by Stacey Schifferdecker
Have you see the big inflatable decorations that pop up in people yards now? Pumpkins at Halloween, Uncle Sam on the Fourth of July, snowmen at Christmas, etc. If you drive by our yard in December, you’ll see an 8-foot-tall inflatable snowman. But walk around the back of friendly Frosty and you see his duct tape “band-aids,” covering the gashes from last winter when someone spiked him. On our quiet, peaceful little street, poor Frosty was the victim of vandalism wrought by someone who doesn’t respect other people’s property.
It was horrible to find our snowman laying in the yard that morning, but it would have been even worse to see my neighbor’s snowman vandalized and my child as the vandal. How do we teach our children to respect other people’s property? The answer is as close as your Bible, where Jesus instructs us to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12). In fact, this rule of ethics is so universal that it is found in the scriptures of nearly every religion in the world. Teach your children this rule, and teach them to live by it every day.
The first step in teaching your children to live by the Golden Rule is, of course, to live by it yourself. Model the values you want your children to develop. This means throwing your trash in a can instead of on the ground, putting grocery carts away instead of leaving them abandoned in the parking lot, and not blowing your leaves into the street or your neighbor’s yard. Remember, you are your children’s first teachers, and your actions speak loudly to them. The best way of teaching respect for others property is to set an example for your children.
Beyond your own actions, here are some concrete rules and reminders you can give your children that will help them learn to respect other people’s property:
• Ask before borrowing something, instead of taking it without permission
• If you do borrow something, take care of it as if it were your own
• If you break something, own up to it with an apology, then repair or replace it
As part of modeling good behavior for your children, practice these same rules with them: don’t borrow their stuff without permission and take good care of what you borrow.
A fun way to talk about respecting property with young children is to read David McPhail’s book Those Terrible Toy-Breakers. Ask your children how they would feel if their toys were being broken or lost. Encourage them to consider the feelings of other people.
Play dates are a good opportunity to help your children learn to respect other people’s property. On play dates, make sure your children treat their friends’ toys and home gently and always help to clean up before it is time to go home.
Another good way to give your children practical experience in respecting property is to visit a library regularly. Teach them that when we borrow books, we take care of them and we return them on time so other people can enjoy the books too.
You may need to remind older children that respecting people’s property includes intellectual property. In other words, don’t let any pirates into your house. It is not respectful or right to download or copy music, software, or movies without authorization.
There are many ways to be careful of other people’s property, and we can’t expect our kids to just automatically know the rules of polite society. So be prepared to remind them about the basics such as opening car doors carefully, not walking across other people’s lawns, and using coasters under their glasses. Eventually, they will absorb the general idea and develop their own radar so you won’t have to remind them all the time of what appropriate behavior looks like.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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