Speaking Tree: Learning Morality Isn’t Easy

As a parent, should you inform the teacher that your child cheats in class, asks Deepak Chopra

My eight-year-old came back from school and announced: “I’ve got 10 on 10 in dictation”. I was a bit surprised because his spellings have always been weak. When I examined his notebook, I found that he had spelt difficult words, which I was sure he didn’t know, correctly. I probed a bit and out came the truth: “I cheated; I copied all the spellings from my neighbour.”

I’m in a fix. Should I report this to the class teacher, or not? If I do, the teacher might announce it to the class which might be bad for his self-respect. But if I just tick him off and don’t report it, he might think that I have taken it lightly, and may cheat again. Please tell me what is the best way to deal with the situation?

I think this issue confuses many parents of very young children. Lying and telling the truth are aspects of learning to be moral. Every parent wants to teach her child how to be good. Traditionally, there was more social acceptance of using negative means. You mention humiliating your son in front of the class, but there is also scolding, spanking, and shaming. Is it possible to have a good child who is never punished?

Here we cannot simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Children pick up signals of approval and disapproval from their parents; in fact, the younger the child, the more sensitive he is to a slight change in the mother’s mood. Negative practices don’t work in young children. They have the opposite effect of what is intended. A child who is spanked or humiliated becomes less, not more sensitive to what he is told. A child who is shamed gets the message, “You are bad” and applies it to much more than one instance of lying. The impression formed is that he is bad in a general way, and this leads to self-judgement, not goodness or morality.

Yet you seem to want to coddle your boy, and I sense a reluctance to guide him to being good, which means telling the truth. Your goal isn’t to decide between telling the school or keeping quiet. Soon enough your son’s teacher will know what his real spelling skills are. Your real goal is to communicate that lying is wrong so that an eight-year-old can understand it. Moral reasoning comes naturally to children, so sit down and ask him if he knows that cheating on a test is wrong. If he does, tell him that Mummy doesn’t want him to do it again. She wants to be proud of him, and that means he must promise not to cheat. Reassure him that getting a lower mark won’t make you love him less. Sometimes it takes more time to learn things, and he is not to worry — whatever help he needs, you will provide. If, on the other hand, he doesn’t think that cheating is wrong, you must deal with that on a different basis. Something psychological is blocking him, because eight-year-olds normally know the simple rules of right and wrong. If your son doesn’t, then I’m afraid you have coddled him and let him think that he can do whatever he wants. Look to yourself; become committed to teaching the basics of right and wrong, and do the job right this time. Either way, I think it isn’t prudent to turn your child in to his school. A child needs to know that his mother would never betray him. I hope this helps.

Published by Speaking Tree