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?