I recently read this excellent article by Jessica Lahey (hanging out with Zoobean in January…stay tuned) about preventing cheating in classrooms. In reading her tips intended for classroom teachers, I note how relevant they are for parents. In essence, Jessica points to a recent book that explores cheating and links its rise to an increased emphasis on test results and decreased emphasis on reassuring kids they have the power to achieve success, among a variety of other factors. How can parents help?
Focus more on mastery, less on performance. This is Jessica’s advice for teachers, and it holds true for parents. How often do we ask our kids about their true understanding of a subject, rather than the grades from a paper or test? Are we incentivizing grades only with rewards at home? Consider how you are encouraging your kids’ willingness to learn, just for the sake of learning. Discuss books they’re reading at school. Read the papers they write or work they do, and emphasize the progress you see, or discuss relevant topics with them. Show them that the importance of doing well in school is not so that they can get straight A’s. Rather, it’s so that they can become educated citizens and have the ability to make a positive impact in the world.
Help lessen the pressure. Teachers, in many cases, are required to conduct high stakes testing. And yes, it is important for our kids to learn how to perform in these environments. On the other hand, if we put too much pressure on our kids, they are more likely to resort to cheating in order to do well on these tests. As parents, we can prepare our kids by getting them excited about tests, making them healthy food in advance of taking tests, and generally providing a happy, rather than stressed atmosphere when testing is going on at school (standardized or otherwise). Instead of reminding them of how important a test is, instead, remind kids that this is not the ultimate measure of intelligence or future potential! This is one test of many, and they will be just fine. Reduce the pressure…they’re getting enough of it at school!
Remind them that they can do it. Jessica tell us that studies show “kids need to feel that someone – anyone – believes in them, even when they don’t believe in themselves.” If not, if they don’t believe they actually can be successful, they are much more likely to resort to cheating. It’s true that our kids are doing just fine when it comes to self-esteem, but it’s important that we focus on specific skills and topics and ensure they internalize the belief that they are truly able to succeed in a subject. If your child is struggling to complete an assignment, saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll do great,” won’t do the trick! Instead, try to understand your child’s concerns, help with what you can, and then provide structure for a path forward. It might involve seeking help from a teacher or friend, rereading material, or doing web research. Whatever it is, make sure that your child knows that s/he absolutely has the ability to do well in a course or on an assignment. Using the mantra “Everything you have is already inside of you,” is a useful affirmation to build that base for specific subjects and topics in school.
Talk about it. Finally, as parents, we can and should address this tough topic with our kids. Remind them about the importance of honesty, and be sure to talk about times when you might have been tempted to cheat. Or perhaps a time when you did, but regretted it. Start an open dialog with your child so s/he understands why cheating is bad, especially in the long run. Try to weave this conversation into talk about school and what your child is experiencing academically and socially. You don’t have to discuss it all at once, but do try to weave in your perspective over the course of time.
It might not always seem like it, but they are listening..and watching! Above all, set the example for your child and give him/her an example to model.