Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Child has Stolen! and a word about parasite lessons

Inspired by true events:

My cousin's ten year old son recently stole a pack of erasers (he has been collecting them) from a Wal-Mart. My cousin's initial response was to donate all of his Christmas toys to Toys for Tots, or to make him do community service. I applaud my cousin for wanted to do something about this problem. Many times I have witnessed parents do nothing because the event seemed to not matter. His mother caught the theft and went back and paid for the erasers (then donated them to Toys for Tots so he did not get them). So, in many parent's eyes, no problem. The problem though is that if this is not addressed now then it becomes a more serious problem later. Bigger things are stolen, maybe mom doesn't catch it. Or maybe he assumes that his parents are always going to bail him out of tough situations.

However, the problem with this punishment is that you wouldn't want him to associate charity with punishment. In Montessori, we do not have punishments at all (nor do we have external rewards). As Dr. Montessori said "the prize and punishments are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort, and, therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them." However, if we allow children to face the consequences of their choices, that then becomes a learning experience for the child. One that can be built upon. Punishment also comes with what we call "parasite lessons." This parasite lesson would be that helping others out is something we do when we have done something society deems wrong. If children lose "television time" because of bad behavior you've made television something to be coveted because when the child is behaving properly television is permitted.

In this case, I would first have a serious talk with him about how this was illegal and he could go to jail. His uncle is a police officer and could even take him to the jail and show him where people go when they steal. The talk needs to be framed with why it is wrong to steal. The learning experience should include having him examine himself to assess how he would feel if someone had stole from him. And how, in our society, we must earn what we receive. Then have him earn the money to pay for the erasers (by doing chores that he would not normally be required to do) and repay his mom. Additionally, he should write a letter to the Wal-mart about what he's learned and how he would do things differently next time. Which he needs to present to the manage Wal-mart of the in person.

And then going forward, parents should think about what parasite lesson is being learned from giving children everything they want, when they want it. Is that a life lesson you want your children to have? I know my cousin suspects that the theft happened because his son generally gets everything he wants. My cousin suspects that he wanted it and assumed he could have it. At a young age have your children start paying for items, even better if they pay for it with money they have earned. And earning should be for something that he or she should not be responsible for. Making the bed, cleaning their own dishes, and putting their own laundry away are all jobs that your child should already be doing as care of himself or herself. My daughter earns money by folding her dad's socks. It is a job he doesn't like, so it saves him work, and it isn't something she should normally be responsible for.


  1. LOL! My sons' uncle is a police officer also. FYI...he has flat out said that he CANNOT EVER take children to "see where people go when they steal." Because that area is full of criminals and drug addicts who yell out all kinds of inappropriate things non-stop. He also discourages parents from saying things like that because it can lead them to be afraid of police officers and not go to them when they need help in a dangerous situation. I don't think that parasite lesson is what you had in mind either.

  2. Maybe it is a small town thing because in my hometown you can do that and my 4 yo has done it in our current town. It didn't scare her, it actally made her feel safe.