5 Things to Do (or Not Do) When Your Kid Is Caught Cheating at School

What to Do if Your Child If Your Child Is Caught Cheating at School - SavvyMom
Elementary schoolchildren wearing a protective face masks in the classroom. Education during epidemic.

I got the dreaded email last week: my middle-schooler was caught cheating at school. She copied off of another student on a math assignment. My first instinct was to shrug it off because math is hard. And she’s a good student overall, so this must have a been a blip. Plus, I was on a deadline, and it had been a difficult week already. The thought of having another serious talk that would likely result in tears (hers) and frustration (mine) made me feel a tiny bit sick.

But as I kept reading the teacher’s email, I learned more about the consequences of academic dishonesty (anything from minor discipline to expulsion, even in Grade 6) and how being caught cheating at school can become part of a student’s permanent academic record. I’m sure this was all in the bazillion-page student and parent handbook that came home at the start of the year but I can’t be sure because I threw it out can’t find it.

The more I thought about it the more I realized this was something we needed to get in front of, so I put my big mom pants on and did some research. What I found distills down to a handful of important dos and don’ts that will help you turn an instance of cheating into a teachable moment, and not a catastrophe.

What to Do if Your Kid is Caught Cheating at School

Don’t panic…

Most cheating is harmless and a necessary lesson in the teaching of right from wrong. Elementary-school kids may not understand what academic dishonesty is and may not be able to distinguish between a friend ‘helping’ them and outright copying. And they don’t have the skills and context to understand why cheating isn’t allowed in school. You’ve probably raised your kids not to cheat in board games or in sports, and not to lie. All of these examples can be used to help explain why cheating in school isn’t allowed either. But if you’re sure your child does understand this and should have known better, then it’s time to unpack why this happened.

Understand the ‘why’…

Did they run out of time to study for the test? Do they not understand the material? Are they feeling too much pressure to perform and taking short-cuts? Understanding why they felt compelled to cheat will help you deal with it. At first, my daughter insisted she copied because she didn’t understand the assignment and didn’t want to ‘look stupid’ by requesting further explanation. But further probing revealed the truth: she was whispering to a friend when the instructions were given. At this point our conversation became about the importance of paying attention in class and strategies for speaking up when she doesn’t hear or comprehend the teacher’s instructions. If it had been a test she wasn’t prepared for, we would have had a conversation about time management and study strategies. If she truly didn’t understand the material, we would have worked with her teacher to figure out how she could get extra help.

Communicate with the teacher…

You probably have a pretty good idea of what kind of student your child is but a conversation with the teacher may shed some light as to why your child was caught cheating at school. Your child’s teacher knows how they learn and how thay act in the classroom, which means she probably has a good idea why they cheated. The teacher might also be able to help you understand the classroom dynamics among your child’s peer group. Are they pretending to be less capable than they really are as a way to fit in? You also want to know what consequences and feedback the teacher has already doled out so you don’t pile on, and so you don’t confuse your child with mixed or age-inappropriate messaging.

Involve your child in the follow-up…

Once your child has been caught cheating at school and the reason(s) it happened discussed, consider involving your child in the discussion of consequences. Should they apologize to the student whose work they copied? What follow-up action(s) is the teacher expecting? Can they repeat the test in another week? And try to avoid calling them a ‘cheater’ because labelling this way may only reinforce negative feelings. Focus on the teachable moment by helping to understand why they shouldn’t cheat, such as upsetting other kids; losing the trust of friends and teachers; and feeling bad about yourself.

Remember the Importance of Effort and Integrity…

According to experts, cheating is most common among high-achieving students who rationalize their actions by telling themselves they’re doing well overall so what’s the big deal? Or that they’re too busy achieving in other areas and that they’ll learn the material later. They rationalize cheating as a necessary action taken in one particular moment, not a pattern of behaviour, or something that could lead to a pattern of behaviour. But students whose parents praise effort, progress, honesty, and integrity over grades may be less likely to cheat because there’s less pressure on them to deliver results. Think of it like prioritizing good sportsmanship over winning on the playing field. It doesn’t mean lowering your standards for academic performance but rather remembering that how your students gets there is just as important.


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