A Lying, Stealing Moment

A Lying, Stealing Moment October 4, 2019

All kids lie at some point, even good kids. But parents can use lying and stealing incidents to help children develop their budding consciences.

Q: Last night, my 7 year old confessed that she had opened a package and eaten some candy with her 11-year-old sibling that morning at the store. I had no idea this had happened. I briefly discussed that was stealing and reminded her that she knows stealing is wrong. I did praise her for telling me because I never would have known it happened.

When I confronted my 11-year old-about the situation, she told me that she just pretended to eat the candy and therefore felt that she did nothing wrong.

I believe both children need to be punished but not sure where to start. We will be taking my younger daughter to the store to apologize and pay for the candy she took. I would appreciate your help on what comes after that for both children.

A: First of all, let me assure you that this is rather normal behavior, especially for a seven year old who’s still developing her self-control muscle. The fact that she told you about it means her conscience was working just fine, albeit a little bit after-the-fact. And your plan to take her back to the store to apologize and pay for the candy is spot on. I would have her practice the apology with you a few times first, so that in the moment, talking to a strange adult, she will be more likely to muster the courage to speak clearly. I would also have her pay for the candy out of her allowance if possible.

For the 11 year old, I would discount her “pretending” to eat the candy as letting her off scot-free. Don’t argue with her about whether or not she ate the candy–remind her that as the oldest, she had a responsibility to say to the sister it was wrong to eat candy they hadn’t paid for, and if the sister didn’t heed her words, to report it immediately to you. Her failure to do so on both counts means she was complicit in the candy stealing, whether or not she ate the forbidden fruit. So she should also apologize to the store manager related to the stealing.

As for additional punishments, that’s trickier. On the one hand, you don’t want to completely overwhelm the girls with punitive punishments. On the other hand, you need to reinforce the notion that stealing and lying are wrong.

Here’s what I would do. Find a neighbor who needs some yard work the girls can do–raking leaves, weeding a walkway, sweeping a sidewalk–then tell the girls (with the neighbor’s permission, of course), that they will be spending part of each Saturday morning for a month doing that chore for the neighbor as a way to remind them the right way to behave is giving back to others, not taking for themselves.

I think you’ll find reinforcing the positive–giving back–over the negative–don’t lie and steal–will have a better impact on their budding consciences than consequences.


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