castleMy ten-year-old son, who had been making near-thrilling progress in obedience, cooperation, and effort, had a really bad day yesterday. I mean a really, really bad day. After hours and hours of disrespect, disobedience, and downright yucky behavior, my husband and I needed a break. We left our older two in charge while we went on a little date, locking our bedroom door as we always do when we leave. We had been gone no longer than fifteen minutes when my ten-year-old got the key to our bedroom outside French door and let himself in to steal an old iPhone in my nightstand. Wow. That’s got to be the most serious transgression he’s ever committed.

I felt sick about it all night, going back and forth over whether this was just extreme ten-year-old behavior or something much more disturbed. When I talked to him about it, he said he didn’t think he would get caught, he knew it was wrong, but he wanted what he wanted. Should it hurt my feelings that he had no empathy for us or is that taking things too personally? I know his biggest weakness is impulse control. I’m still mulling that over. Meanwhile, it’s time for consequences.

As luck would have it, at bedtime he earned (through defiant disobedience) a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast this morning, which always gets our day off to lovely start. Not. And I knew that on top of the peanut butter sandwich, we were going to lower the hammer about stealing the iPhone. So I played him like a violin; I mean I used therapeutic parenting with lots of nurturing to facilitate the event.

I sat on his bed with him this morning and gently woke him up with lots of loving comments and stroking of his hair and face. I softly broached the subject of how naughty he had been yesterday, and that today was the day he would have to face the consequences for his choices yesterday. I told him I knew it would be hard, but I knew he could do it, and I offered to pray with him to ask for help in him handling the consequences maturely.

When we came downstairs and he saw the PB sandwich, he started to whimper, but I told him I would sit with him the whole time, and I knew he could do it. Being the kid he is, he tried to feed part of it to the dog when I got distracted by a phone call, but he ultimately did finish the sandwich. I hugged him, high-fived him, and told him how proud I was of him for just getting it over with. Then I asked him if he knew what the word “fortify” meant, like fortifying a castle to make it stronger. I told him I had needed to fortify him with a PB sandwich so he could handle the consequence for stealing the iPhone.

He nodded and braced himself, then I told him he was grounded for a week: no friends, no Scouts, no television. He started to cry (because he’s missing a really fun Scouts activity this week), and I hugged him and told him he could do it, and that I loved him but I couldn’t save him from the consequences of his choices. He kept crying, and I told him how serious it was that he had stolen the iPhone, that I was thinking I might actually have to call the police. He said, “No, no, no, no!” I told him this was so serious; this was like his brother stealing the fireworks and lighter from the hardware store, or his sister stealing the Kindle at school. But I reassured him that his brother and sister had outgrown that behavior and he could too if he worked hard at it. I said, “You’re a great kid. It’s going to be okay.”

He stopped crying and asked if being grounded meant he could still play outside and play games. I said yes. I said I would make myself available to him this week for reading together, games, basketball, etc., and that I would be his friend this week. I think that’s a win-win. It helps us bond because I’m his companion, and it helps him handle the consequence without feeling so despairing about it, which would only make all of our lives miserable for the next week. He’s upstairs doing his chores with a good attitude right now. What a miracle that is!

I think the art of delivering the consequences was creating a loving context to deliver the message, keeping him company with lots of encouragement while he ate the PB sandwich, and reassuring him that he was a good kid and could overcome his impulse control problems. It only took nine years for me to figure this out, but hey, better late than never.

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