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Sticky Fingers

by Mark
(California)

For a period of several weeks, maybe every other day, my 5 year old daughter has been showing us a new 'reward' she's received from her Pre-K classroom's "Treasure Box". The story from her is that if you're really good, you get to select something. It's usually a small stuffed animal, but twice it's been a small blanket, and the last reward was a small date-book.

Her mother and I had started to question the frequency of rewards, and the quantity, when my wife discovered another child's name in the date-book. A call to the school has led to the shock of learning that all of these rewards are other children's missing possessions, and we need to know the best solution to this mess.

The teacher has suggested an apology letter from our child to any victim we can identify, and we will do this, but I would like any additional suggestions, and I would like to understand what her actions mean. I believe she wants for nothing, and she's considered well behaved and 'very sweet' by all of the school personnel.

Please help me get this little girl back on the right track.

Thank you.

Comments for Sticky Fingers

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Making Amends For Bad Behavior - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Mark,

Wow, I'm impressed with your daughter's creativity in explaining where these rewards are coming from! I suspect there is actually a treasure box at school for rewards?

She clearly knew she was not doing the right thing by stealing other children's possessions, or she would not have come up with the creative story about how she got them.

Why did she take these things? It is not always clear when children do things like this, is it just coveting someone else's stuff? Perhaps, but I suspect it may also be to do with the system in the classroom of getting rewarded for being good.

I am not sure how the reward things works in her class - or if the expectation that "good" girls get rewards comes from home? But somewhere she has got rewards associated with being good.

We often say to our kids - Good Girl, when they have done something correctly. Many teachers do this. In actual fact, being correct is nothing to do with being good. We should be specifically praising the achievement - or trying, and not linking it to behavior. "You did really well with your reading today". If a reward is linked to behavior in the classroom, then it needs to be specific - you get a reward if you have treated someone kindly or helped someone, or if you got on with your work quietly. And these kinds of rewards are problematic in that if only one child gets the reward, then all the other children who thought they were complying with the requirement - miss out.

It is better for rewards to be very specific, not for general goodness as that gets loaded with expectations or confusion and lots of stereotypical role conditioning - ie girls are sweet and nice and boys are strong and tough. So I am wondering about your daughter's understanding of what being really good is.

She could be feeling she has not being rewarded for being good so she decided to reward herself! But interesting that she does something that she knew was "not good" to give herself a reward.

Part Two Follows

Making Amends For Bad Behavior - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Don't make a bigger issue out of this though, the suggestion from the teacher is a good one to deal with the incidences. Learning to make amends for our actions that hurts someone else is a very powerful learning - and she will be feeling some shame, maybe anger at being caught out, and those are not pleasant to deal with.

She is right at the developmental stage of learning to see the world from another perspective and understanding that her taking someone else's things makes that child feel bad is an uncomfortable thing to learn. And learning there are consequences in our behavior and taking responsibility for that is a big learning curve.

The other thing to be careful in this situation - is that your daughter is not being punished twice - it does sound like the teacher is looking at the obvious consequence in the situation is making amends by way of an apology letter. Let that be the end of it though - you do not need to bring it up again, or have any other form of punishment or consequences. Many times parents get caught up in stuff that happens at school, and children get punished or told off at school and again at home. Of course in this case there is an overlap, she brought things home. But once she has finished the letters, let that be the end of it, you don't have to see this as a bigger mess you need to sort out.

Kids make mistakes all the time, and the are powerful learning opportunities. I am sure she will have a few more curve balls to throw at you as the years go by! Does this make her a bad child? Absolutely not! She is still the sweet well behaved little girl she was AND she is also creative, makes mistakes and occasionally hurts others. Just like we all do.

Relax with it all, she is going through a major learning episode, which is a good thing. But she needs to know she is loved and is not a "bad girl" - she is simply a little girl that has made some choices that were not good and have hurt other children. I am sure she will never forget this lesson!

As parents we hate it when our kids mess up - particularly in school. But she will be fine, and you are doing a great job with her. Just support her getting over this blip, and enjoy your time together.

Annie D

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