Our neighbors are growing tomato plants right along the fence line. A portion of those plants come through the fence and are growing in our yard. I don't mind. Liza and Jason pick the few tomatoes that grow on our side. It's fun. The neighbors don't mind. They've also told us to help ourselves to the grapes that grow on our side too. (It would be ridiculous for them not to tell us that considering how much of the vines have come over to our side of the fence!)
But today Liza came in with a whole lot more tomatoes than made sense so I asked her how she got them. Turns out she was reaching through the fence and picking the neighbor's tomatoes... even though I had told her not to do that before.
This is stealing.
And it needed to be dealt with.
I was running out the door and leaving the kids with a friend as this happened so I set the tomatoes aside and remembered at dinner that we had an issue that wasn't settled yet.
ME: Liza picked a bunch of the neighbor's tomatoes today and we need to deal with that.
MIKE: Oh. Hmm. Do you know that's stealing Liza?
LIZA: *shakes head yes* But they don't pick them!
ME: It doesn't matter. They didn't tell us that we could. Do you think that was a good choice or a bad choice to take their tomatoes?
ME: What do you think we should do about that?
LIZA: Probably go apologize.
ME: That's a great idea Liza. What do you think we should do with the tomatoes?
LIZA: Give them back. *pause* Jason helped me pick them too.
JASON: Yeah. We should probably go tell them that we are sorry for taking their tomatoes.
The conversation ended with Mike telling the kids about a time when he was little and took a piece of candy from the store without paying. He showed his mom when they got to the car and she made him take it back.
Mike took the kids over to the neighbors and on the way out the door I heard...
JASON: We did the wrong thing and now we are doing the right thing.
MIKE: It would be easier to not do the wrong thing in the first place. But it's good that you are taking them back.
JASON: Yep! Just like you did when you were little!
I've learned a few things during the few years I've had my kids...
1. They do know right from wrong.
2. They have some pretty good ideas of their own about what their "punishment" should be. I try to lead the conversation in a way that they can come to their own decisions about what needs to be done. They did a good job this time.
3. It's good to prepare my kids with
the tools they need to be successful. In this case Liza needed a little
practice in order to succeed in righting her wrong.We did some role playing and I let her practice what she would say. It gave her the confidence to follow through on what she knew was the right thing to do.
4. Don't be afraid to use stories from your past to let your kids know that you made mistakes too, righted the wrong, and learned from it.
Kids are smart. They need guided in the right direction and taught a solid, moral foundation. Going to the neighbors to apologize and return the tomatoes taught them much more than being grounded... and it keeps us in good standing with our neighbors. There are several lessons to be taken from this experience for the kids and I'm sure it will come up from time to time.
Discipline is far more than punishment... discipline is teaching our children how to live well.