Always Real, School


Last week Sean came home from school with a tiny padlock.  I asked him where he got it and he told me that he had earned it at school.

I’m not quite clear on the specifics, but from what I gather, if you stay on “green” all day, you get four pennies. If you get in trouble for something, then you go to yellow and half of your wages are garnished.  If you are really troublesome and have to go to red, then you have to go out in the school yard and pull weeds.  No, not really, but I wouldn’t object to that.

Anyway, at the end of the week, you get to spend your pennies in Mrs. D.’s fabulous gift shop and maybe get something cool like a padlock.

So, on the way home from school earlier in the week, I asked Sean how his day went and if anything noteworthy happened.

“I got four pennies today!” he beamed.

“That’s great!” I said.  “I’m so proud of you!”

“Yeah, and the best part is that I was on yellow, but Mrs. D. forgot and gave me four pennies anyway! I was only supposed to get two!”

“Oh,” I said quietly.

He didn’t see taking the two extra pennies as a lapse in character but rather a windfall.

I asked him if he thought there was anything wrong with that, taking the extra pennies even though he hadn’t earned them.  He said no, that she had given him the four pennies, so they were his.

We had a brief discussion about how whenever you take or keep something that you haven’t earned or doesn’t belong to you, even by mistake, it’s stealing — even if it’s a small thing and even though it might seem like not a big deal.

I asked him what he thought he should do. He fell silent as he tried to think of a solution other than fessing up and returning the two pennies.

Finally he asked, “Give the pennies back?”

The next day when I picked him up, I asked him if he had remembered to give Mrs. D. the two pennies back.

“Yes,” he said, “and I did it the very first thing when I got there.”

“Very good,” I said, “What did she say?”

“She said thanks for reminding me,” he reported.

“Look right in my eye,” I told him.  “I’m about to tell you something super important.”

I told him that I was very proud of him for doing the right thing, every bit as proud as when he earns four pennies.

He blinked both eyes at me and smiled and then abruptly changed the subject.

Hopefully, when I talk to Mrs. D., I’ll find out that it’s true, that he gave the pennies back. Otherwise I’m raising a stealer and a liar.

30 thoughts on “Pennies

  1. You totally crack me up! You make me want to raise my children again. They all turned out to be great adults, but I’m learning things I could have done better from you. Love your blog!

  2. And I am so proud of YOU, AM!! Not enough parents take the time to address what might seem like a “small” thing–like 2 pennies. Too many parents let stuff like that go, thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s only 2 pennies.” But believe me, nipping that stealing and lying when he’s young will really benefit you when Sean is older.

    Way to go, Mom!!!

  3. The problem here, though, is that MY response at that age would have been to make a note that next time I must not TELL mom that I scored two free pennies, or she’ll take them away.

    It’s like the Halloween candy. The lesson I took from Mom discarding the popcorn balls and other unwrapped or homeade, and therefore “unsafe” items was that I must consume those before I came home, otherwise Mom would take them away.


  4. We had that the other day. My daughter told a girl on the bus that she’d lost her favorite Littlest Pet Shop toy. Girl gave her $1 to help her buy a new one. Then we found the toy. We had a LONG talk about giving the dollar back. But it sounds like she did.

  5. Bill makes a decent point. I probably would have thought the same way (being made to give the pennies back = next time don’t tell mom). I do love that you didn’t TELL him he had to give them back, you asked Sean what he thought was the right answer instead.

    * * *
    At this point, there’s not much danger in him keeping a secret from me – he cannot keep a secret for five seconds. One day, the school cleaned out their supply room and put some awesome stuff on the curb, so Sean and I drove back later after pickup and hauled a bunch of it off. I immediately emailed the director when I got home and told her that Sean and I had gone dumpster diving in the trash because he would have certainly told her the first thing the next day. The Antiques are just all kinds of classy like that.

    I don’t think Bill makes a decent point. If so, how are you to parent then?

    My hope and prayer is that daily he is being shaped into a kid with a heart to do the right thing, whether or not he can pull one over on his teacher or his old mom. To not correct him tells him that his parent’s think it’s okay to steal if it’s small, or a mistake, or if you can get away with it. (I don’t think you can compare Halloween candy that was given to you vs. money that was supposed to be earned.) Maybe he will keep the pennies next time and not tell me, but he will know that it’s wrong and that his parents would disapprove. And that’s all I can do.

  6. I think it’s great that your boy figured out the right thing on his own. I am in contact with 3 classrooms of kindergartners every day at my job (that’s 90 kids!) and I am often amazed at how many kids DON’T know the right thing to do and are often rude and disrespectful to adults, even at the age of 5. Yay for your kid- you’ve done a great job with him.


  7. Good for you–these lessons really stick. My son, when he was 19, was overpaid at his first job–he returned the money. Must have been hard for a 19 yr old who wants to buy things and has no $, but boy am I proud (and relieved).

  8. Having dealt with a lying situation just this week, I’m curious to know if you followed up with Sean’s teacher. Seems a little intrusive, but on the other hand, I’m still shocked at the chutzpah my five-year-old exhibited in lying sweetly straight to my face. It’s left me feeling off-kilter.

    * * * *
    I haven’t talked to her, but I will. Everytime I’ve followed up on something questionable he’s said, it’s turned out to be the truth. All kids experiment with lying sooner or later. You just pray that they get caught and feel badly about it.

  9. Godd for you. Keep it up and this kind of accountability will pay off.

    My son (age 18) got into a little trouble over the weekend. While other parents are fighting the principal and refusing to make their kids be acccountable, our son ON HIS OWN ACCORD, marched into the principal’s office and fessed up to his wrong doing, admitted “it was stupid,”
    and that he wanted to let the principal know right away what he had done. We are the ones to whom the principal has said “You’ve got a good boy there,” while he continues to fight the other parents who continue to shout “not my child….”

    Not to pat myself on the back, but these lessons when they are little really do sink in when they are big.

  10. One of my earliest memories is of the time my mom & I were at the local fruit stand (we called it that although it was more of a general store). I took two grapes as we walked through the store, and as we were walking to the car my mom saw me eat one. She made me go back in & pay for the grapes (1 cent each as I recall). She & the store owner were a little teary eyed about it. I sure did get the point though!

    * * *
    That story just reminded me of the summer I was 8 or 9, my mom dropped my older brothers and me off at the local public swimming and when she picked us up, I was so happy to show her the $5 bill I had found, well what was left of it after I bought some candy. In the late 60s, $5 was like $100 to a 9YO. I felt like I had won the lottery. Well, to my surprise she was not happy at all. She said I should have turned it in, that someone had lost it and maybe it was their bus fare home. My mother’s disappointment in my not very good choice was a huge lesson for me, obviously I sitll remember it. (Yes, of course if I had turned it in, the person behind the desk might have pocketed it, but that sort of ruins the story.)

  11. You’re so right, AM, that all we can do as parents is instill the lesson. If our children know clearly what we believe is right and wrong, it hopefully helps them develop their own consciences. I think the challenge is to stay vigilant, to not let the small stuff go, to address things even when we’re focussed on something else or too exhausted to think straight.

  12. When I was a kid,(back in the 70’s)
    if I did something wrong and my parents told me they were dissapointed in me
    — I was crushed– but I listened and learned…
    When they spanked me, I just felt fear and pain.
    I think by helping your son to see that HE could choose to do the right thing was the BEST plan of action.
    When they know better…they do better!

  13. I have to say Bill’s comment runs thru my mind, and I hope mine will quickly pass thru such stages….one has experimented with the lying lately. It’s true that our relationship seems to pull him out of it. He’s just started with ‘don’t tell daddy, but…’ Surely he’ll flip that at some point, but I’m just hopeful he continues talking to at least one of us thru this long journey (and, yes, we talked it thru). I think you handled it beautifully, as you do with most everything (except tape, LOL) Happy weekend!

  14. last week my 10 yr old called me at work. He found $20! I asked where, thinking one of his older sibs were being irresponsible with money. He found it on the grass between the sidewalk and the street (the parkway). He picked it up, looked around and asked aloud “did anyone lose this?” There was noone around. So he put it back. It wasn’t his, so he didn’t take it. Did I feel proud?

    * * *
    You must be doing something right. I think I might have had a hard time putting it back in the street. Finders Keepers was probably made up by someone who just found $20.

  15. When I taught in Texas, we went to a seminar where the speaker spoke on the importance of “training a child in the way they should go”. Like she said, character isn’t always instinctive, children must be trained to think in situations and evaluate their choices.

    Excellent training AM.

  16. My boy is eight and still rats on himself. He knows that my hubby and I will always try to be fair and reasonable when giving him consequences for bad choices. He seems to feel secure enough in our relationship to know that we are not going to overreact and that we love him no matter what… even when we discipline him.

    The boy has permission, now that he is a little older, to let us know if he thinks the hubby and I are being unfair. It simply opens up a dialogue where we can explain to him why we do things the way that we do… give him the bigger picture. It has made a big difference in the way he thinks about things.

    Most recently, we have begun asking the boy what he thinks a fair punishment would be. Quite often his suggestion is far worse than anything the hubby or I would have done.

    We have had numerous conversations with our boy explaining to him that lying is the absolute worst thing that he could do and it will not be tolerated. We discuss how lying undermines the trust in our relationship and that it takes a long time to repair that trust once broken. He knows that no matter what he might have done, the punishment will not be nearly as severe as what happens if he lies.

    Our prayer is that he will remember these lessons from when he was young and they will help him to make good decisions as a teenager and an adult.

  17. I just had to come back and read more comments because what Bill said has really bothered me, I gotta say. I think the big difference here (between your methods and Bill’s) is the creating of a soft conscience, and that is critical, especially at Sean’s age. You are in the process of helping form his conscience. Bill’s method assumes that his kid already has a hardened conscience, and that makes me sad.

    When my oldest was 3 years old and in preschool, she came to me with wide eyes and a fistful of beads. “Look, Mommy,” she said, fully expecting me to be as thrilled with the beads as she was. “Where did you get those?” I asked. “From preschool the other day,” she explained. “Did your teacher give them to you?” “No.” And suddenly her countenance fell. She knew right away that taking the beads was wrong. I could have left it at that, hoping, like Bill, she would come talk to me again next time she stole something. But I needed to teach her the full lesson–that there are consequences to our sin. I told her that she would have to confess to her teacher and return the beads. Was that hard? YES! I was in as much anguish as she was. But her teacher handled it beautifully, giving her a big hug and telling her that she forgave her. It was a HUGE moment in the formation of my daughter’s conscience that, although difficult, was the beginning of forming her into the wonderful, trustworthy teenager she is today.

    * * * *
    Thanks for sharing that and coming back to add your wisdom to the discussion Shelly. I think one of the most important things I can do for Sean is to let him know what our house stands for, whom we serve, to whom we belong, what his mommy and daddy believe is right and wrong. Is he going to hide something from me sooner or later? Yes. But he will do so knowing he is falling short of what we expect of him. The idea that you wouldn’t ever correct your child because maybe the next time they will hide the sin is ABSURD. If you don’t teach your child, the world will.

  18. Way to go. I wish you could teach classes to parents and children in my elementary school. Everyone is so proud that the test scores rank my school #1 in the state of California,as far as academics go, but I would rather we rank #1 in manners, social skills, and integrity. Many of our parents and students don’t have those. Keep up the great work with Sean, and with setting a good example for others.

  19. I’m glad you follow up. Someone wise told me, when my adult children were little that “if you don’t inspect, don’t expect”. In other words, check up on them.

    I use green/yellow/red in my classroom for behavior, but I also have “commendations” when I catch them doing something right. They get to put their names on the back of a ticket, and I draw for chances at the Treasure Box each Friday. (I draw until everyone gets a pick.)

    PS: I work with a teacher who makes her students who have misbehaved do “community service” during recess: they have to pick up trash on the playground. She hasn’t issued them long poles with nails to stab trash. Yet.

  20. This would be a conversation I might have w/my oldest, age 6. She leans toward the side of being honest, and like Sean might not have really thought of it as being a problem b/c she’d never been faced w/that type of situation before. My 6yo is more or less honest.

    My 3yo on the other hand, already fibs. She’ll tell me she’s brushed her teeth or washed her hands when she hasn’t AND she’ll flat out blame someone else for something. I hate that I question pretty much everything she says to me, but I do. Guess she’s gonna keep me on my toes. It’s hard at 3, b/c the reasoning ability isn’t entirely there yet. She understands cause & effect and she knows right from wrong, but if put in the same situation she wouldn’t have come up w/returning those pennies on her own. AND when I followed up w/the teacher it would be a 50/50 chance of her having returned them. I don’t think she’s a bad kid. More of a boundary tester. And it’s inherent, trust me.
    I do realize, however, that boundary testers are the people who lead nations, create new paths and define our future. Like I said, she’s keeping me on my toes.

  21. I think every child goes through that trial. It’s part of growing up. You did the right thing. I’m suprised the teacher didn’t tell him to keep the two pennies for tellng the truth. I think I would have just to encourage the children to be truthful.

    I’ll have to tell you Blakes sock story one day.

  22. One thing we did that worked is we told our kids (now grown) that the consequence would be worse if we found out vs them confessing. In fact, usually when they fessed up, we’d say something like, “Your consequence will be x. But thank you so much for telling us. Just to let you know, if we’d have found out about this on our own, your punishment would’ve been xy & z.” It was effective & they learned to both respond to their conscience & also to confess when they erred.

    At least that’s how it appeared. There is always that chance they only confessed some stuff & learned to hide the rest really, really well! We may never know…

  23. “he will know that it’s wrong and that his parents would disapprove. And that’s all I can do.”
    We teach them and teach them and then when they leave our little nest… we let them govern themselves. The important part is that we teach them.

  24. Last year my then six year old son came home indignant that he lost recess priviledges for the next day. A classmate dared him to break a recess rule of going backwards on the monkey bars and then told on him when he did it. He couldn’t understand why he was the one to get in trouble when it was the other boy that dared him. He just kept repeating over and over, “But, mom. HE dared me!” He learned a valuable lesson that day that we are responsible for our own choices and actions whether someone dares us or not.

  25. I took my oldest daughter to a garage sale when she was about 6 years old. We bought a dollhouse. There were some items that went with the dollhouse placed into separate ziploc bags. Naturally she wanted to buy every single bag so she would have everything that went with the house. I told her she could choose only one bag. While she was deciding which bag to purchase, I was browsing through some other items. After she made her decision, I paid for our purchases and we left. After we got home, I realized that there seemed to be more items in her bag than I had remembered seeing in it at the garage sale, and I asked her how they got into the bag. She eventually admitted that she had put some “extra” items into her bag, because she wanted them all and it was just too hard to decide on only one bag. I explained to her that it wasn’t right for her to have done that, and then I took her back to the garage sale and explained what had happened to the lady running the sale. Then I made my daughter apologize and pay her for the items she had taken. The lady said she had never had anyone do anything like that before, and she appreciated that I was trying to instill proper morals and values in my child.

    * * *
    I am standing up and applauding you! You showed your child how important honesty is to you. And I’m sure getting in the car and going back to the garage sale to return a $1 item was not at the top of your “fun things to do today” list. But worth it!

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