What to Do When Kids Cheat at Games
This summer could be called the summer of games in my home. From teaching my son to play checkers to teaching my daughter to play chess, we have played several board games a day with my four-year-old son leading the charge to spend time together at the table rolling dice, flipping cards, and moving pawns around a board. Generally my son's requests to play games come at transition times, so I often ask him to set up the game while I put lunch away, clean up our last game, etc.
Near the end of the summer I noticed something peculiar every time we played the game Sorry! and my son set up the game while I wasn't paying attention. When I joined him he would immediately say, "No need to shuffle, Mom. You go first." Without fail the first card would be useless, then he would draw a good card. The next one? You guessed it - unable to be used. His next card? A huge number.
Clearly my sweet little four-year-old was stacking the deck! When I asked him about it he looked at me with his baby blues, batted his long eyelashes, and assured me that he hadn't done such a thing, but then all five of his dimples appeared and I realized he was lying.
What should a parent do when such a young child attempts to cheat during game play?
For starters, it should not be allowed. While I admit that I laughed at my son's shenanigans and was even a bit impressed with his enterprising spirit, I made him start the game over and shuffle the cards. Turning a blind eye to cheating, even with little ones, simply rewards bad behavior and sends a message that cheating is okay.
However, parents should teach young children not to cheat, not punish them for doing so. While my son certainly knew that he was doing something wrong, he is still learning rules of play and the concept of cheating. Punishing or embarrassing him would only serve to upset him. Instead, we talked about how he would feel if I had done that to him and why it is not okay.
It's also important when playing games with your young children that you win sometimes. When playing games of strategy with my son, I certainly from time to time make a poor move and skip opportunities to take the lead. That said, I make sure that there are plenty of times when my children do not win because part of learning not to cheat is learning to be comfortable losing.
Also make sure that you lose sometimes. Some kids begin cheating because they are desperate to win. When I have the option of sending my son's piece back to start or moving another one of my pieces forward instead, I sometimes choose the latter option. What fun are games if you never win?
And finally, positively reinforce good game behavior with praise. When my children not only play fairly, but win and lose gracefully, I am sure to commend them for their good behavior. When everyone is honest, the whole family wins.