Cheating Childhood

ask mr - cheating kid mug shot

ask mr - cheating kid mug shotDear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old daughter has suddenly begun telling lies—right to my face—and she’s started cheating at games too. My wife and I can’t figure out where this is coming from. We’re a very religious family and we see lying and cheating as serious moral flaws. What can we do to stop our daughter’s behavior?

A: Unfortunately, at age six, your child may have a theoretical grasp of the concepts of honesty and integrity, but right now, she’s too busy conducting an important—and completely normal—social experiment to care.

Until now, she’s looked at the world in a rather naïve, black-and-white way, believing that everyone sees and experiences things in the same way and that everyone knows the same things. But in a great developmental leap forward, she’s now discovering what psychologists call the Theory of Mind. That’s when kids (usually around six) figure out that different people can see the same situation in very different ways, that they don’t always know what’s going on inside other people’s head, and that no one will know what’s truly going on in hers unless she tells them.

This is a perfect good-news-bad-news development. On the good-news side, there’s empathy—the understanding that someone else might feel something different than she does. Being able to put herself into another person’s metaphorical shoes will help her better understand diversity and start developing rudimentary conflict-resolution skills.

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My Cheating Heart

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m an expectant father and something weird is happening. Ever since I found out that my wife is pregnant, my loyalty to her has started to waver and now all I can think about is going out and having affairs—especially with her best friend. I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m in desperate need of help—it’s driving me crazy.

A: Cheating in marriages is nothing new. And although there’s a stereotype that men are the primary cheaters, a number of studies have found that women are just as likely as men to stray. Cheating during pregnancy is actually pretty rare, but thinking about it isn’t. There are a number of interesting theories about why this happens.

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Lying, Cheating, and Stealing

In recent weeks, my six-year-old has suddenly become completely untrustworthy, lying, cheating, and stealing whenever she gets a chance. Yesterday we came home from the grocery store and I found that she had stolen some candy! I’m getting worried, not to mention the fact that I’m feeling like a bad parent. What can I do to nip this in the bud?

The first thing to do is relax. Child development experts agree that before age three, kids have no clear understanding that these behaviors are wrong. Between three and six, children develop an understanding that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong and they begin some innocent exploration of limits, lying about little things, like whether they’ve washed their hands or gone to the bathroom.
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The Truth about Lying

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 9-year-old son is a habitual liar. He fibs even about the smallest, most insignificant things. But whenever we challenge him, he stands his ground and tries to convince us he’s telling the truth. What can we do?

A: Before we get to the what-you-can-do part, we need to find out what’s going on and why. Children lie for a number of different reasons, primarily to impress others, boost their self-esteem, feel less insecure, or avoid punishment. (Hmmm. The same reasons many adults lie, too.)

For example, your son might be bragging to his friends about all the latest games he has in his room—even though you can’t afford any of them. He may figure that if he told the truth, nobody would be interested in him. If he’s feeling especially insecure, he might spin some incredible yarns about his talents or abilities to help him feel better about himself.
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