At a glance
Kids with ADHD may cheat for many reasons.
Cheating can be a sign of an underlying problem.
Sometimes, cheating is related to challenges with executive function.
Cheating once or twice is pretty common for kids. They might bend the rules of a card game. Or they may copy someone else’s words into an essay and call it their own work. But when kids with ADHD frequently cheat, there may be more behind it than wanting to win or take the easy way out.
For them, cheating is often related to trouble with a set of skills called . Those skills include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Cheating may be a way of coping with their challenges with these skills.
Learn more about the connection between ADHD and cheating.
Why kids with ADHD may cheat
Impulsivity: Sometimes, kids plan to cheat. But for kids with ADHD, cheating is often an impulse. ADHD makes it hard to stop and think about the possible consequences of their actions. It also makes it hard to resist temptation, especially when the stakes are high.
Wishful thinking: Kids with ADHD can sometimes be overly optimistic. It’s part of their trouble with executive function. It may also be a defense mechanism. They may downplay cheating by telling themselves, “The coach won’t notice” or “It’s not a big deal.”
School struggles and frustration: Kids with ADHD typically have trouble with attention, organization, working memory, and other key executive skills. That can make it hard to keep up at school, despite working very hard. And when their efforts don’t pay off, their self-esteem can take a hit. Cheating can allow them to feel “success,” even if it’s not real.
Wanting to please and fit in: Like most kids, kids with ADHD want to please their parents, teachers, and other adults. And it feels bad to fall short of expectations. Kids with ADHD also want to fit in with their peers and not be seen as stupid or lazy. They may cheat to avoid feeling like a disappointment to others. Cheating may also help them hide their challenges from other kids.
Pressure and fears about the future: Many teens feel pressure to get good grades so they can get into a good college. But years of struggling in school can leave teens with ADHD feeling more stressed and fearful about it. If cheating can boost their grades, it may seem worth the risk.
Cheating and school
Learning your child has been caught cheating is an unpleasant surprise. You might feel embarrassed or angry. But it’s important to be calm and get the facts before responding.
Talk to your child and the teacher. You may be upset that your child cheated. But it’s more important to focus what led to the cheating. Was the test format difficult? Was time a factor? Or did your child simply not know the material?
Be careful not to ask why your child cheated. Even adults have difficulty answering why they do certain behaviors. Instead, ask about recent changes at school and how things are going with other kids.
Depending on the answers you get, here are some possible solutions:
- If your child doesn’t have a 504 plan, consider taking steps to get them one so they can receive accommodations.
- If your child has a 504, it may need to be adjusted to include different accommodations or support.
- If your child cheated because they didn’t prepare enough, look for things to change at home. For instance, you might break down tasks and help your child plan how to complete things.
Kids with ADHD may also cheat outside of the classroom. For example, while playing a game at recess, they might insist the ball was in bounds when it wasn’t. Again, ask the school and your child for details about what happened.
While it’s important to understand what led to your child cheating, you should also make it clear cheating isn’t acceptable. Let your child know that having ADHD isn’t an excuse to cheat.
Talk with your child about what might be a reasonable consequence for the cheating incident. Your child may think up a harsher consequence than you’d have given. This may be because many kids with ADHD feel great remorse after breaking a rule. Together, set a clear consequence that is reasonable and that helps your child learn from the experience.
Your child needs your support during episodes like these. It often helps to see cheating as a sign that your child needs help solving the problem that led to the cheating. By looking at the behavior’s source, you can help your child learn how to behave differently.
Kids with ADHD usually struggle with other behaviors.
Academic and social pressures are common causes of cheating.
Focus on solving the problem that led to the cheating.
Kids with ADHD may want to please parents and teachers more than other kids do.
About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD, NCC, DCMHS, LMHC is an author, mental health counselor, and Florida Supreme Court certified family and circuit mediator. She specializes in anxiety, gaslighting, narcissistic abuse, and ADHD.