What Should I Do When My Child Cheats?


It is no mystery that we live in a competitive society. This could be part of the reason why children as young as 2 emphasis winning and will even cheat. They desire to be successful, which is usually the driving force behind cheating. Here are some reasons why children cheat and how you can deal with it.

Cheating at Games

If you sit back and watch children play board games, it may be surprising just how competitive it can be and how often cheating takes place. Most kids under the age of 5 do not think that cheating is a moral issue - they are just playing. It is also common that the peers they are playing with won’t be holding a grudge about it, either. Between the ages of 5 and 7, kids become a little sneakier with their cheating, usually because they realize they are doing something wrong. By the age of 8, the child is generally aware that they are cheating and that it is wrong. If you notice that your child is continuously cheating, it could be the result of feeling inadequate or a fear of underperformance. This is usually the case more than just having a desire to win. The biggest issues come when children are labeled as ‘cheaters’, which can damage relationships with peers.

Cheating in School

It is common for parents to feel disappointment and shock when their child gets in trouble in school for cheating. It is actually way more common than most realize. In a study (link) of 4,500 high school students, 97% of the respondents admitted to cheating in at least one activity that would be considered questionable when it comes to academic integrity. You may be wondering, ‘Why do so many kids cheat?’ Here are two likely categories:

1) They are trying to live up to expectations

Kids are usually under high levels of pressure to perform well in school and tend to think their entire future is based on their grades. If they are constantly being expected to perform at a high standard, cheating can be a way to handle this pressure. If a child feels they have no other option but to cheat, they generally feel less guilty about it.

2) They don’t feel like doing the work

With current technology, cheating has become easier than ever compared to previous generations. Kids can download pre-written papers, email answers, and look up homework questions with the click of a button. Some children want to get away with doing the least amount of work necessary in order to complete an assignment. Now that they have more access, it could just be easier than doing the work themselves.

When Your Child Cheats

It is important to act quickly when you find out your child is cheating. The faster you respond, the less they will feel they have gotten away with it. Here’s suggestions on what to do broken down by age group:

Under age 5

You should still respond immediately, but in a light manner, possibly making a joke out of the situation. This will help them understand that they cannot get away with cheating, without punishing them for something they may not understand is wrong.

Ages 5 to 7

When children get to this age group, you can be stricter with your response, but avoid excessive punishment. It may be more effective to sit your child down and ask them why they cheated. This can be followed by a discussion on the seriousness of cheating and finding out if there were stresses or pressures that motivated them to cheat.

8 or older

By this age, if they continue to chronically cheat or become labeled a ‘cheater’, they may need further help. You can use the strategies above and try to have conversations surrounding cheating. If this does not work, you may want to seek help from a professional to rule out any emotional struggles they may be experiencing.

Preventing Future Cheating

Most kids will cheat from time to time, but there are things that parents can do in attempts to prevent their child from repeating the behavior. Here are some examples:

1) Set a good example

Try to think if you or your spouse ever cheat from time to time. The more you are aware of these instances, the better you can correct them. Kids are very sensitive to the examples set for them and they will understand the moral value more when they see it up close.

2) Show them that winning is not everything

Our society already puts a big emphasis on winning, which is why parents have to try to counteract this message at home. Let your child know that performing honestly and losing is okay. Show them it is even more important than winning.

2) Lower expectations

It is common for children to be motivated to cheat in order to meet their parents’ expectations. Tell your child that you love them and are proud of them even when they do not win a competition or get a good grade.

3) Teach your child to cope with failure

Your child needs to see that you have goals, but sometimes you even fall short of them. Talk with them about how you cope with failure and discuss ways they can do the same. Sometimes it’s the fear of failure that leads kids to cheating.