We recently encountered a situation where friend of my kids stole some toys from the house. I was in the living room while the boy was playing nearby. I noticed that he kept looking at me to see if I was watching him while he played. I saw him fold some toys in his hands and then casually get up and go out of the room. I thought I saw him put something in his pocket. He said he was going to go visit another friend. My suspicion increased. I was pretty sure some of our lego guys were in his pockets so I asked him if he had put any of the legos in his pocket. He told me no and I asked him if he was sure. He was sure. I was pretty confident I had seen him sneak the legos away and put them in his pocket but I knew I could have been wrong. My mind started reeling. What should I do? How should I handle this? Why didn’t I ask him to empty his pockets (nicely of course)?
It turned out he left something at our house andI knew he had to come back, so I waited. My husband came home and I told him what happened. We talked about it and decided to wait for the boy to come back. When he came for his forgotten object, my husband casually asked, “We are missing some legos, did any end up in your pockets? Could you check?” The boy felt in his pockets and said, “Oh, I guess I put some in there.” Busted.
My husband said, “Thanks for checking. We don’t want to lose our legos.” And off the boy went back to his house. After he left my husband and I realized we have several options on how to deal with this situation.
How would we want someone else to deal with our children should they steal something from another child? We would want them to be kind, but direct. Not yell and shame. I’m glad for his sake that he got caught. Learning at a young age when the consequences are less costly is a lot better than learning them when the “price is higher” (i.e. stealing toys from a friend when you are 6 or 7 years old vs. stealing $$ from friends while older or stealing cars etc.) Of course a 4 year old taking toys from a friend’s house deserves a different approach to consequences than a 6+ old child. A 4 year old may not fully understand what he/she did was wrong and need to be told directly “taking toys from a friend’s house without permission is wrong”. A 7/8 year old is much more aware of appropriate behavior at a playmate’s house.
What should the consequences be for that child the next time he comes to our house? Possible options:
- Tell his parents and come up with a plan together.
- Make sure we put the legos away when he comes over to play. (The boy likes legos a lot so I think they are a particular temptation for him)
- Ask him to check his legos to make sure that none of our other legos “accidentally” made it back to his home.
- Not let him play at our house anymore.
- Be a little more direct and tell him we know that it wasn’t an accident that those legos ended up in his pockets and that he won’t be allowed to play legos at our house anymore.
- Check his pockets everytime he leaves our house.
- Let it go and hope he doesn’t do it again.
Some of these options are more appealing than others. What we ended up doing was talking to his parents and let them know what happened. I talked to his mom and told her that if the situation was reversed I would want to know what was going on with my kid. We had a good conversation (although I admit I was very nervous because I don’t know the parents VERY well and I was worried about relational consequences–would she think I was accusing her of being a bad parent? Their faith beliefs are different from ours–would she feel like we were being judgemental religious people? Would she think I made the whole thing up?). I told her that her son is always welcome to come play at our house. He is a very sweet boy and he plays well with the kids. She was glad I told her and shared with me some things going on with the boy.
My husband and I decided that we would keep the legos put away when he comes to play and that he is welcome to play at our house anytime. I feel satisfied in the way we handled the situation. This was one of those issues that surprised me–I wasn’t really expecting to deal with stealing at such young ages (okay, I don’t think I was even aware that I MIGHT have to deal with it one day). It was a good life lesson for all involved.
Have you ever encountered a similar situation? How did you handle it?
photo courtesy of pooyall