about that?
    • It might stop her from getting better at the game.
    • She might start to feel she’s not capable and can’t win or complete a task without cheating.
  • Reward the effort rather than the result . Praise your child for his persistence in completing the task. With school work, you can let him know that what he learns and how hard he tries are more important than getting the highest grades. After sport or a game, you can focus on sporting behaviour and the team effort, rather than who won or lost.
  • Be a role model for your child . If she sees you cheating, she might get the idea that it’s acceptable. Your reactions when you catch her cheating are also important. Take the time to explain to her why it’s not OK to cheat.
  • Provide opportunities to practise . Play games together as a family so your child can learn about winning and losing.
  • Check your expectations . Sometimes our expectations can be too high for a child’s abilities. Putting pressure on your child to achieve good marks or do well at sports games might encourage cheating.
  • Try a range of activities. If your child isn’t good at one thing, this will give him the chance to find other things he can do well at, and develop other skills. This will help his self-esteem.

It’s important to be patient. Children might still break some rules while they are learning. Use these ‘teachable moments’ to talk to them about cheating and why it’s not OK.

Getting more help

If cheating continues to be a problem and your child is old enough to understand what she’s doing, you might wish to consult a school counsellor or a psychologist for more help.

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  • Last Updated 07-05-2009
  • Last Reviewed 22-07-2009