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My 7-year-old daughter is currently on vacation from school until this Monday. Yesterday, she was in "camp" - a full-day version of the after-care program we usually send her to. At some point, she went into the backpack of one of her friends, took out the friend's slime that they had both been playing with, and put it into her own backpack. The friend told a counselor that our daughter had taken it. The counselor called my wife who searched the backpack and found the missing items. Our daughter at first vociferously denied taking them but finally owned up to it. My wife made her apologize to the counselor for lying, and my wife and the other kid's mom came up with a plan for our daughter to "make it right" with the other girl.

We had discussions with our daughter, about how stealing is bad, and that she was betraying her friend's trust. The agreed-upon punishment was that my daughter would write a card to her friend, apologizing and telling her why she valued her as a friend. I recommended that slime never be allowed in the house again, so that we'd know that if we saw it, it was stolen. But, we made it clear that that was only something we were considering. We asked her if we should mention this to all of the friends we'd see that night. She really didn't like that idea (and neither did we, so we didn't do it). I bring this up, because it implies to me that she knew that what she had done was wrong. My wife at some point that evening talked with her about trust and how important it is, and she seemed very contrite and sorry for her actions.

Today, we went to a store. My daughter and her younger sister were not behaving perfectly, but not horribly. They played with some toys in a small toy section with our permission. I kept within earshot, but wasn't watching every minute of what they did. At some point, my daughter found some slime she liked, that was apparently already removed from its outer packaging. She put it under her shirt and successfully snuck out of the store with it. We didn't find out until an hour or two later when my wife walked by her room and she tried hiding it. When my wife saw what was in her hands, we recognized it from the store. At first, we yelled a lot, about breaking trust, about how could she do something like that, especially after yesterday's events. Then we called the store manager, brought our daughter in, had her apologize and do whatever the manager wanted. The manager told her "don't ever do it again." Then we had her pay for the product with her allowance money, and as soon as we left the store, we had her throw it out in a trash can. We've also had someone we know who has worked retail loss prevention describe to our daughter what happened when she caught people stealing at her store.

I very seriously considered contacting some police friends we have and asking them to put my daughter in handcuffs for an hour or at the very least talk with her about her actions. We haven't done that yet. We're being as careful as possible to describe her actions as bad, and refer to it as theft and stealing, but not overly refer to her as a thief. We want to be sure to say that the actions were bad, but that she isn't. We definitely don't want her to identify as a thief, but have no problem rubbing in that she's someone who committed theft.

After repeatedly asking her why she did it, she eventually said, "Because I wanted the slime." She does have more than enough allowance and gift money to be able to pay for this $3.50 item (or even to pay for the $7.00 it said on it). For a while she was not allowed to buy slime - she begged us to buy some for her in October and promised she wouldn't ask for any more for the rest of the year (her choice to do this, not us asking) but we did hold her to it. She knew that her promise expired as of the first and we had even talked about her getting slime.

My wife and I both feel betrayed by our daughter doing something that we feel is abhorrent. My wife has been asking me, "Where did we go wrong?" I told her, "We haven't. She knows what's right and wrong. She's exploring boundaries." I would really like to believe this, but I don't think I do. What can we do to make sure these two incidents of stealing are all she does?

  • Thanks for your feedback. She's not yet banned from slime altogether (though the reason we don't like it is that it invariably ends up being left somewhere and ruining clothing or furniture). It's possible that we didn't make that clear enough to her after her first theft. Just to be clear, we had her throw out the slime she stole (and then we had her pay for). She could buy more tomorrow, but she certainly didn't get to keep the one she first got by shoplifting. – distressed_parents Jan 6 at 5:56
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    @LukeSawczak - If you have an answer, please post it as such. Comments are for questions for clarification. – anongoodnurse Jan 6 at 16:58
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As a parent of adult children who are all "successful" by most standards I know of (financially, morally/ethically, etc.), first let me assure you that they can do way worse than this and still turn out fine. One event (or 2, 20 or 200) doesn't define your success or failure as a parent. We all fail and succeed as parents. It's not all or nothing.

I very seriously considered contacting some police friends we have and asking them to put my daughter in handcuffs for an hour...

Please take this in the spirit in which it's given: you are way, way overreacting. Take a deep breath, do something relaxing, then regroup.

At first, we yelled a lot, about breaking trust, about how could she do something like that, especially after yesterday's events.

Yelling doesn't help your daughter. You yell because you're angry. You yell because of your feelings (be they shame, fear, hurt, guilt, whatever.) Your daughter isn't responsible for how you deal with your feelings, you are. Yelling is counterproductive in so many ways. Please find a better way to interact with your daughter. Your point is trust and theft. I don't see where yelling is a constructive or related consequence for that.

You did a lot of things well. You made her apologize to all involved for lying and stealing. You made her pay for the product, and you didn't allow her to keep it. You held a mini-intervention ("We've also had someone we know who has worked retail loss prevention describe to our daughter what happened when she caught people stealing at her store.")

What can we do to make sure these two incidents of stealing are all she does?

Not a whole lot, really. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Babies aren't born a blank slate. They have personalities of their own, and this becomes more evident as they grow older.

I hate lying more than I can express. I never taught my kids to lie, and I didn't model it for them (neither did their father.) Yet they all lied at one time or another, and one told whoppers we all still laugh about to this day. The consequence of lying is much like stealing: a loss of trust which could lead to a breakdown in relationships. It also wounds the liar if they are reasonably moral and self-reflective: they have less integrity. They are less for having done it.

Consider calmly and lovingly (but seriously) spending a fair amount of time over the next few months addressing trust and the consequences of breaking it. That doesn't mean just lecturing her; it means reading stories with her (fables and myths are a great resource for this) and watching shows/movies which address either the good that comes of truth and trust or the disappointment/loss that comes of its opposite. Read books that encourage empathy (stealing from someone means someone, somewhere, will be hurt.) Spend quality time with her as usual (or more than usual), but ground her for stealing. Grounding is a natural consequence for stealing: if you can't trust her when she's out of your sight, then she can't be out of your sight. (Grounding at 7 years of age should not be prolonged. A week is fine.)

Whatever you do, make the consequence be directly related to the offense.

What you should not do: publicly shame her,

We asked her if we should mention this to all of the friends we'd see that night.

consider her a dyed-in-the-wool thief, or be mean to her about it,

We definitely don't want her to identify as a thief, but have no problem rubbing in that she's someone who committed theft.

Tomato/tomahto. She will equate the two without your help. And your rubbing it in is the antithesis of empathic dealings with your child (empathy is needed to prevent theft/lies.)

My wife has been asking me, "Where did we go wrong?" I told her, "We haven't. She knows what's right and wrong. She's exploring boundaries." I would really like to believe this, but I don't think I do.

You're right, she is exploring what she can and can't do (her own and your boundaries.) All kids do.

This isn't really about slime, but you say, "...the reason we don't like it is that it invariably ends up being left somewhere and ruining clothing or furniture." Kids are people, too, and want what they want. Discuss this with her, and come to a mutually satisfying compromise. I don't see this as a great argument against her having it.

I understand you're upset and that you don't want this to happen again, but you'll face challenges far worse than this that will shake your confidence as a parent. Probably the most important thing you can do is to consistently model the behavior you want your children to learn (trust, compassion, honesty, empathy, a love of reading, a love of learning, patience, whatever), provide them opportunities to grow, deal out consequences wisely, and love the hell out of them.

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