Do You Care for a Child that Cheats?

How to Say It to Kids

Most children will cheat at something at some point. In fact, child psychologists realize that most young children don’t place a moral value on cheating. Up until the age of 5 most kids won’t even hold a grudge when someone else cheats while playing a game. But as they age and want to fit in with their peers they must learn to play fairly.

Cheating is also a form of dishonesty. And while all children (and adults) lie at times, it’s best to encourage fair play and honesty at an early age.

In the book, How to Say It to Your Kids, Dr. Paul Coleman explains that there are three outcomes to all communication with children.

What you say to a child will:

1. Bring you and the child closer.
2. It will start an argument.
3. It will lead to avoidance or withdrawal.

Therefore, labeling kids as a “liar” or “cheater” is not helpful. For example, when you tell a child that they cheated, odds are they will deny it. Don’t say, “You cheater! Don’t lie to me!” It is better to say, “I saw you move my piece on the game board. Maybe you don’t think that is cheating, but I don’t want to play when you move my pieces like that.”

Tailor your comments to children specifically to teach them, to empathize with them and others, and encourage them. Help children to empathize by asking, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” Show you empathize with them by agreeing that, “I know it’s frustrating to lose at a game.” Encourage them by saying, “I am happy and proud of the way you played today.”

The author says that cheating at games tends to diminish as children get older. The more pronounced it is for a child over 10, the more other areas of concern need to be probed to see if there are upsetting things going on in the child’s life.

To teach children to play fairly, show tolerance, and have self-control, model appropriate self-talk during games. Speak about how you are excited and frustrated by your score in the game. “I’m losing this game but I want to win. I know I could try to cheat, but I don’t want to win that way. If I lose, I will try again and may win next time.”

How to Say It:

  • “I just saw you switch cards. That’s called cheating. Let’s agree not to do that.”
  • “I saw you cheating again. I don’t enjoy playing when you cheat. I’m going to stop playing now and we can try playing again later.”
  • “We have been playing this game for 15 minutes and you have played by the rules. That’s great. I have much more fun when we play by the rules.”
  • “You just scored a point and you played by the rules. I bet that feels really good to know you accomplished something.”
  • “Sometimes you’ll break the rules just to get that good feeling when you win again. But that doesn’t make it right.”
  • “How would you feel if your friend cheated while you were playing a game?”
  • “I wonder how your friend felt when you kept cheating at the game?”

How Not to Say It:

  • “You are a cheater. Nobody likes a cheater.”

Modeling appropriate behavior and teaching through play are the best ways to encourage children not to cheat. There’s no need to punish or criticize young children that cheat. Encourage them to play fairly and praise them when they do.


How to Say It to Your Kids


  1. dolphinwrite says:

    Actually, it’s in how you say it. When I was a kid, if I was caught cheating. Actually, I don’t think I was ever caught. Okay, when I saw a friend of mine caught, because of the respected teacher, he felt very ashamed.

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