Friday, April 10, 2009

My child is stealing!

We had a student that was taking things off of the shelves at stores, opening and eating them before purchasing. This was a strategy I suggested to the family, who wanted to do a coupon system for good behavior:

I know you are thinking to do a coupon reward system, and I congratulate you for wanting to see her progression. I would stay away from extrinsic rewards; however, as all the Montessori research (and traditional education research as well) shows that rewards programs actually impede true learning of behaviors. Rather, the children are doing what they need to do for the rewards, without true understanding about the reasons they need to have the proper behavior. Also, behaviors usually revert when the reward is no longer given. Instead, I would suggest a system to help her learn why she needs to have proper behavior. Her reward is the benefit that you find going to the store with her a joyful and fun experience, and she will see that.

Before going to the store, remind her of the expected behavior and why you expect that behavior ("We haven't paid for it yet, and that was not on our shopping list today. Maybe we can put it on the list for next time" (or "that isn't something on our shopping list because it isn't healthy for us"). That way she knows her expectations ahead of time. Eventually she won't need reminded, but while she is still learning the reminders help.

If she does take something off of the shelf, and if you catch that before she opens it, have her return it to the shelf and explain why she has to return it. Say the same things you said before you went into the store to keep consistency in your message.

If she does open it, then you can give her the money to buy it (or you can take money out of her savings from birthday money, etc) and she has to go to the front of the store purchase the item and then she has to give it to the store to throw away. She MUST admit her wrongdoing to the clerk. When she goes home she forfeits a snack because she helped herself to snack at the store.

There seems to be a misunderstanding in her concept of ownership. You can work to explain to her that only things the she buys or are given to her by another are hers. To pay for things she takes she can do chores around the house. This should come before any play time. This should not be things that she should responsible for herself (like making her bed, it is her bed, she should be responsible for making that herself as she is the one sleeping in it, dishes, because she also uses dishes, etc), but things such as making your bed. Things that have nothing to do with the care of herself, but would help you out. Essentially, you would hire her and she can earn the money to pay for her habit.

Outside of the actual occurrences of the behavior, perhaps setting up a "grocery store" at home. She can practice how to take things off of the shelf and then "pay for it" then take it home. Then she can reset and play again. You can also work with her and real money, learning first the different monies (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar) and when that is mastered the values of the monies. This is a pre-kindergarten skill. Allow her to pay when you go shopping, so she can become familiar with the fact that money has to exchange hands before they belong to her.

Finally, be very wary of purchasing treats or gifts when you go to the store. She will then feel entitled to receive something when she goes and this may lead to her taking matters into her own hands when she doesn't (then returning to taking things again, because she feels she should have them).

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