Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Stealing and Nice Girls

Disclaimer: I hesitated to publish this because the thought that someone might form a negative opinion of my Special Snowflake is stressful to me, but the research I've done on this indicates that it's actually a typical, developmentally-appropriate (though obviously not socially appropriate) behavior for a four-year-old. Zuzu has an understanding of right and wrong, but she doesn't have much in the way of impulse control. And we've obviously established that she is not a people-pleaser, so she's going to have to figure out how to regulate herself, which is hard for a four-year-old, I know. Still, I hope that someone reading this will tell me that it's not impossible and that she will quickly outgrow this phase! Anyone out there have experience with this? Please tell me I'm not the only one who has a four-year-old with metaphorically sticky fingers as well as literally sticky ones.

Zuz got a few of these tiny little "palace pet" toys for Christmas. They are tiny, pastel-colored dogs and cats who coordinate with and therefore belong to various Disney princesses. They are kind of cute, really, or maybe I just have a weakness for all things in miniature. But they join Peppa and her family for rides in the PJ Masks vehicles and they dance with the little Mickey and Minnie figurines and the girls are pretty crazy about them and play with them a lot.

The other night, Zuzu had a handful of the little animals and she said, "Mommy, can I tell you a secret?"

Of course I said sure, and she held up a tiny pink dog and whispered in my ear, "I stole this from Mesa."

(Mesa is my cousin's three-year-old daughter, and we celebrated Christmas with them on New Year's Eve and the girls played together and all received palace pets presents from one of my aunts.)

Naturally, this confession prompted a long and Serious Conversation about stealing... it's wrong, it's a crime, it hurts people's feelings, we don't have the right to take things that don't belong to us, if you want something so much you should talk to Mommy and Daddy about it, you can save up piggy bank money and we can find it at a store, or maybe offer to trade Mesa for something else, but we absolutely cannot take things that do not belong to us... Blah blah blah. Followed by, "Do you understand me?"

She seemed to get it, and I was thinking that maybe the confession meant she was feeling guilty about what she had done. I was actually feeling kind of GOOD about our conversation, like she really understood where I was coming from and maybe even had a bit of a grasp on the morality of what is right or wrong.

That night before bed I told her I love her and she said, "Mommy, next time I tell you I stole something, can you not freak out about it?"

I must have just gaped at her with my mouth open for a moment because I mean really???

The next day, she had the nerve to ask me if she could play with the little pink dog (which I'd confiscated during our previous Serious Conversation), and of course I said absolutely NOT and told her we'd be sending it back to Mesa.

She burst into tears and sobbed as though I'd taken her most precious possession and tossed it in the garbage.

So then we had another, briefer, but still Very Serious Talk about why we're returning the dog to Mesa and a review on stealing (not okay, against the rules, makes people sad). I said to her, "Think how sad Mesa feels since she doesn't have this doggie to play with."

(Side note: I talked to Mesa's mom and the pink palace pet has not been missed at all--in fact, Brandi isn't sure it was actually Mesa's. But obviously that is Not The Issue. Whether or not Zuzu actually stole it, she believes she stole it, and I want her to feel remorse about it. I mean, I once stole a tiny fuzzy bear that was for sale for a quarter by the cash register of a fabric store, and I never confessed it to my parents, but I did feel guilty about it.)

Zuzu seemed to be actually considering how sad Mesa might be feeling, so then I added, "Think about how you would feel if Mesa came to your house and stole one of your toys."

Zuzu whirled around and looked at me indignantly. I thought perhaps we'd had this amazing breakthrough of empathy and understanding and we could maybe avoid a not-too-distant future diagnosis of sociopathy plus klepotmania.

"Mesa would NEVER do that!" Zuzu said, "She is a NICE GIRL!"

* * *

I admit that I had to walk away because I started laughing when Zuzu valiantly defended Mesa's reputation, apparently not realizing that she was thereby defining herself as anything BUT nice.

But, honestly, this is something that kind of weighs on me. David doesn't seem to think it's a big deal, and I do understand that she's not necessarily defined as a criminal based on what she does when she's four. I just want to make sure we're handling it appropriately.

After reading up on it, I realize that I need to not go overboard on the lecturing. Actually, it's not all that unlike our go-to lines when Zuzu was three years old and having some behavior issues. Instead of talking about how it hurts people or makes them sad, what I've read suggests I just need to establish the firm expectations: "In our family, we do not steal." The big picture explanation of why we don't do that can come a bit later.

Logically, I understand that approach makes sense for a pre-schooler. But also I just want to make sure she gets that stealing is ACTUALLY WRONG and not just that if she gets caught stealing she'll get in trouble.

Also I'd like her not to end up in juvenile detention, mm-kay?

21 comments:

  1. Not judging, just laughing! I took a developmental psychology class several years ago, and it has been the most useful class ever. Don't feel bad about Zuzu's lack of guilt because apparently kids at that age aren't generally capable of feeling guilt, though they can feel empathy. The professor said that young children only know they have done something wrong because they are being punished. I think Eleanor is finally starting to feel guilt about things, and she's about to turn 8.

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    1. That makes me feel so much better, seriously. I was trying to remember my own childhood experiences with this, and I was probably much older than 4 when I actually felt guilty about things. Hilariously, when I asked Zuzu later how she felt about the incident, she said, "Furious!" (meaning she was pissed that I took the dog from her to give back to Mesa).

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  2. We're just seeing a glimmer of accountability / guilt / whatever, at 7.5 years. We've experienced similar behavior with F, and it does get better. I'd stick the with "in our family, we do not steal". The lectures don't ever seem to get through to her, and I just get super frustrated that she's not responding to my impassioned pleas. Then it turns into a power struggle over morality and it all dissolves.

    I'm pretty sure every four year old has put something in their backpack or pocket at some point. I don't think she's quite ready for the slammer.

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    1. But never with E, right? I think E is the unicorn of children. ;) And yes, I hear you on the impassioned pleas. Like how can you NOT be moved by my rhetoric here, child? Oh, wait. You're in preschool.

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    2. E had her moments too, she was just quieter about them. I think we forget some of them because they really do grow out of so much of this behavior. It's hard for me to remember her having temper tantrums, but I know that I carried her kicking and screaming for fifteen minutes from the back of the Japanese Garden to the entrance at MoBOT. And we still have the evidence of her quiet defiance around the house - like the words that she wrote in pencil on the baseboards of our room, or the angry notes she occasionally penned to us. We firmly practiced the art of quick removal from situations where her behavior was not appropriate, so I rarely remember negotiating anything with her. We don't have that kind of luxury now (or willingness, I guess). It's almost like having three adults and one child in the house, and so F has to do a lot of sitting and watching, and as a result, we do a lot more negotiating, which has mixed to zero results in our house. They have really different personalities. F's just louder, which can come across as misbehavior sometimes, even when it's really just a kid trying to wrestle with and figure sh*t out. E was more of an observer and was contemplative. I have to remind myself a lot that one is not "better" than the other, just different approaches.

      It does get better, but I think the tween and teen years are going to be EXCITING!

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  3. Oh man. I'm so waiting for basically this exact thing to happen at our house. Like tomorrow. But I'm not sure Cate would even tell me, so I'd say you're winning since obviously Zuzu trusts you with such top-secret info! I LOVE how she asked you not to freak out next time. Cate actually does the "..but they'll never know!" in a loud whisper around wanting to do or take something she knows darn well isn't hers to take. And she's an expert and taking something quietly in hopes I won't see or outright just doing it with a "poo to you, lady" attitude. *sigh* I DO like the simple "in our family we do not steal." I shall break that rule right now by stealing it from you guys...mmkay?

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    1. It's a Machiavellian world and our girls are the princ(ess)es.

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  4. At the tender age of four they simply don't have the psychological wherewithal to take in in and inwardly digest long protracted explanations of WHY it's wrong. Less is more. Taking away the spoils, get them involved in returning to rightful owner, and a loss of a privilege that's commensurate with the crime. You're doing a great job.Love that you share your stories, warts and all!!

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    1. It's funny how the posts I hesitate to publish are always the ones that I end up being so glad I did! It's just nice to get reassurance my child is not a psychopath. :)

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  5. I just checked out two books from library that can tell you my household struggles:
    How to Talk So Kids Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
    No Drama Discipline by Siegel and Bryson

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    1. Ha! Let me know if you get any good ideas out of those reads...

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  6. I love all of your girls! They're the best! Don't worry, you guys sound like fantastic parents :)

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    1. Well, thanks. It's just impossible not to second guess yourself!

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  7. I once cheated on a spelling test in second grade. And got caught and still feel remorse about it. Didn't help that a family friend was our teacher. But, I ended up going to a military academy that had an honor code. So ya know, this may play out to benefit her in the long run.

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    1. If she turns out anything like you, I will be thrilled!

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  8. My apologies-I have been reading your blog regularly for years now and have never commented. I am a bad lurker. But this post forced me to disclose, because it is exactly why I read (other than we have other stuff in common). I so appreciate how honest you are about your girls, how they challenge you, and how you struggle to find the right response. I know I have plenty of struggles of my own, and it is so comforting to know I'm not alone. From what you've said, Zuzu does sound like a handful. But I love her fearlessness, her passion, and her confidence. That is one strong girl you have there. I'm sure at the end of the day, it will all work out.

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  9. I have a friend whose 4 year-old was constantly taking little toys and stuff from school. She had to check his pockets at pick up. Total phase.

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  10. I missed this but LOVE this story. It is awesome that she told you even knowing that you wouldn't approve of stealing. (I think the fact that she told you shows she was feeling SOME guilt. If she was a true sociopath-haha and I know you know she isn't- it wouldn't even occur to her that taking that toy from someone was wrong or that it was a THING to tell you about, ya know? I think that right there shows you that you are on the right track!)
    This is totally a phase and we had to routinely check kids' backpacks when I worked at a CDC as well! Hang in there!

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  11. I obviously judge zero things that Zuzu does because I have her in male form.

    I love that Zuzu declared Mesa to be kind and inadvertently labeled herself in the process. I think you handled it just as I would and I DO think that it goes beyond, "don't do that" at this age. Socially, we must share how this affects others and ultimately, them. At every age, I believe everything must be explained past a "no, that's not okay" because even if they can't process through all of it right now, it will remain part of their memory attached to the act.

    Parenting is crazy, right?

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    1. Have to add, I have a friend who doesn't use the word "no" with her kids. She redirects and tells them why it's not yes.

      Her discussions are short. They HAVE to be short. A couple sentences with these kids at this age, but I do think it can still go slightly beyond, "that's not okay" at this age.

      With that said, my mom was a HUGE lecturer. Like, fall asleep while she is yapping on for effing ever. It did little to impact my behavior. In fact, I wanted to punish her for the ridiculous nonsense and wasted time it was that she put me through by doing it all again!

      My dad, however, had the power (true in most houses despite them rarely being the disciplinarians). He had few words, but just the few sentences sent me to remorse.

      It doesn't have to be a lot, at least from my experience, but then again, Zuzu and Benjamin are different than I was as a child. So there's that. Hah.

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  12. Oh Brooke! Your posts blow my mind. Zuzu is so amazing, and I can't help but think that she is going to grow up to be a strong woman who changes the world. I'm positive that this is a phase, and I also think that you're handling it well. My counselor told me once that I need to be less explanatory with my kids (3 and 1) because they don't have the attention span for it. Just like you said, "We don't steal," is suffice. I often still hear myself drone on and on, but I try to keep it in check more often. And later, when they've calmed down, we discuss why it was a bad decision. You are doing a great job!

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