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Competition and Cheating

My son tends to cheat when he plays games. What should we do?

Cheating is the result of competition. In our culture, with few exceptions, competitiveness is commonplace and in fact is rewarded. Children learn that losing is bad, and especially in the early school years, their wish to do well is very strong.

As children play games with one another, cheating will frequently occur. In the early years there is a lot of breaking of rules and conflicts in these peer struggles. Watch how children play board games or card games, and you will recognize the competitiveness, striving and social learning taking place and sometimes digressing into cheating. As children become older and approach adolescence, however, this behavior is much less tolerated by peers, and thus some children become labeled as cheaters. A sense of fairness has a higher value in these older peer relationships.

If Your Child Cheats

If you are confronted with a situation where your child has cheated, you need to consider many factors, including the degree of pressure that he is under to win or do well, and his own background regarding competition. Children tend to cheat, or set their own rules, when they are engaged in games or schoolwork that is too complex for them to handle. If you or others in his life expect him always to perform exceedingly well, then cheating can become almost a self-defense mechanism under the strain of this tremendous pressure. He may feel he has no other outlet than to cheat as a means of achieving success. Thus, the end becomes much more important than the process.

Also, consider the example that your family environment is providing for your child. If you or your spouse cheat from time to time - perhaps declining to return too much change given to you at the supermarket, or maybe even talking about fudging on your income taxes - those are the moral values you are teaching. Be sensitive to the examples you set; you can be an important role model for the prevention of cheating. To a large degree, your child's willingness to cheat is related to the values with which he is being raised.

How To Help Your Child

For a child in the middle years, parents need to identify and deal with any cheating episodes in order to teach him right from wrong. For example, if he is caught cheating at school - a common phenomenon - sit down with him and discuss the seriousness of this infraction. Talk about the kinds of stresses and pressures he may be feeling, including your own expectations for success. Excessive punishment for these misdeeds is rarely helpful.

Playing family games where chance is involved can teach children to compete with one another without cheating. Under your watchful eye, your youngster can be guided toward appropriate conduct and healthy competition.

When To Seek Additional Help

A child who has a chronic cheating problem, or who gets so labeled at school, may need further help. Often cheating is a symptom of an internal emotional struggle or peer problems that should be addressed. You can find assistance from a mental-health counselor or a child-guidance clinic.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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