Cheating is any form of behaviour the function of which is to deliberately break a rule by misleading, deceiving, or acting dishonestly to gain an advantage (Green, 2004).


Cheating frequently occurs in childhood (Ding et. al, 2014). As part of normal development cheating behaviour begins during preschool years (Lewis et al., 1989; Talwar & Lee, 2002) and continues to develop with age (Callender et al, 2010; Evans et al., 2011; Kochanska & Murray, 2000) but after 8 years of age there is a developmental decrease in cheating behaviour.

As children mature and as part of moral development, children realise that cheating is wrong and learn how to comply with rules without supervision.


When cheating behaviour is prolonged and ongoing, it becomes of concern.


Cheating can cause negative consequences for the child, the family, and the community at large. When children cheat it can leave others feeling hurt, angry or frustrated, but worst of all, it will make it difficult for others to trust the child.

Consequences for the child include others losing trust in the child, lost relationships, lost opportunities, loss of respect, facing serious consequences, a record of the cheating incident on their transcripts, and most importantly cheating does not address the underlying reasons why the child is cheating or equip the child with the tools to be successful the next time they have to engage in a similar situation.


Peter will often move an inch or two away from the start line to get an advantage because of his fear of coming last, especially to some of his peers. Peter has started cheating not just in running games but in other sports as well. In tennis, calling an opponent’s ball “out” when it was in, especially if he is the only one that can properly see what happened; or he may purposefully trip or crash into other players in soccer. The other children have noticed this and under their breath will call him ‘cheater’, not choose him or want him to play in their team, and even when he is doing the right thing the other children will complain about him to the sports teacher.

Hence, cheating behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is exhibiting cheating behaviour requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.


Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

PBS recognises that there is no single cause for cheating behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

Cheating behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.

There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:

  • environment
  • activity, and
  • interaction

These factors place different demands on the child and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in cheating behaviour.


Sam uses apps that can help solve maths problems by simply typing in or taking a picture of the math problem to complete his homework. He doesn’t think he is cheating and feels that this is the only way he can get it right or even get it done. He has so many extra-curricular activities that he needs to do that because there simply isn’t the time to dedicate to doing homework.


Dwayne knows he hasn’t studied well enough for the test. During term he did not study regularly so he has fallen behind. Even though he knew when the exam was, he kept procrastinating until the last minute, when he stayed up all night cramming the information even though it made no sense. He felt like a zombie in the morning due to the lack of sleep and couldn’t remember much at all.  Dwayne believed that all the pressure that was being put on him was unfair, and there shouldn’t even have been a test. So Dwayne cheated on the exam by copying the answers from the child sitting next to him whom he believed was smarter than him. Dwayne doesn’t see his cheating as a big deal because he believes all his peers cheat and nobody cares about it.

The examples highlight that cheating behaviour is not without purpose. It is never too late to address cheating behaviour, even if it has been occurring for a while.

Developing a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan to address the cheating behaviour involves three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.

  • ASSESS: How to identify the reasons for the cheating behaviour,
  • MANAGE: How to respond when cheating behaviour occurs, and
  • PREVENT: How to minimise or eliminate the occurrence of cheating behaviour.


Assess Stage Aims

The Assess stage aims to identity:

  • Activities during which the cheating behaviour occurs,
  • Environments in which the cheating behaviour occurs, and
  • People dealing with the cheating behaviour.

Assess Stage Checklist:

  • Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
  • Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s cheating behaviour.
  • Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the cheating behaviour), describing the cheating behaviour, consequences (what happened after the cheating behaviour).
  • Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the cheating behaviour served.



Manage Stage Aims

The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviours that occur before the cheating behaviour and after. Appropriate responses can help to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

Manage Stage Checklist:

  • Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation and recovery stage). Depending on the child’s circumstance decide whether one or two escalation stages need to be developed 1. How does the child escalate if caught in the middle of cheating; 2. How does the child escalate when confronted about the cheating.
  • Escalation profile – Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages and how long each stage can last. One or two profiles will be needed depending on how many escalation stages were developed.
  • De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the child starts to escalate, safely defuse and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

One or two de-escalation plans will be needed depending on how many escalation stages were developed.


Prevent Stage Aims

This stage aims to prevent the occurrence of the cheating behaviours by minimising or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.

Prevent Stage plan

The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the cheating behaviours by providing the child with:

  • Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off cheating behaviour.
  • Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off cheating behaviour.
  • Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off cheating behaviour, and
  • Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.



Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in C for Cheating: Positive Behaviour Support guide to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals. 


  • Ding, X. P., Omrin, D. S., Evans, A. D., Fu, G., Cheng, G. & Lee, K. (2014).  Elementary school children’s cheating behavior and its cognitive correlates. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 121, 85-95.
  • Evans, A. D., Xu, F. & Lee, K. (2011). When all signs point to you: Lies told in the face of evidence. Developmental Psychology, 47, 39–49.
  • Green, S. P. (2004). Cheating. Law and Philosophy. 23, 137–185.
  • Lewis, M., Stanger, C. & Sullivan, M. W. (1989). Deception in 3-year-olds. Developmental Psychology, 25 ,439–443.
  • Kochanska, G. & Murray, K. T. (2000). Mother-child mutually responsive orientation and conscience development: from toddler to early school age. Child Development, 71, 417-31.