My precious 6 year old daughter, many years ago, came home from a private home daycare. She was sporting a fancy, women’s watch on her wrist.
“Hey, Sweetheart. Whatcha got there?” I asked. She proudly extended her arm to me to show off her prize. “It’s a watch. Paul gave it to me. It’s my birthday, ya know,” she explained. Actually, her birthday was months away. I could have exploded her story right then and put her in her room both for lying and for stealing. But…I wanted to see how far she would take this.
“I see…Hmmm. Paul gave you this expensive, lady’s watch as a birthday gift?” “Uh huh. He’s my boyfriend, ya know.” So, having given her an opportunity to fess up, I crafted a teachable moment.
“Okay, then. Let’s go right back to Paul’s house and see if it is okay with Paul’s mom for him to give you such an expensive birthday gift.” My daughter got quiet and then erupted, “Oh no. We don’t have to do that. Isn’t it pretty?” she protested, as I picked her up, got her in her car seat, and made the short trip to Paul’s house.
On arrival, Paul’s mom answered the door and I explained the circumstances. “Oh my goodness. Thank you so much. I had looked everywhere for my watch. With prompting from me, my daughter reluctantly owned up to her theft and offered an apology. On our return trip home, I alternatively consoled her, active listened her feelings, and praised her for correcting a bad choice. On arrival, I sent her to her room for some alone time and to think about the impact of her actions. Later, after talking to her more, I helped her write a letter of apology and draw a pretty picture for Paul’s mom.
A punishment for my daughter’s crime would have been a spanking or grounding with no explanation. Punishment would have satisfied me, shown my power, diminished her self-esteem, and created emotional distance between us. I chose a series of natural consequences that made it about her, maintained her self-esteem, and brought us emotionally closer together. Punishment or natural consequence. Which would you choose?