One-Minute Parent: When a Little Kid Steals

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Teaching kids right from wrong is a balancing act that begins when they're very young.

Little children have so many lessons to learn as they grow. There’s often that moment at the store for instance when you have to insist they put back something they want. And then … how best to react all in a minute.

The Scene:

You walk into the family room to call your 5-year-old to dinner and immediately spot the Hershey bar wrapper on the floor. Wait a second. That’s what he was begging for at the store, only you said no and watched him put it back. Only he snuck it out. Your child begins to cry, ashamed. Now What?

Do You:

• Immediately scold him and send him to his room without supper?
• Pick up the wrapper, toss it in the trash and ignore the whole thing?
• Stay calm so you can talk to him about it over dinner?

What Experts Say

First of all, your child’s not a thief or a shop lifter. He made a mistake. When your child is first caught stealing, cheating, teasing, lying or engaging in any of the other seven deadly sins of childhood, pause. While your initial response will usually be anger, Michael Riera and Joseph Di Prisco, authors of Right From Wrong: Instilling a Sense of Integrity in your Child (Perseus Publishing) take a deep breath first before reacting. At age 5, when a child is caught doing something he knows is wrong, he will be remorseful. He’ll listen to you, and you can get your points across such as: “I know this sounds strange, but I’m happy that you feel badly about taking the candy bar. The way you feel now shows me that you’re a good person — you knew it wasn’t right to take the candy bar and that makes me feel better. After your little talk, let him know that you plan on returning to the store to pay for the candy and to apologize.

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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