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Ask the Experts

My Overachieving Child Cheated

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

My daughter is a bright child but can be a bit of an overachiever. She is a good student and happily completes her homework on a daily basis. She is very hard on herself if she doesn't do well on a test or cannot do something such as jumping rope for the first time.

The teacher told me that she wrote four spelling words on her hand before the spelling test was administered. Needless to say, I am mortified!

She is a smart student and does not need to cheat. She was concerned all week while practicing her spelling words that she just couldn't get these four words correct. She has always gotten a nine or 10 out of 10, and I'm sure that she was worried she would score poorly on the test. How can I help her understand that she doesn't need to cheat and that she can't always get a perfect score while still having her understand the consequences of what she did?
 

Answer:

Based on the information you shared, the root cause of the "cheating" on the spelling test could be several different things. First, you describe your daughter as bright, and it is not uncommon for gifted children to also be perfectionists about their school work. They can also feel anxious about excelling at school. One way to ensure she passes a test is to write the words on her hand. I am glad you asked this question because addressing her worries at a young age will help her develop coping skills for the more complex tasks she faces as she progresses through school.

Your daughter needs the support of a team that is consistently working with her to address her worries. Therefore I would work closely with the teacher on strategies to alleviate her anxiety about school work. One suggestion is to have a meeting with the teacher and your daughter to acknowledge her concerns. Have her identify when she is most anxious about her academic performance. Then as a group, develop strategies to address the concerns, such as breaking up assignments into smaller parts and developing study methods that alleviate her anxiety.

During this meeting or individually, you can both share examples of your own fears and failures, and what you did to address them. You might also consider including the student services personnel (school social worker, school counselor and/or school psychologist) who can also provide ideas for addressing the anxiety, and support your daughter as she tries new strategies. The more support you can muster, the more comfortable she will feel in expressing how she feels and trying new strategies to address her fears.

There are natural consequences for all of your daughter's actions. Rather than focus on the consequences, focus on the positive. Praise her when she is making good choices. If you feel she needs a more structured reward system, you can plan one that is consistent between home and school. If she makes good decisions at school she can receive an added privilege or something special at home at the end of each week.

If, at some point your daughter's need to be perfect or her anxiousness interferes with her daily life, you might consider seeing a therapist in your community for additional support.


Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/15/2008:
"I think that is the most over the top for a beginning reaction. My first question would be if you had sat down, and discussed with your child that being perfect is not your expectation. That doing your personal best is the expectation and if you know that after working with your child all week on the spelling list that she is consistently missing those four words encourage her to do her best see if a song or a word trick helps her remember but overall I think your child needs to hear that if she is doing her personal best, that's all the perfect you/she needs. Sincerly, The mother of an Honor Roll 2nd grader who is an overachiever."
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