Thievery and a life lesson in colored wax

We recently learned that our eldest took (I’m having a hard time typing the word “stole”) five Crayons from her school art class and brought them home. I don’t know how or why Elise found these particular Crayons among the thousands that our daughter already possesses, but she found them, confronted her, and now we’re faced with providing a life lesson on the subject of taking things that do not belong to us.

The challenge and end goal is for us to teach our daughter that stealing is wrong and has its consequences. We are in the throes of teaching her why it’s wrong, and coaching her through an exercise in humility and honesty. She’s going to have to admit to her wrongdoing, replace the Crayons and ask for forgiveness. Yesterday was the day that restitution was to be made. She took the five Crayons back to school and we expected her to return them to her art teacher and make amends. Elise has, for the most part, spearheaded this new exercise in parenting. I’m in the periphery, learning how “we” are handling this situation.

My daughter and I went for a walk yesterday evening and had the following conversation.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you about something. Let me preface this by saying that you’re not in trouble. Your mom told me about the Crayons and I wanted to ask you about it. Did you take them back to school today? What did you tell the teacher? And what did she say?”

“Oh. Yeah. I, um – I took the Crayons back to school but all of them got all crushed up in my backpack, so I threw them away.”

I did not expect or prepare for that outcome. Of course my first inclination to say, “Oh, whatever. That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.” Of course I can’t say that to my 7-year-old angel during this teaching moment. Her response caught me completely off guard and I was at a loss for words. There was a long pause. I don’t remember exactly what I said to break the silence, but I knew I had to provide my feedback and insight. It wasn’t much longer before we were engaged in this topic that I’m sure is making my daughter anxious and uncomfortable.

The obvious points we’re driving home here are:

  • We’re going to have to replace the Crayons
  • What would happen if every student took 5 Crayons home without permission?
  • Taking something that doesn’t belong to us is wrong
  • We all make mistakes
  • We often covet things
  • We have to right our wrongs as best we know how

And with the above, I reiterated what Elise and her had already gone over. The Crayons are somehow going to have to be replaced and an apology needs to be rendered. It was a lesson for us both in talking out how this was going to be resolved. Thankfully our daughter had no issues with accepting the fact that what she’d done was wrong. The hard part for her was figuring out how she was going to deliver the apology. It’s obvious that she wants to avoid the humility part (the original Crayons were crushed and disposed of). I think this is the hardest part of the lesson — the taking ownership and the face time required in restitution.

She proposed that she write a letter to her teacher. I can appreciate and understand her thoughts here. I think many of us are programmed to avoid conflict and stressful situations at pretty much all costs. A letter would all but remove the humility element, as well as the awkward and scary face-to-face conversation with her art teacher. However, I explained that a letter wouldn’t suffice. I used the words humility, anxious, scary and nervous in explaining to her why she was going to have to do this in person. I went on to tell her the story of how my parents once caught me shoplifting at a store. I was hesitant to relay this story, and I didn’t dwell too much on the details, but I wanted her to understand that most everyone, at some point in their life, takes something that doesn’t belong to them. And, like she was going to have to do, I had to go back to the store with my dad, tail tucked way between my legs and swelling tears in my eyes, and confess, return the stolen toys and apologize. I wanted her to know that her mom and I both empathized, and that our jobs were to help her in learning how to fix this situation based on our respective life experiences.

So we continued on our walk. She realized that this was real and that she was going to have to take this huge step in making amends. And she started getting nervous. I implored her to think about what she might want to say. I reiterated to her what her message needed to convey: I did this, I’m sorry, and here is what I’d like to offer to right my wrong. We rehearsed a couple scenarios and she decided on: “Mrs. Teacher, I took five Crayons that are used to color on black paper. I’m sorry and wanted to give you these Crayons to replace the ones that I took and that were crushed in my backpack.”

When we returned to the house after our walk, she relayed her proposed message to Elise and me. We both praised her for her approach. We suggested that she tackle this humbling experience as soon as possible, preferably this morning. She said she wanted to wait until her next art class, which will be next Tuesday. Elise and I bit our tongues as our collective inclinations were to tell her that the longer she puts this off, the heavier it’s going to weigh on her conscious. I think this concept might be a bit much for a 7-year-old to digest, so we’ve left it to her to decide how and when she wants to take care of her business.

So we’ll see how she does next Tuesday. Given the recent experience, I think she’s going to avoid this conflict again. If that’s the case, Elise or I are going to have to make arrangements to go to school with her and play mama bird, nudging her out of the nest and into the big, big world of humble beginnings.

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