If she sees it and wants it, she might not understand why she can't have it.

How to Teach Children to Respect the Personal Items of Others

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

“Mine! Mine!” Her cries ring through the house. Your little one lays claim to anything she wants, without regard for who actually owns it. While you might not want to send her into a tantrum, she needs to learn to respect other people’s stuff before she enters school. When she learns it, you might find your keys and cell phone with your purse instead of hiding in her pockets or toy box.

Model the behavior you want to see. If your child sees that you have respect for the property of others, then any discussions you have about respecting the property rights of others will carry more weight.

Talk to your child about what it means to own something if she takes something that doesn’t belong to her. For example, you could hold up your child’s shoes and ask, “Whose shoes are these?” When your child says, “Mine,” you can hold up your shoes and ask the same question. Hopefully, she says, “They are yours, Mommy.” You can then point to one or two things that belong to other family members by saying, “This is Janie’s hat and Daddy’s coffee cup.”

Tell your child, “People don’t like it when you take their things. Would you like it if I took your doll or hid your shoes so you couldn’t go outside?” This makes the problem of taking something that belongs to another personal to her.

Explain that borrowing something requires asking for permission. “If you want to use Janie’s crayons, you have to ask her first,” you might say. “If you don’t ask, it’s the same as stealing, and that’s wrong.” You might role-play asking permission. “You have to say, ‘May I please borrow your crayons? if that’s what you want. If she says “yes,” then you can use them, but you have to give them back when you are through. You need to take care of them while you use them, because they don’t belong to you.”

Have your child return an item she has taken and apologize for taking it. If it was candy she took from the store, you might take her to the store with the wrapper and money to pay for the item. You might say, “When you take something that isn’t yours, you have to give it back or make it right. Paying for something at the store and saying you’re sorry makes it right. Giving sister her hat back and saying you’re sorry and won’t do it again makes it right.

Praise her for doing the right thing. Remind her of the lesson if it happens again and insist on making it right. It may take multiple attempts before she consistently respects other’s property.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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