26

This is regarding my son who is 6 years old and is studying in Grade 1. We got a call from his class teacher that he was caught "cheating" during dictation assessment. Actually, we revise the words at home and give him a small paper with the words so that he can revise it on the bus before reaching school.

The teacher told me that he was looking at the paper during the assessment and he was taken to the supervisor and vice-principal office and was questioned. During the interrogation, he admitted that the paper was given by his mother and he confessed to looking at the paper during the assessment.

I was furious, so I called the vice-principal and asked why a 6-year-old was shamed and that child doesn't know the concept of cheating. The VP told me that he was not shamed in front of the class but was brought to her office and she asked the reason, so my son told her that he was afraid that he might get fewer marks and parents would scold him. My son was weeping and he was consoled and returned back to class. The VP told that it was a small matter and she will again speak with my son.

First of all, we never force our children to get good grades. We made it very clear that they should try their best and if they got bad grades, there is always the next opportunity and it is not a problem. He is a brilliant child and it is a shock for us on how the class teacher dealt with him.

Now, my concern is how to deal with him when he reaches home. I am not furious about the "cheating" scene but I am concerned about the psychological impact which would have happened to him. I am going to re-stress that it is not a problem if he got bad grades in spite of trying his best. During the weekend, I would be personally meeting the teacher and vice-principal to make my stand clear that it was wrong on their part to take the matter so seriously. They should have just ignored it and informed us and we would have dealt with it in a very calm manner.

Any suggestions or advice on how to deal with this? Thanks in advance.

UPDATE: The VP called us again separately and explained that the situation was handled in a very professional manner and she told me that my son was told that he will have to take the test again the next day as he had two wrong answers. Moreover, when my son came home, I asked him casually what happened at school, which is our usual daily interaction, he told me that he was taken to the vice-principal office and she told him that he has to take the test again tomorrow.

  • 55
    You seem to have decided how you are going to deal with this already. What exactly do you want advice on? How to deal with the school? How to deal with your son? How to explain the concept of cheating? Whether a 6 year old understands the concept? (BTW, did he have the paper out in the open to copy from, or was he sneaking a look? If the latter I think he does understand the concept). – Paul Johnson Oct 30 at 14:09
  • 8
    I think I'm unclear on something. You say, "we revise the words at home and give him a small paper with the words so that he can revise it on the bus before reaching school." When you say "revise" do you mean "review"? Are you saying that your child had the answers to the test on a paper that you gave him? – Jason Fry Oct 30 at 19:14
  • 21
    @JasonFry: British "revise" and American "review" are synonyms. – Ben Crowell Oct 30 at 19:54
125

You may not like this answer, but bear with me for a moment, please.

So first, let’s recap what happened. Your son checked the answers for a test, during the test, in order to correct possible mistakes. Technically this exactly what cheating is - getting the correct answers from other sources than the own knowledge or conclusions. The standard procedure in cases of cheating is to stop the behavior and take disciplinary actions. Which is exactly what happened here. That’s how schools work, and how they should - grades should always reflect what the student knows, everything else would be unfair to the rest of the class, etc.

But I believe you when you say that your child doesn’t know anything about cheating. And I don’t assume bad intentions on his side either, just a desire to give the correct answers. Which is good, of course.

What I would do if I were you:

When he comes home, sit together and maybe you want to start with an apology:
Explain that you missed explaining that a test is the moment when he needs to show what he has learned without any help or crutches and that you made the mistake of not explaining that using the correct answers (e.g. from the slip of paper you have him) is called cheating and neither honest nor allowed. This will take some of the pressure off. So if he was scolded for a wrongdoing he wasn’t aware of, it doesn’t nullify the cheating, but as he didn’t know what he was doing, there won’t be any further sanctions. Answer any questions he may have.

But also support the school’s actions, because some children will cheat and they need to deal with it. If he suffered the consequences like everyone else, it may seem unfair at the moment, but also means that they acted according to the general rules, which can be seen as just and fair. You may want to think about it for a moment, when initial impulse of anger has subsided. Do not tell him that you think he was treating unfairly and undermine the school’s authority.

And I suggest you re-think your current position of “how could they do it to my child” - maybe it’s a good thing to experience this now (I don’t think a few tears in 1st grade make a permanent trauma). In the long run, it may be a valuable example that helps him stay on the straight and narrow in the long run. We parents do a good and responsible job, but such unplanned teaching moments are very valuable if used right.

  • 50
    +1 for a good, balanced answer. If a child accidentally does wrong, he needs to be aware that he has made a mistake and corrected, not punished. But it is important to let him know what he did was wrong, and that includes supporting the school. It may have been a shock to him, but it will certainly stand out in his mind as a cautionary lesson long after the embarrassment has faded. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 30 at 16:44
  • 18
    Are you sure the school's action are appropriate towards a 6 year old during his second month in school? This ain't a bad answer otherwise, but instead of involving vice-principal they should've started with "kiddo, you are not supposed to use that right now". – Džuris Oct 30 at 22:15
  • 10
    DO NOT undermine the school’s authority. +1, unless you want to raise an entitled child. One shouldn't be questioning 'authority' until HS imo (which is when they should - otherwise they become robots instead of deviants - we're looking for the happy medium here). – Mazura Oct 30 at 23:50
  • 11
    @Mazura You will have a hard time teach children to suddenly "flip a switch" when they enter high school to know when it's appropriate to question authority and when it isn't if you haven't been pointing things out along the way that should have been questioned. I'd rather my child question authority too much than too little, but YMMV. – corsiKa Oct 31 at 4:54
  • 7
    @Mazura - One of my kids first formally "questioned authority" at 10. They showed good critical thinking skills and empathy, and they were correct. I was very proud of them. From the earliest years, I encouraged critical thinking and ethics, not entitlement. They are not the same. – anongoodnurse Oct 31 at 13:38
30

I was furious, so I called the vice-principal and asked why a 6-year-old was shamed and that child doesn't know the concept of cheating. The VP told me that he was not shamed in front of the class but was brought to her office and she asked the reason, so my son told her that he was afraid that he might get fewer marks and parents would scold him. My son was weeping and he was consoled and returned back to class. The VP told that it was a small matter and she will again speak with my son.

Shame, in its proper context, can be a useful tool. If the teacher had dressed-down your son in front of the class, I would be furious myself. Inviting public shame and ridicule for minor mistakes is never useful (and can lead to bullying). This, however, was the Vice Principal and done in private. It might have been a bit much to go that far instead of having the teacher address it with him in private, but he likely would have felt shame either way. A bit of shame at having done something wrong isn't unhealthy by itself.

During the weekend, I would be personally meeting the teacher and vice-principal to make my stand clear that it was wrong on their part to take the matter so seriously. They should have just ignored it and informed us and we would have dealt with it in a very calm manner.

What you're teaching your child by advocating this is that "If I feel shame, that's the fault of someone else". That's a terrible lesson, and it sets them up for worse failures in life, as authority figures (like employers and police) can be dismissed as people who merely want to shame. Reaffirming that the Vice Principal and teacher were right to call out what was wrong, while lovingly telling him he probably didn't understand is the best course here because you're helping him to work through his shame, instead of deflecting blame. The net result here is a student who has learned the value of not cheating (something a surprising amount of people never learn).

  • 7
    +1 for "A bit of shame at having done something wrong isn't unhealthy by itself." - one of the issues in modern society is the number of people who don't feel shame at having done something wrong, and feel that they can get away with doing whatever they want. Even more so, those who feel aggrieved at being punished for breaking laws. (This is, of course, notably different from those who believe that accepting punishment is worthwhile price for whatever actions they undertook, such as certain types of political protest) – Chronocidal Oct 31 at 13:26
  • 4
    Regarding your link in the end: Our calculus teacher solved a part of the cheating issue - He made intentionally all the questions for the tests public. With answers. All 12000 of them. For the test he randomly picked 10 of them. – Crowley Oct 31 at 19:34
  • 2
    @Chronocidal Feeling shame is not the same as being shamed. Despite what adults may think, kids are pretty smart and they know that good kids don't get sent to the vice principals office. – user37724 Nov 1 at 7:30
  • 3
    But the point here is that the child hadn't done anything wrong. It is the school that did something wrong: they hadn't explained the rules propery. Making kids feel shame for things that aren't their fault is not healthy. Feeling a little shame because you have been nasty to someone, stolen something, hurt someone: fine. But this isn't one of those cases. – user37726 Nov 1 at 10:02
  • 4
    @user37726 - how do we know that the rules weren't explained properly? When questioned the child said '...he was afraid that he might get fewer marks and parents would scold him' not that he didn't know it was against the rules. That answer seems to strongly suggest the child was aware of the rules and decided to break them to avoid getting fewer marks and avoid scolding from his parents. – Rob P. Nov 1 at 16:38
14

My apologies in advance if this post isn't accurate; I've made a lot of assumptions based on people I've met, many of which may not apply in your situation. Several parts of your story remind me of other children I've seen who were stressed about their school performance not being good enough. Your son's situation may be not be similar, but if it is, perhaps this experience will allow you to help him.

... [M]y son told her that he was afraid that he might get fewer marks and parents would scold him.

Your child is so scared of disappointing you that he cheated on a test. He told the VP he used his notes because he was scared of you scolding him, not because he didn't know it was wrong. If that is true, it would naturally be upsetting for him if his cheating was discovered, just because he expected you would be upset. Focusing on the teacher won't help if that's not the upsetting part.

My son was weeping...

Your child is scared of the consequences if you become upset with him. Your son expects consequences when he upsets you, and if he never sees them, he will assume they're still coming and they're extra bad. You can fix this by showing him that you can correct him lovingly. Tell him you know about the cheating and he did the wrong thing, and come up with some specific punishment, and afterwards make him promise not to do it again. For example, you might make him sit on his bottom in the corner and count to 100. He will understand that after he has done his punishment and promised not to do it again, you will forgive him and he can move on, and you will still love him.

Actually, we ... give him a small paper with the words so that he can revise it on the bus before reaching school.

Where I live (Australia), studying on the bus is unusually heavy study for a six-year-old. Your son may have grown used to outperforming his peers in tests by studying harder than them, and now they may be catching up to him and he may be finding himself at the same level as many of his peers. Your son cannot keep increasing his workload forever, and he is already cheating because he is worried about his marks. To me, this suggests he is stressed about his grades.

We made it very clear that they should try their best and if they got bad grades, there is always the next opportunity and it is not a problem. He is a brilliant child...

"There's always another opportunity" is an implied threat: failing once is okay, but it had better not happen too often. Your son appears scared of what would happen if he stopped being brilliant. Think about the consequences if your child was an average student - for example, does the average person in your community have a reasonable career and quality of life. If so, tell your son he doesn't need to be so stressed.

I would suggest you mention the following points in that conversation. You should tell your son that you will love him no matter what - he might do poorly at school and become a plumber, and you would still love him. Tell him doing well on a Grade 1 spelling test won't change whether he becomes a plumber or an astronaut (or whatever his dream job is), it's too far away, he'll have time to catch up, and an average foundation in spelling will be enough to do well in future years if he decides to work hard then.

I would also ask for his input. Does he enjoy studying? Are there parts he wants to do more or less of? How does he think he is going at school, and how does he feel about that? What does he want to be when he grows up? What would he do if he didn't go to university? His exact answers don't matter too much, and Grade 1 is an excellent time for him to experiment with a lower workload. Also, if you stay calm, and say no to any unreasonable suggestions he makes but you are open and honest about your reasons for that and let him try a different approach, he will learn to trust that you will listen to him if he tells you his worries, if this happens again in future.

8

I'll start with this: I don't think your child did anything particularly wrong here. Age matters, and six years old is not an age where there are (or should be) grades in any meaningful sense. You don't mention the country, so it's possible your culture/country is different from mine in this regard (US), but for the most part in the US you don't have "marks" in a meaningful sense until about grade 3 or 4. If this was a ten year old child then this answer would be different; but it is not.

The Vice Principal also did not tell you the truth when they said that your son was not shamed. Having to go to the Vice Principal's office will be shameful to the child even if nobody in the class knows why - and they will know why. Children should not be sent to the office for normal behavior; the teacher should be their friend and help guide them to the right behavior.

I would approach this as, first and foremost, an emotionally scarring event that you should help your son cope with. He did nothing wrong, and the adults in the room did not hold up their side of things. Explain to him how the teacher should have handled things: by letting him know that this is a test and he has to do it from memory, put the paper away, and move on. Apologize that the teacher did not do this, and let him know that you will be talking to the teacher and the Principal to ensure they will not treat him like this in the future.

Certainly address the concept of "cheating" as well, but I would underline that in my opinion this is not something you should focus too much on, because it's just going to make him feel bad. Feel him out to see whether he wants to talk about that side of things - but don't emphasize it, and honestly I would almost avoid this beyond what you mention as part of how the teacher should have handled it. Your son is clearly someone who cares strongly about grades and about the approval of the teachers, and putting very much emphasis on this is going to hurt him more.

  • 4
    The kid obviously DID something wrong - used tool that they werent supposed to use. Sending them to VP was a punishment for the kid and warning to all other kids. Apologising for the teacher is one of the worst lessons you can teach the kid - that the authorities are useless crap worth no respect at all and that rules shall be disobeyed. – Crowley Oct 31 at 19:48
  • 2
    @Crowley If no teacher tells you you can't use your practice sheet then how did he do something wrong? Because of made up rules by a school system? They could have just told the kid he can't use that instead of sending him to the principal.... If I make the rules and just add a random one that you don't know and you "break the rule" can you be held accountable? NO! unless its a law I should'v just told you – EpicKip Nov 1 at 9:12
  • 1
    No, they did nothing wrong. They didn't do what the teacher expected them to, but that's different. – Joe Nov 1 at 16:18
  • @EpicKip Actually in most situations both in school and with the law, you will indeed be held accountable for rules that you don't know about. This is primarily true because it is often impossible to prove or discern what rules are actually understood or not by an individual. For all we know, the teacher did teach them about cheating, but the child missed it. Of course with a young child the teachers should understand they are still learning and provide a way to teach the rules, but there was a chance to retake test and continue without serious consequence in this case, so lesson learned. – C Perkins Nov 2 at 15:23
  • 1
    @CPerkins With the law and older kids its normal. Not with young kids. But I have a feeling we're not going to agree on this. – EpicKip Nov 4 at 7:02
4

There's already been some thoughtful answers, but let me try with a slightly different angle. I'm sure I'll be punished, but there you are...

Firstly, all children cheat and lie; this is an important part of growing up. If they didn't try, they wouldn't be told off and wouldn't learn that others get upset about it, and that is in many ways the basis for learning about things like fairness. So it is important, in a way, that children do go through a phase with cheating and lying.

Another thing is that cheating and lying can be important, social skills: when your child shows you some ghastly drawing, do you say "This looks horrible"? Of course not - you tell a kind lie, as you should. The difference is that we have learned to lie in "the right way".

So, have a conversation with your child about why it is, in most cases, better not to lie or cheat: you want others to trust you, you want to be fair etc. And do it, perhaps, with a smile. It isn't a serious thing, and although I think the school was unreasonably heavyhanded, that wasn't a big deal either; you should probably let him know that too, so he doesn't let it weigh him down.

1

I think you should train yourself to calm down and not overreact easily. I know, your kid suffered and weeped, but this is a part of life. The sooner they find the world does not work entirely for them the better for them. It will hurt sometimes. Let them learn sooner than later.

As other sugested, cooperate with the teachers rather than fight them. You said you were furious, maybe it is time to apologise to them. Talk with them, try to understand their practices.

Regarding your kid I have no right to tell you what to do. I can only disclose what worked for me and cheating.

I didn't like the exams whatsoever. Fighting like rats for a number from one to five - what's the point? I've come to a conclusion that the test is to assess what I know about the topic at the time. So I did not prepare for tests at all.

Kids around were cheating - some more, some fewer -, they were stressed about their marks. Some were begging for tests being delayed. I didn't understand them. It would have been shame for me to cheat.

Fast forward, I broke that approach in the dawn of puberty. Now I've realized that when I cheated I was chating on myself, not on the professor, school, system, etc. When I cheated to get better marks than I deserved it gave me a false feeling I know "enough". Sooner or later I've realised that the things I had been supposed to know, but had cheated, I missed terribly and had to learn anyway - and without the teacher's/professor's/TA's kind help.

I think you should try to keep the rule one sin - one punishment. Your kid was punished already - they were sent to VP's office.

You (singular) can try to explain them that the test is not a mark of their performance for you (singular), rather indicator where you (plural) can improve together.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.