Dear Stacey, I have a child in my class who sometimes takes things that don't belong to her. One day two children couldn't find the toys they'd brought to share at group time. After a long search, I found them in Melia's cubby. Then I began to notice that Melia sometimes puts classroom materials in her pockets, especially when her cot is near the shelves at naptime. I've started searching her clothes at the end of the day, and she's still taking things. What should I do? - Angela
Dear Angela, The desire for forbidden objects like toys overwhelms many children, making the temptation to take them too much to resist. Melia probably just can't control her desire to have that toy.
Most of the time, young children take things because they lack impulse control and haven't yet developed a strong sense of right and wrong. But you should also ask yourself if there is another reason Melia is taking things that don't belong to her, such as a lack of attention at home or not enough friends in school.
Whatever the reason for Melia's behavior, it does infringe on the rights of the other children. Therefore, your first goal should be to stop the behavior and help her to respect the property of others. Try these suggestions:
Review the rules. Make sure that she - along with the rest of the class -- knows that "Don't take things that do not belong to you" is a school rule. Have Melia return the toy or classroom material, but do not force her to apologize.
Acknowledge her desires. It's important to validate her feelings while also maintaining leadership and stopping the behavior. You can say, "I know you want that toy, but it's Carianne's. You need to ask her if you can play with it." Or say, "You really want that car, don't you? But it belongs here in school so everyone can use it."
Teach Melia to control her impulses. Help Melia learn to stop and think before she takes. Explain to her that she needs to ask herself "Who does this belong to? Can I play with it?" Point out that if it belongs to another child, she should ask the owner whether she can use the toy and accept the response. If she uses a toy or classroom material, Melia needs to return it when she's done.
Anticipate and remove temptations. Make a box where children can keep the toys they bring in, and place it out of reach. Be sure to put Melia's cot far away from the shelves at naptime.
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