Respecting Property | Teaching Self-Government

Respecting Property

Mother talking to son

Some 10 years ago, my four-year-old son was standing on the back porch one afternoon, talking to his sister. They were trying to make each other laugh by doing funny things. This is a common game with the two of them. All of the sudden I heard a loud BANG on the window located right next to the porch. I ran to the door and saw my four year old standing there holding a garden shovel, smiling and laughing with his sister.

I looked at the outside of the window. The screen had been cut and  the window had a mark on it.  He had obviously taken the shovel and smacked it against the window to try to make his sister laugh. Suffice it to say, I wasn't laughing! In fact, I had to really restrain myself from yelling.

I gently held my son's hand and guided him to time out. I told him that I would return in four minutes and talk to him. During these four minutes, I took deep breaths and thought about how I was going to handle the situation.

He was only four years old. I knew he didn't hit the window to be bad. Instead, he was playing a silly game with his sister, and the window got damaged. I assumed that he had more common sense than to do a thing like that. Then I took a minute and thought about the impulses of four year olds. They live only in the moment. If he's afraid he would run and hide. If he wanted to be funny, he would show off, and so on.

I knew that he shouldn't earn a negative consequence besides sitting on time out for four minutes, because he was still learning what his impulses were at age four. So, I knew we needed to have a good talk, and we did. I went to the time out spot and put my arms around my son. We hugged for about 10 seconds, and then I said, "Porter, you had to sit on time out because you hit the window with the shovel. That was a bad decision. You could have broken the window or hit another person and hurt this person with the shovel. What you should have done was kept the shovel on the ground where it belongs when it's not being used. Then nothing and nobody would get hurt. Come with me to look at the window. Do you see the hole in the screen? You made that hole when you hit the window. Bugs and bees can now fit in that hole. Then they can come in this summer and bother us. Do you want bugs and bees to come into our house?"

He answered, "No way, Mom."

"I don't either,"  I responded. "But, now they probably will come in. We don't have the time or the money to fix that window right now, so it will just have to stay like that."

Then I went on to explain that when someone breaks something, they have to do what it is called restitution. Restitution is when you fix what you did wrong. You could also use the word repentance. I asked him how he was going to fix it.  His four-year-old brain started turning and he said that maybe he could tape it. I told him that tape wouldn't last very long. I told him he would need to help me sew the screen up or do chores to earn money to pay for the screen to be replaced. He decided to help me sew the screen up.

After this I also told him to remember to say he's sorry to someone if he breaks or hurts something. He apologized and we hugged again.

A few months ago a friend of mine sent me this question:

 How do I get the children to respect their home and things? 

Don’t replace anything that is theirs that they break. If they break something that belongs to someone, teach them how to pay restitution. Give them more ownership of the home and the things in it by having them help take care of the home. They should work more and get less.

 A friend of mine told me an experience the other day. She stopped by the home of another friend of ours.When she arrived, this friend wasn't home, but her children were. The children invited her in because they knew who she was. My friend found the home, including the kitchen, spotless. She asked one of the sons how they managed to have the house so clean when their mother was away. He said, "We clean it, of course.  What kind of son would I be if I didn't clean up? We all know how to clean in this house." WOW, huh?  Teach them to work!

Over-indulgence creates a wasteful people. We live in a time of plenty. We don't worry about where our next meal is going to come from. We mostly worry about how we can keep getting more and more stuff and still keep our house looking clean. Don’t buy DVDs and lots of toys and extras anymore. If they want them, then they need to earn them. One rule we have in our house is as soon as each child turns 12 years old, they have to buy all their clothes, shoes, etc. 

Teach Children the Skills of Taking Care of Something

Is it wrong to expect children to treat things with respect? No way. It's good to teach this. How you teach this is what's important. Teach them to respect things by helping them feel ownership. Give the children things to care for. Don't do so much for them. My children started folding and putting away their own laundry at age 3. By age 4 they had a daily chore list, just like the big kids.

You should take good care of things and not be wasteful. Parents should also talk openly with their children about how the bookshelves are supposed to look and how beds are supposed to look, etc. Help them develop a standard. Teach them to take care of things well by helping you take care of things. Don't just always care for things on your own time.

I used to make mistakes, too. I will never forget how I felt when my brother and I kicked our shoes off and they broke my grandpa's second-story window. I will never forget begging my grandfather to use his electric garage door opener and pushing it to soon. He garage got runined, and so did his brand new truck we were driving in. I will also never forget sneaking over to a neighbor's house in the winter with my brother and trying to remove a HUGE icicle from their home. It was quite an adventure. And when we accidentally dropped it through the neighbor's basement window, we wished we had asked permission to take the icicle. OOPS! I did a lot of restitution when I was young. I still remember the sick feeling of knowing I had broken something belonging to someone else. It taught me to be careful. I never touch large icicles now!

Part of growing up is sometimes ruining things and learning from it. Remember that and don't lose your cool. Home needs to be the safest place to make mistakes — and to learn from those mistakes.