This blog is in response to a letter a mom sent me about her son:
I am so angry and mortified. My 10-year-old got caught shop lifting, and I am afraid this is a sign of much worse things to come.
Upset and Worried in Tulsa
Dear Upset and Worried,
I can imagine you are hovering between being angry enough to spit nails and die of shame. Both are understandable feelings, but I want to reassure you that while sure to trigger strong feelings in us, this is normal 10-year-old behavior; I would not take it as a sign of a slippery slope to s long as you make it a real learning experience.
How you respond as a parent will connect closely to the likelihood of future incidents.
Here are some tips:
- Remember he is only 10. Your aim as a parent in disciplining him is to teach him—not shame or humiliate him. Make sure he understands that he made a poor choice, not that he is a thief or a liar or any other label that will define him for the rest of his life. Remind him that what he did was wrong but he can learn from his mistake and make a better choice next time.
- Support him in being accountable. If you are called to the store where he has shoplifted, demonstrate how to apologize sincerely and have your son echo with his own apology. If you find out that he has shoplifted after the fact—perhaps because you have found the stolen items in his room or in his backpack--take him and the items back to the store. Have your son turn them into the manager, explain what he did, and apologize. Yes, the manager has the right to call the police. That’s okay. Support your son in staying calm and accepting blame. He should repeat his apology to the police.
- Whether or not the police get involved, teach your son that when a person messes up, he needs to make amends wherever he can. In this case, your son should offer to purchase the items and/or to help in the store in some way to make up for it. It may not be possible (even with your supervision) for the shop keeper to allow your son to “work off” his debt. He also may not want the hassle. That’s okay. You work out with your son what jobs he can do at home or for the neighbors to make the money he needs to make. Let the store manager decide whether he wants the money all at once—in which case lend the money to your son and have him pay you back—or to come into the store and pay in weekly installments.
- Giving opportunities to a 10 year old to make money may take your adult supervision. That can actually be good: It gives you time to work side by side with your son which gives you lots of chances to talk about making good choices. Remember, you are not trying to rub his face in it; you are helping him think through why he did what he did and what he might do next time.
- Once the debt has been paid off, have your son write to the store manager and apologize one more time and to thank him for the opportunity to make things right. He might include a sentence or two about what he has learned and what he will do next time. This will solidify his learning.
Throughout this process emphasize with how hard it is to admit when we have made a mistake and praise your son for trying to make up for his mistakes. Tell him you are proud of him and you trust him to try to make better choices in the future. Holding onto your loving words will motivate him to try to keep your good opinion of him.
Deep breath, Mama! When these lessons are learned young, it saves a lot of trouble later.
www.elisabethstitt.com/Joyful Parenting Coaching