Have a conversation about cheating.
Bring it up.
Kids are more likely to cheat by third grade, when their workload gets heavier and standardized testing often begins. There’s no reason not to address the issue head-on. Watch a movie like Space Jam or Wreck-it Ralph and ask your child what she thinks about the cheating characters and whether she knows anyone who has cheated. From there, explain that cheating is wrong because it’s unfair to others, and that people who do it aren’t earning things honestly.
Many kids aren’t actually clear about what’s considered cheating, so talk to your child about common examples, such as looking at a classmate’s paper, writing “reminders” on her hand before a test, or giving herself a head start during a race. Then challenge her to see if she can determine whether certain scenarios, like copying a book report from a website or standing on her tiptoes in order to meet the height requirements at a theme park, are cheating or not. Let her know the consequences of being caught cheating, too, such as getting a bad grade or losing privileges at home.
Since homework stress can make it tempting for your child to cheat, praise his efforts (“Your handwriting looks really neat” or “You did lots of good research on this topic”) rather than focusing exclusively on results. Assure him that learning and doing his best are more important than top scores. Also explain that getting a bad grade after genuine effort is better than getting a good grade when he’s taken a shortcut. Letting him know that you don’t require perfection will decrease anxiety and make it easier for him to do the right thing.
Plan for peer pressure.
Because friendships and feeling accepted are important to kids at this age, it can be hard for them to refuse a classmate who asks them for answers to math problems or to copy homework. Sometimes kids don’t know what to say, so they just go along with it. You can prepare your child by practicing language she can use with would-be cheaters. For example, she could say, “I studied too hard to risk getting an F for cheating” or “My parents would ground me for months if we got caught!” Also teach her to gently shift her body to block her work from rubberneckers, and let her know that it’s okay to tell the teacher after class if someone has copied her answers.
Set a good example.
If your kid overhears you taking credit for something you didn’t do or telling his brother to pretend he’s younger so you can pay a lower ticket price, he’ll be more likely to dismiss your “don’t cheat” messages and imitate your behavior. To help him to avoid cutting corners or being dishonest, practice what you preach. And if your child cheats despite your warnings, follow through on any consequences you’ve discussed with him. Sources: Don Macmannis, PH.D., a psychologist and coauthor of How’s Your Family Really Doing?; Paula Mirk, former director of education at the Institute for Global Ethics.