Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:
- Be cooperative
- Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative
Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:
- Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around
The possibility of allowing choice Cis what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.
Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to Cand reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.
Here We Go…
If you are anything like me, your kid being dishonest leads to some parental anxiety. You may worry that your kid is headed for a life of crime because he is not being honest about whether or not he snatched the candy from the kitchen drawer, or whether or notshe swiped the new tube of lip gloss from your purse. While this is an overreaction, it is a healthier response than the “this is just a phase, he’ll grow out of it” paradigm. The reality is that kids “grow out” of “phases” when the behaviors that they are exhibiting no longer get them what they want. So here today, I will show you how to make a particular dishonest behavior–stealing–a non-functional behavior before it turns into shoplifting or worse.
Parents almost always flub the confrontation over their kid(s) being dishonest by making one or more of four possible mistakes. Here’s what they are and why you should avoid them. How to avoid them will come in a moment.
- Asking Stupid Questions to Which You Already Know the Answer
If you know that your kid has stolen something, give them one (1, uno, un) chance to tell the truth. You are not in a courtroom, your kid does not have a lawyer, and you have no requirement to provide him with one, or prove to a jury the lack of reasonable doubt or a preponderance of the evidence. Any detective work to determine kid-guilt needs to be done in advance. If you suspect that your kid is lying when your kid is in front of you, just become very sad and walk away to do fact-finding before you confront your kid. This needs to be done before this single question is asked.
- Asking Stupid Questions to Which You Don’t Want To Hear the Answer
“Why did you steal that?” “Do you know how disappointed I am?” and “Why would you do something like this?” are all questions that will get you the same answer: “I don’t know.” This is not likely to improve your mood, and it is useless, so don’t ask these questions.
People don’t listen to lectures. You don’t, I don’t, and your kid certainly doesn’t. Any lectures about the negative effects thefthas on society will go in one ear and out the other and will only allow your kid to put his anger on you instead of on himself for making the mistake of taking something that didn’t belong to him.
After an initial lie, kids will usually double down on the lie by attempting to argue with the adult about their innocence. Remember that it takes two people to argue and that you have no responsibility to prove guilt to anyone.
What to Do: The Intervention
As always, what you should do is easier than anything else that you could do. Once you know that the kid has stolen something, simply say the following:
Oh, man. When you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it makes me worry that you might steal from me at other times too.
Walk away. Most kids will try to get you to argue with them. Responses to argument should be “Hmm.” or “Alrighty” or “Fair enough.” Say these as you are walking away, do not break stride, and say absolutely nothing else.
If this is the first time your child has stolen something, and/or you believe that the guilt caused by the above statement will stop them from stealing in the future, then you can stop here. In this case, the feeling of disappointing a parent is a consequence in and of itself. However, since you have read 784 words so far, you are probably having a more significant problem with stealing in your home than can be fixed with this intervention. If so, move on to consequences.
What to Do: The Consequence
Remember that a consequence must be logically connected to the infraction so that the kid can actually learn how to replace their negative behaviors with positive ones. Kids going from exhibiting negative behaviors to exhibiting positive behaviors is a learning process, not a process through which we scare kids, or inflict pain upon them.
So then, how do kids learn not to steal through the use of consequences?
The kid has shown the parent that he is less than trustworthy at this point in his personal development. The logical consequence of a kid being less than trustworthy is that they need to be removed from situations that require being trustworthy. This protects other people and their possessions from people who are not trustworthy.
The next step after the intervention is to look at a calendar. Find all social engagements in which your kid is scheduled to participate that will allow your child freedom to be away from his parents in some capacity. For a four-year-old that may be a birthday party at a playland; for a 14- year-old, that might be a movie night with friends.
Cancel these events. The bigger, the better. Your kid isn’t ready for them yet at this point in his personal development. There is no reason to be angry about this. There is no reason to get upset. Let the consequence do the teaching. For now he is going to remain where you can keep an eye on him. You will be doing so for two reasons:
- To keep an eye on him so as to protect society from his dishonesty
- To notice all of the times he is not stealing so as to know when he will be able to fully re-enter society
Let him know that all activities that involve any level of trust are cancelled indefinitely. This is not designed to make your kid happy in the short term. He’s going to be really upset and/or angry. That is a good, healthy thing.
Let him know that you will be noticing whether or not he is keeping his hands off of other people’s stuff. You will have plenty of opportunities for this because your kid will be spending more time at home than he was previously. Use the aforementioned strategies for not getting sucked into the inevitable attempts at argument that are bound to occur. If he asks how long it will be until he can do things that involve being trustworthy, just let him know that this will depend on how trustworthy he is going to be and express faith that it shouldn’t be too long.
You can also notice himdoing the right thing when he is not actively stealing. This should hopefully be happening pretty much all the time.
“I’ve noticed that you haven’t taken anyone else’s things all day today.”
Don’t add any praise. Just notice. Kids who may not have been very affected by this noticing in a previous context will care much more about it when they know that they are getting closer to having a social life. Kids who complain about this noticing or want to argue about anything, can again be given one of the aforementioned phrases or sounds as the parent walks away.
Once you feel like your kid is ready for prime-time, tell him so, and say how proud you are of him! Hugs may be in order. It should be a mini-celebration: no warnings, hedging, or lectures; just pride in a job well done. In this way, you are improving your relationship with your kid through their negative behavior!
Pretty cool, huh?
Notes on How to Eliminate Stealing
- Obviously this advice is for small-time stealing within your home. Stealing from a store, a teacher, or a friend’s house is a larger issue with different consequences.
- If you are not sure if your kid is guilty of stealing even after your detective work, your next step depends on how sure you are. If you are 99% sure follow the steps in the CAPP. If you are 25% sure, don’t. Use common sense. If the only other possibility about where your gum went was that birds unlocked your window, stole your gum and then relocked the window, AND if your daughter has minty fresh breath, the kid is guilty. However, if you are 50/50 on whether or not you left your cell phone at the restaurant or the nightstand, abort.
- If you abort this CAPP due to lack of evidence, make sure you more closely monitor your kids and your possessions. Be sure to pay special attention to where you leave things.