Lying and cheating are issues that all parents must face at some point. Whether it is lying about breaking a toy or cheating to get a better test grade, parents must be firm in explaining that it is unacceptable behavior. "Today" contributor Ruth Peters shares her expert advice for parents, along with tips from educational consultant Michele Borba.
Why children lieChildren develop through progressive stages of moral development. Two-year-olds may not understand the concept of truth versus deception, but children over three certainly can. They may not like to own up to it, but preschoolers know right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and certainly don't like to be lied to. However, many don't seem to mind stretching the truth at times, especially if it gains them attention or a coveted treat, privilege or reward.
Of course, especially with little ones, imaginary friends often engage in pretend, and false, actions. This is necessary for play and is an indication of creativity and imagination. However, when you ask your preschooler if she made her bed and she tells you she did but her "friend" must have messed it up, it's time to teach her the difference between playful teasing and lying in order to avoid responsibility for completing a task or for misbehavior.
What to doIf you catch your child in a whopper, try not to overreact and to give unwarranted attention to the misdeed. Understand the child's motivations and reasons for the lie — was it to get out of doing a chore, to avoid punishment for breaking an object, or a call for extra attention? Let him know that you care about his behavior as well as his needs and that not only do you want to understand them but that you want him to understand his behavior as well. The goal is to help your child to develop a sense of conscience so that he can be his own guide in the future when you are not always present to supervise his actions.
Also, recognize that not only are your children watching you when you are altruistic, honest and caring, but they have very annoying radar when it comes to noticing your indiscretions. They are watching your behavior and how honest you are. So, the next time you consider trying to talk your way out of receiving a traffic ticket, telling a telephone solicitor that you're just the baby-sitter or lying about your kid's age to get the reduced rate ticket at Disney World, reconsider! It's confusing to kids to see their folks fudging, fibbing and telling even "white lies." It's hypocritical at best and can be downright harmful. The lesson of "Do what I say but not what I do" just doesn't cut it when trying to teach kids honesty and truthfulness. You must live it in order to get the message across clearly to your children.
Why children cheat
The urge to bend the rules is often seen in children both at play as well as at school. Most of us like to win, and kids enjoy being seen as achievers, meriting others' approval. Children will cheat at games, often denying that a rule was broken, or claiming innocence by saying they didn't really understand the rules to begin with.
Although they may indeed win the game or receive an "A" grade on a test, children and teenagers don't seem to understand that they are really cheating themselves, not just their classmates or competitors. Kids who cheat academically tend to not understand the material and fall behind their classmates in terms of grasping the concepts.
What to doClarify exactly what cheating is. Many kids would agree that copying others' answers during a test is dishonest, but may not consider bringing in a "cheat sheet" to class or writing an acronym on their hand as a memory aid to be deceitful. Some children even consider these as "victimless crimes" — they are not taking anyone else's answers, so who's hurt by it? Another area of cheating that is often seen as acceptable by children is to skim a book, or to not even read it, and to pass off a quick review as a book report. Let your child know that not completing the work, taking short cuts or passing off someone else's product as their own is indeed cheating, and therefore is unacceptable in your household.
Also, focus on process or effort praise rather than product praise. Show admiration for a tenacious attempt, not just for success. When kids feel that they are under too much pressure to succeed, cheating often occurs, not only to win the game or to receive a good grade, but also to please parents or teachers. Let your children know that you're not just looking at the grade or the batting average, but more so at their persistence or sportsmanship. Children can't always control the outcome of their efforts, but they can determine the amount of effort exerted, and that's what really counts.
You can also lessen the impulse to cheat by teaching your kids that there are consequences (both behavioral as well as social) for this type of inappropriate action. Teachers may look askance at an excellent paper if plagiarizing has been an issue in the past, and others won't want to play games with your child if they can't trust the integrity of the play. You can encourage honest play behavior by commenting upon cheating if it occurs during a game of checkers or Chutes and Ladders, and ending the game immediately, noting that, "It's not fun playing a game when the rules are not followed. We'll try again tomorrow."
Finally, if you don't want your child to cheat, don't do it yourself. Those "rolling stops" at the traffic sign suggest to your kids that it's okay to cut corners, especially if no one is looking. If a cashier forgets to charge you for an item and haphazardly places it in your bag, make a point of bringing this to the cashier's attention and paying for it. Your child will soon get the message that you respect laws, rules and regulations and that you expect the same from your children.
Quick tips on how to beat lying and cheating
Walk the talk: Don't expect your child to be honest if you aren't. Check your example first.
- Discuss why cheating is wrong: Don't assume your kid understands. Be clear about your own moral beliefs and pass them on to your kid. Tell your kid a recent moral choice you've made; read stories from the Bible; provide good heroes and heroines from history. Talk and talk.
- Acknowledge honesty: Let your child know again and again how much you appreciate their truthfulness and honest efforts. Make honesty the priority in your home.
- Emphasize consequences: Discuss the negative results of cheating: loss of trust, the hurt it can cause, that it’s immoral, can get you in trouble, or can cause a bad reputation. Use real examples in the news of wealthy and famous people who have been caught lying and the consequences they suffered.
- Call cheating on the spot: If your goal is to raise an honest kid, then you must respond to cheating. Don't overact, but simply tell him what you saw or heard. It's best to cite your observations privately and keep your focus on the attitude. For example, "Moving the ball is cheating." Then tell your kid you expect honesty.
- Set a consequence for repeat cheating: Excusing or ignoring your kid's cheating is the same as giving it your approval. So don't approve it. If your young child is cheating, stop the game. A plagiarized report should be redone. Sincere apologies should be required.
- Teach ways to buck the pressure to cheat. Peer pressure is huge, so your child will need more than just a talk to say no. Tell him how to say no with these four strategies:
Assert yourself with confidence — Use strong body posture to stand up for your beliefs.
Say no firmly — Use a friendly but determined voice, then do not give in.
Repeat your decision — It's sometimes helpful to sound like a broken record.
Explain the reasons why — Doing so will help strengthen your child's convictions.