What parents should know
Althoughlying, stealing, and cheating are all inappropriate behaviors, they arealso common, especially at an early age, as children try to test theirlimits but are still learning right from wrong. As a parent, it isimportant that you do not overreact, but that you do let your childknow that each of these behaviors is unacceptable and that you yourselfunderstand what is causing your child to lie, steal, or cheat. The goodnews is, they usually do grow out of it, but they need your guidanceand you need to know when to be concerned and what to do about it.
What parents can do
Understand why they do it. Untilthe age of 3, children do not really understand that what lying orstealing is, and are not doing these on purpose. They might takesomething that doesnt belong to them because they dont understandthat they cant just take it. They may lie about things like having togo to the bathroom if they are working on potty training, but do notunderstand the concept of telling the truth. From age 3-6, childrengenerally know right from wrong, but will usually only lie about smallthings, like having gone to the bathroom before leaving the house orpushing a friend, and cheat or steal in small ways, like passing offsomeone elses artwork as their own. They still need to be taught theconsequences of these actions and why they are wrong. After the age of6, children know that lying is wrong. Some things that can cause achild of this age to lie include being forbidden from an activity,having high expectations for achievement, not being disciplinedconsistently, or not receiving enough attention or praise. Parents ofchildren this age need to figure out what is causing their children toact out in these ways.
Know how to handle it.Often, when parents hear that their child has done something wrong,they try to ask open-ended, vague questions to get their child toconfess. It is actually better to tell your child what you heard andask her what her version is. If she is under the age of 6, she willprobably confess and not lie about it. If she is over the age of 6,your child might try to lie to cover up her bad deed, in which case youshould punish her for the lie and the bad behavior. However, in eithercase you should also get to the bottom of why your child did what shedid.
- Lying.Children often lie because they know the truth will disappoint theirparents, like having gotten a bad grade on a test. In this situation,it is important that you let your child know that what matters more isthe effort she put into it and not the end result. If you know shetried her best, then you should praise her for her effort but alsoexplore why she did not do well. If you know that she has not put inthe effort, you should talk about working harder the next time. Anolder child might also lie about her activities. Skipping school can bevery common among teens. You should be firm about house rules with yourteen and explain that these rules are in place for her own good. Youshould also make sure you are aware of what she is doing and whom sheis doing it with.
- Stealing.The most common reason children steal is because they want to have whateveryone else has. Although you should recognize that your child wantsto fit in, this is a good time to talk about what your family canafford or how your rules differ from other families rules. If youdont think your child should have something until a certain age or fora certain reason, explain your reasoning to her. You can also worktogether to find a way that she can earn what she wants by getting anallowance, doing chores, or being more responsible.
- Cheating.Children want to win, achieve, and be the best, and will often go togreat lengths to do this, which can sometimes mean that they do it bycheating. Cheating does not only include copying from someone elseswork, but is also breaking or bending the rules, even when playing agame. As with lying about their academic performance, if your childcheats on her homework or classroom work, explain to her that theeffort is more important than the grade. She is only cheating herself,because she is the one who is not learning what she needs to know.Parents often have the urge to let their young child win at a boardgame, but this is not teaching your child to follow the rules.
Set a good example. Childrenlearn from their parents, and your child is very aware of what you do.Even things like rolling through a stop sign, calling in sick when youare not really sick, or failing to point it out when the cashierforgets to charge you for one of your purchases at the grocery storewill teach your child that it is ok to bend the rules and not tell thetruth.
Recognize when to be concerned. Sometimes,excessive lying, stealing, or cheating can mean that your child has abehavior problem that you should be concerned about. If your childconsistently lies or steals and does not feel bad about it, destroysother peoples property, shoplifts, skips school often, does not havemany friends, or is deliberately mean to animals, you should talk tohis pediatrician and the school counselor. It is possible that he hasconduct disorder or another behavioral problem that needs to beaddressed. Or, these could be signs that he has a learning ordevelopmental disability, or is being bullied. These problems are notyour or his fault, and with the help of the right professional he canovercome them.
Thisinformation was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, andreviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Childrens TrustFund.