I was cleaning my daughter’s bedroom the other day while she was in school. She normally maintains her room without help, but I needed to organize spaces for the new Christmas toys. I came across a hidden trove of candies and small toys that were not purchased by me or anyone in the family. She is only 10 and does not have her own money to go to the store herself. When I questioned her that afternoon, she admitted she took it from the store near our home. She wanted the items but knew I would say no, so she took them.
I am mortified. This is a small family run business that struggles to survive against the other larger chain stores in town. I immediately told my daughter that what she did was wrong and that she was grounded. She has lost all her television privileges and cannot play with her friends for a month. However, my husband thinks we should have done more. He wants to march her down to the store and have her tell them what she’s done. He also wants to make her do chores for the store owner as repayment for the cost of the goods. I disagree because I think she’s punished enough and that the embarrassment of confessing will just pile the shame on. What do you think we should do?
The Mortified Mum
Dear Mortified Mum,
Oh boy, we’ve stumbled upon an issue that every Hominid Wrangler in existence dreads – the moment their Miniature Human steals something. Immediately the Wrangler starts to wonder if all of their parenting has been a complete waste of time. The doubts and questions begin and within just a few minutes you are convinced that your Mini is on a path to career criminality. A career that is arguably harder than all the standard ones taught in school.
No matter how glamorous the movies make it seem, heist jobs are actually a lot of work.
How you handle this will set the tone for all your Miniature Human’s decisions down the road.
No pressure. I think you have bungled this just a little bit, but it’s never too late to fix it! When your Mini confessed to stealing the items, you disciplined her with methods that are commonly deployed for less serious infractions. At the core of this I think you know why. You are mortified.
You don’t want anyone to know what your Miniature Human has done.
It is embarrassing and you’re worried people will judge your parenting. All of these are very valid feelings, but parenting is full of feelings and you must deal with them. There is a Miniature Human who needs to learn how the world works and what happens when you misstep. Instead of focusing on correcting the undesirable behavior, you chose a consequence that has absolutely no correlation to it.
You Miniature Human harmed another family and caused them suffering, even if in a seemingly minor way.
How exactly does losing play time with her friends fix that? I do think you should talk to the family who owns the store in private, without your Mini Human present. Let them know what has happened and ask if you can come to an agreement on rectifying the situation. This will allow you to gauge how they will respond to your daughter and come up with an age-appropriate consequence.
No need to march your Miniature Human down there if they intend to scream at her.
Then, once you’ve reached a decision on her repayment, have your Mini Human confess to them what she’s done. She should not know that you’ve already done the heavy lifting or get the impression that mommy will fix everything. Your Miniature Human must learn to face her mistakes head on and deal with the consequences.
You will be mortified, but that’s what parenting is all about.
You did mention a worry that shaming your Mini Human could harm her. I agree. However, a consequence is not shaming – it is a natural response to undesirable behavior. You will not be parading her down the street wearing a sign (that is NOT ok). You aren’t making her go door-to-door to tell the entire neighborhood what she did. You are merely making her rectify her mistake with the people she has wronged. And since you talked to the store owner first, you ensured her consequence was within the bounds of her emotional development.
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