Something was stolen today. I watched it happen. A young person, one of my children (to remain somewhat anonymous) who was cleaning up, grabbed an M&M wrapper from the table. Then, quickly walked over to the garbage can and dropped it in. To all the busy people around, it looked like a generous deed. I knew differently. I know the wrapper’s owner was saving one more for later. We all did.
So before the wrapper dropped into the can, there was a second’s delay. Interestingly enough, the child walked straight to their room. Suspicious…
I followed close behind, before the door closed I asked, “What’s in your hand?” Plink! The M&M hit the floor.
“Ouch,” my child complained that something was caught in their eye. Perfect parent distractor! “How about apologizing for taking the candy?” Yes, we got a shallow one. I suggested that the ‘victim’ be paid for the lost candy. This happened, but really lacked the teaching lesson I was going for. At the same time, an argument busted out with another sibling. These powerful self-defense mechanisms kicking in, distracting us all from what really happened. It’s a good thing they did. I believe it is a sign of an individual that knows how to protect themselves and stay emotionally safe. But, when we want our children to face consequences and grow from their mistakes, we want to break through them so they can see and feel how the behavior effects others, and their future.
One candy is a small thing, but it’s a perfect moment for accountability. Way better than later when it could be something from outside the family, possibly a store. This cannot be brushed aside, but I can deal with it using real world consequences.
This wasn’t solved, and I needed time to think. So I did. Here’s an important strategy…. Stop and think. Usually, I have no idea what to do right away, but many stalling techniques or breathing techniques are useful. When I wait, usually something occurs to me. If it checks out with my heart, I try it. So I did.
I knew it was time for the empathy to kick in, as opposed to anger, more forced apologies, or disconnected consequences. I entered the room.
My little friend was sitting on a chair, pretending to read, and holding back tears. This is a very sad thing for a parent, but I think when I see this, it is a major learning episode. I got down close, spoke softly, and asked some reflective questions. “What happened? Do you know why you did that? Sometimes we don’t know why we do things, and that’s okay. Are you sad? Embarrassed? It is okay to feel that way after what just happened.” Silence remained on their part.
I continued, “Do you know what might happen if this happened in school? I bet you wouldn’t do that there, since you would really have a lot to lose. Do you know what happens when adults steal?” I was promoting some reflection, and now there were real tears. With a hug I asked, “Are you worried about us being buddies, because we will always be buddies, and I will always love you.”
No punishment is necessary here. When we make mistakes as teachers, or in our adult lives, we don’t need to have another adult chide us or bring us down further, what we feel inside is bad enough. Children work the same way, but they can use a little help reflecting, and getting back to good. As I revise and edit this piece, my little friend is outside in our flooded backyard searching through the mud. If I miss anything in this writing, I can blame it on the fact that now I need to go get frozen berries and wrap it up for playtime. What’s that cool draft? Now to teach closing the door…
As I began teaching and parenting, I studied Love and Logic. It has stayed with me all these years, in my own version, and I often get inspiration from their resources. I don’t have a perfect application or answer in these situations, but I consider my love for children when I help them work through their problems. If you agree or find any of these ideas interesting, please check out @loveandlogic for tons of ideas and strategies.
For those of you who know me well, you probably figured out who this story involves. Shh! It’s a secret and I don’t think she reads my blog.