We recently encountered our first "cheating" experience with our middle child. She's in the first grade and while she knows she shouldn't write down answers that other people write down, she didn't think that giving her friends help in the form of homework or test answers was cheating. Now was the time to have the "cheaters never win" talk and explain what cheating is, how and why she should avoid it. With two older children, I was ready this time around to talk about cheating.
Find out why your child cheated. Are they having problems in the class? Were they helping a friend by offering them answers? Are they concerned about passing the class because they have plans to participate in an extra-curricular activity? Is there a pressure to perform or higher expectations? You can't stop the cheating until you know why it happened. I know my daughter wanted to help her friend. She is young and thought she was just helping. It wasn't until we explained that giving your friend the answers is still cheating that she understood it was wrong.
Discuss the different types of cheating. Giving someone answers for their homework or test is the same as taking answers for your own assignments. Some children only think it is cheating if they are doing the taking, not the giving. As they get older, children can understand the more intricate concepts of plagiarism and "academic dishonesty" but younger ones may not.
Don't deny it. It's important to get all sides of the "story." Speak to the teacher and your child and even the other child involved with their parent to find out what really happened.
Spell it out. For young children, spell out exactly what cheating is and how it hurts everyone involved. Whether you are the cheater or the cheatee, so to speak, the best thing to do with young children is to list what types of cheating happen, such as telling your friends how to spell a word during the test or handing a friend your homework so that they can turn in a completed assignment.
Cover the basics. Talk about why cheating is wrong. Stay focused on the current needs and discussion and don't overreact. Just because your child cheated one time, doesn't make them a cheater. Avoid labels and especially avoid comparisons with other people, for example, "I guess I should have expected this; after all, your father cheated, too." Your child is not a cheater, but they cheated.
Prevent the punishment. Our first response to hearing our child was caught cheating may be, "they are grounded for the next two weeks." If the school has provided a punishment, let your child know you are disappointed but avoiding heaping more punishment on them.
The three 'C's' of cheating. To help your child avoid cheating; concentrate on the importance of learning, not the final result of grades. Cut back on high expectations; sometimes even high-performing children can't handle the pressure to perform. Create learning opportunities, making sure that you aren't teaching your child to "cheat" as you help them with their homework or school projects.
Now that it is so very easy to cheat, from information on the Internet to sending answers through text messaging, it is more important than ever to not only teach our children about cheating, but the very real-world consequences of cheating. The old cliché "winners never cheat" is true because in the end cheaters will always lose. There won't always be someone there to make the grade for them.