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Our award-winning Kid's Health Magazine is designed to provide healthful information for your growing child. Please Note: Kid's Health Magazine is no longer being printed. Please visit our blog at http://www.choc.org/blog for the latest articles about your child's health from the experts at CHOC Children's. You can also receive our electronic Kid's Health newsletter in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list: http://www.choc.org/subscribe

Hey, No Cheating!

You catch your 5-year-old sneaking an extra turn in Candyland. Do you laugh it off as "cute," or do you call her on it? Nip it in the bud, advises Mery Macaluso, Ph.D., a CHOC licensed pediatric psychologist. Send a pleasant, but clear message that cheating won't be something you will overlook or excuse. In the game of life, integrity and honesty are more important than winning. Children's games offer a great opportunity to begin teaching the rules about playing fair. "Emphasize the fun of playing the game over the notion of winning at all costs. Say, 'That was a smart move,' or 'What a lucky roll,'" Dr. Macaluso recommends. "Later on, this will tie in with school behavior." No one likes to lose, of course. If you see your child becoming discouraged, say "Better luck next time." Demonstrate what it means to be a gracious winner, and discourage gloating or "trash talk." Teach your children the importance of being a good sport and congratulating the winner.

First of all, take a deep breath and stay calm. Keep an open mind and consider that the charges may be true, especially if your child tends to be competitive. But be prepared for denial.

"No child wants to be caught. So ask about it in another way. Say, 'Look, you are not a bad person for doing this, but cheating won't be tolerated,'" Dr. Macaluso advises.

Then allow the school to dole out the necessary consequences. In fact, Dr. Macaluso recommends additional consequences at home, if they are comparable. For example, if your child plagiarized an online term paper, consider revoking computer privileges for a while. Or, if your child was caught text-messaging answers during a test, taking away the cell phone is an appropriate consequence.

But also explain how cheating ultimately comes with a price. When the next test comes up, your child will be even less prepared because of the material that wasn't mastered earlier. Also, cheating could go on your child's permanent school record, jeopardizing the chances of getting into the college of choice.

Dr. Macaluso equates cheating with lying: The more often your child does it, the easier it will become. So take allegations seriously and address the issue head on. Playing to your child?s guilt is often effective.

"Tell them, 'I would be very disappointed if I knew you weren't an honest person,'" Dr. Macaluso says. "Foster that expectation in your child from early on. Teach them that success does not mean compromising one's integrity."

"Children who are struggling in school may be especially tempted to cheat. If your child is having difficulties, say something like, 'I appreciate this is hard for you and that you are trying your best. However, I don't want you to feel you have to resort to something that is beneath you in order to prove something to me or to yourself. It is more important to me that you be your best self? and not the best person in the class.'"
-- Mery Macaluso, Ph.D., licensed pediatric psychologist, CHOC Pediatric Psychology Department


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