Stealing, Lying, and Cheating: Why Your Child Does It and What to Do About It

Source: one tough job

Although stealing, lying, and cheating are all inappropriate behaviors, they are also common, especially at an early age, as children are still learning right from wrong. As a parent, it is important that you do not overreact. Let your child know these behaviors are unacceptable. The good news is they usually do grow out of it but they need your guidance.

children under 3

what you should know

Until the age of 3, children do not understand what lying or stealing is. They might take something that doesn’t belong to them because they don’t understand the concept of possession or property. They may “lie” about things like having to go to the bathroom because they do not understand the concept of telling the truth.

what to do

For very young children, redirection is your best tool for addressing these behaviors. If your child takes a toy from another child, provide another toy to interest your child and then give the toy he took away back to the child who it belongs to. Around eighteen months it’s appropriate to let her know calmly and firmly that it is not okay to take things that do not belong to her.

children ages 3-4

what you should know

Children ages three and four will lie when confronted about something they are doing wrong, even when caught red-handed. Preschoolers value the opinion of their parents and don’t want to disappoint you or make you angry. Also, children of this age have big imaginations and love to embellish stories with creative details. They are still learning to tell the difference between real and make believe. Right now, if something happens in their head, it’s real and shareable.

what to do

Avoid accusations and instead reinforce rules. If you catch your child doing something wrong, like coloring on the walls, let them know the rule in your house is to draw on paper. Then, enlist your child in fixing the mistake by allowing them to help out with the clean-up. You can enjoy the tall tales your child will spin. As long as she is happy and you don’t have concerns, this fantasizing is a normal part of the magic of being a preschooler.

children 5 and older

what you should know

By the time they are five most children know the difference between right and wrong. Children of this age may cheat because they understand the high value that is placed on winning, have high expectations for achievement, or don’t want to do the work asked of them. Parents may often have the urge to let their young child win at a board game, which may unintentionally teach their children that cheating is acceptable.

what to do

Appeal to your child’s sense of fairness. Children of these ages have a sense of empathy and fairness. Let your child know that it is not OK to cheat because it’s not fair to everyone else. Use competitiveness to your advantage by letting your child know that it’s not really winning when you don’t play by the rules of the game.

Recognize when to be concerned. Sometimes, excessive lying, stealing, or cheating can mean that your child has a behavior problem that you should be concerned about. If your child consistently lies or steals and does not feel bad about it, destroys other people’s property, shoplifts, skips school often, does not have many friends, or is deliberately mean to animals, you should talk to his pediatrician and the school counselor. It is possible that he has a conduct disorder or another behavioral problem that needs to be addressed. Or, these could be signs that he has a learning or developmental disability, or is being bullied. These problems are not your or his fault. With the help of the right professional, he can overcome them.

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