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“Stealing at 6? He has no idea of ownership”

“Stealing at 6? He has no idea of ownership”
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First Published: Fri, May 02 2008. 11 58 PM IST
Updated: Fri, May 02 2008. 11 58 PM IST
My five-year-old has started taking other children’s things. Recently, he came home with someone’s toy car, which he had put into his pocket while they were playing. When we tell him this is wrong, he just says, “I wanted it”. He has done such things earlier as well. How do I make him understand that this is stealing?
Stealing is quite common in children of this age. Almost all children take things that don’t belong to them at one time or another. Of course, it must still be addressed and corrected.
First, don’t overreact. Like you, other parents who have caught their children stealing are instantly filled with the fear that their children are on the road to becoming crooked beings!
Second, deal with stealing in as matter-of-fact a manner as possible, and avoid labels such as thief and chor. Avoid painting awful scenarios that involve police and jails. Of course, you must label the behaviour as wrong, but don’t label your child.
Third, while you should remain calm, you should react fast (not sharply). Don’t let it slide. Have a conversation about the stuff he took. Under the age of 6, most children have difficulty understanding the concept of boundaries like yours-not-mine and private property. Because most kids this age do not yet understand why stealing is wrong, this is a good time for you to introduce the idea of ownership. This way, you can introduce the idea that when he wants something, it is not necessarily “there for the taking”.
Most importantly, you should talk to him about how the other child must feel when he can’t find his car. One of the most important building blocks of mental, emotional and socially appropriate behaviour is a child’s ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes, even if briefly. Your child is too young to be lectured on the matter, but you could start giving him a sense of this. Also, tell him in mild terms about what happens to people who steal—how no one likes them.
If he continues with this behaviour, one effective (if slightly harsh) lesson is to take something of his that he likes; when he misses it or looks for it, tell him “maybe someone just took it, because they wanted it”. Let him “feel the heat” of someone stealing his things. If you choose to try this, do remember to do it with sensitivity and without embarrassing him.
Once you get past this stage, in a year or so from now, if the behaviour recurs, your son will be old enough for you to set some punishments/consequences for stealing. This would include returning the stolen object and apologizing. You could also then tell your child how to work for something that he wants, ask for it, learn how to admire and play with others’ toys without needing to own them. But, all this would be useful to deal with stealing in slightly older children.
My 11-year-old son learns about conservation in school yet, at home, he rarely puts any of those principles into practice. At home, he’s happy to let the water run while he brushes his teeth or leave the lights on when he walks out of a room. I am forever nagging him on these points but, unfortunately, his father—and now my son—laugh at me, mocking me as a tree hugger. How do I convince them to think about conservation?
Yes, let’s stop just talking conservation with our kids and teach them to live it instead. First, for your family to realize that this is not some fad that you’re pushing, but a real and tangible conservation strategy, you could point them to recent news reports about initiatives such as the “Stop Leaking Taps” drive in Mumbai, spearheaded by the sheriff. They estimate that 6 million litres of water are wasted every day through leaking taps!
It really is time that we have our kids connect, really connect, to the issue of using water carefully. It’s ironic that even though environment as a subject is taught in schools, most urban kids simply don’t learn its lessons. Of course, they will go about making projects on water conservation, but at home they will drink half a glass of water and toss the rest into the sink. They simply won’t notice that in their own homes, expensive, treated water trickles away quietly from leaking taps, while they parrot platitudes taught in school about the earth and resources.
Ever so often, we stare into the hard, dry eyes of a drought. But, what is our (us, “urban Indian types”) response? We promptly lecture our daily help on the conservation of water—but in her home, not ours. As for our homes, we continue hosing down our cars, washing our balconies and patios every morning, and install fountains. We throw away “stale” drinking water, and fill up some “fresh” water. On top of it, we use that well-worn conversation piece: “I tell you, future wars are not going to be about territory, religion or oil…they’re going to be Water Wars.”
We were not like this. Generations of Indians have grown up doing their homework on the reverse of paper that has been used on one side. Householders routinely made a neat pile of pink and yellow newspaper bills, flyers, notices, etc, clipped it to an exam board, and used the reverse for lists, notes, messages. Vegetables were bought in your own bag and sorted at home, instead of in 10 plastic bags. Showers were considered silly and a steaming bucket of water was enough for a satisfying bath. Children were clipped on the head for spilling or wasting water—and the only time that they really indulged their inclination to play with water was in rivers or streams and during the rains—not in flagrantly wasteful water parks.
One way you could shock your family into getting your point is, for one whole day, putting aside in a large bin or tub or in buckets, measure for measure—all the extra water that you think they are letting go down the drain with their habits.
It’s a good thing that you’re still connected to our once-thrifty tradition. While our planners talk of cloud seeding, water harvesting and conservation, you keep working at getting your family to master that one small gesture: turning off the tap.
Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, May 02 2008. 11 58 PM IST
More Topics: Learning Curve | Child | Stealing | Parents | Parenting |