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Question: I started homeschooling my sixth grade daughter this past fall. Early in the school year I caught my daughter cheating on her Reading Comp. questions. We dealt with that and moved on. During the last few months, my sister became very ill and was eventually diagnosed with cancer, one month ago. This certainly threw our homeschooling day off. There were some of the subjects that my daughter insisted that she wanted to do on her own and I let her. Right before my sister was diagnosed with cancer, I suspected that my daughter was cheating again. I removed the answer guide and waited to see what would happen. That was three weeks ago. During these last three weeks I was helping care for my sister and did not have time to correct work. Each day I would ask my daughter if she had done the subjects that she was doing on her own and she would always say yes. I finally sat down on Friday to catch up. What I found is that she had not done her work in the subject that I thought she was cheating in and also cheated in another subject. I am so disappointed! My first reaction was to tell her that she is going back to school next year. I was set to homeschool her again, with the intention of getting a more organized start for next year. Now I do not know if this is the correct thing for her. Any advice?
Answer:

Dear Mom,

First, I am very sorry for the difficulties that you are experiencing in light of your concern for your sister's health. I will be offering her up in prayer daily (the 2nd Glorious Mystery) and ask that Jesus heal her in every way that needs healing. I know that this must present a sorrow for your family and I pray that she will be on the mend soon. Thank goodness that the warmer weather is right around the corner, as the sunshine will certainly make her feel better.

No matter where we choose to educate our children, cheating is an issue that must be resolved. Before we get into my feelings about this matter, I want to reassure you that cheating is wrong but it is not abnormal for young children to do this. Children often resort to 'short cuts' (and that is what cheating really is) when they are eager to finish a project or assignment. Cheating is essentially a bad habit that children slip into. Why do some children choose to resort to cheating to finish up a task? Remember that it is cheating to do chores and such in a half way or in a sloppy manner. My own children have fallen into this habit at times and I can tell you that as a mother it is very frustrating and makes me think that I am failing them in some way. Whenever our children exhibit a bad habit or a disturbing behavior challenge moms immediately think that they are inadequate as parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Childhood is a time of learning to be mature. Though cheating is unsettling it is still a childhood challenge that we as parents must coach our children through. Teaching the correct way to approach challenges is no different than teaching our children to overcome any childhood issue.

In our household when someone has not been forthright in schoolwork the first step is communication. Asking for the child's explanation as to why they wanted to rush through their work by cheating is very important. Sometimes the answer to such a question can reveal a challenge that needs addressing. For example, it may be that I am putting too much on the child in the way of assigned work and therefore the child feels the need to cheat in order to get finished with the work. Perhaps the work is too difficult and the concepts are not understood properly and cheating is a way of finishing up the work without the bother of understanding what is being taught. Maybe I have been too worked up about grades, etc. and cheating is a way to please me by having work completed that is 100% correct. Whatever the reason, dialogue between the child and parent is essential to understanding the challenge and then teaching the child to work through the challenge properly. Remember that children are not the only persons who must learn to work through cheating, lying, and other behaviors that are unacceptable and separate us from truth. We have only to turn on the news to confirm that.

Behaviors that are built in lies are usually behaviors that are seeking to fill a need. As humans we have an overwhelming need to be loved and accepted by those persons that we love. We want to please them and make them happy. This is not a bad thing for it is a blessing that young children want to please their parents. I feel that the Lord put this in us, so that we as humans would long to please the Lord. Our challenge is to teach children and ourselves that it is truth that pleases people and not untruth. Jesus is the author of truth. The Tempter is the author of lies. Young children need to learn to discern between the truth and untruth.

For example, it is vital to teach children that we would rather they tell us the truth than to lie. If the homework is too difficult then it is certainly okay to say so. Children need to fully understand that telling or acting in a lazy or untruthful way is very hurtful. The Tempter distorts their act of cheating to convince the child that they are accomplishing the end goal of finishing the work. Sometimes this is a difficult concept for children to grasp.

I would make sure that your daughter's playmates are truthful people as well. It is amazing to me how much young people can distort the desire for truth through improper reasoning. Again, this is a matter of maturity. A survey was taken of children in middle school. The children were asked if it was okay to shoplift if they were stealing from Wal-Mart versus a family owned business. Nearly 80% of the youngsters surveyed said that to steal from Wal-Mart was fine because they were a huge corporation and they wouldn't miss the merchandise whereas the family owned business would suffer. Their wrong reasoning told them that shoplifting was not wrong as long as no one was hurt. A young child may not have the maturity to understand that cheating hurts people because it is untruthful.

All children mature at a different rate. We should not be spring loaded to think that our child is heading down a path that will determine their fate forever when they exhibit behavior that is unacceptable. See this for what it is, behavior that must be changed, understood, and worked through. In my moments when I have to tell myself this, I liken this to potty training. All children get potty trained but some sooner than others. I just have to keep at the task until I reach the desired result.

I admire your steadfast love for your daughter and your courage as you deal with this issue during a crisis. It is indeed a sorrow to have added burdens when normal life is happening all around. You are a pure witness and one that gives me great courage. I praise the Lord and thank Him for allowing me the great privilege to read your letter.

Let us offer up our parenting today for the intentions of your dear sister's health. Let us ask that Jesus place upon our hearts the proper response to challenges. Let us ask that Jesus guard us from the Tempter's lies. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us. Oh Good Jesus hide us in Your Sacred Heart and comfort us with Your embrace. Amen .

Sending out a prayer,

Rita Munn

   
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