098: A subscriber shares: Father-son interactions become lessons that last a lifetime

The recent Show & T.E.L.L. posts have centered on caregiver responses when a child lies. So far, we have talked about the varying perspectives of children and adults concerning lying, as well as a general strategy for responding when these situations arise.

As mentioned in the last post, this week I want to share stories about how caregivers responded when a child stole something. The story below is a memory from one of our subscribers.

My personal story about lying is from the stone age (mid 1950s), when I was 6 years old. My father was the type who thought the best lesson was taught by experiencing the consequence. I was 6 or 7 and we were at a shopping center (a new phenomenon back in 1955). I was going through the store, and I saw a sheriff’s badge hanging on a hook. I took it, put it in my pocket and when I was down the sidewalk a ways, took it off the cardboard backing and put it on my jacket. I dropped the cardboard backing on the ground as I walked.  

My dad saw it and asked me where I got it. I said, “I found it.” He said, “Show me where you found it.” As we walked back toward the store, he looked down and saw the cardboard backing for the badge. He stopped, picked it up and put it up next to my badge. Perfect match!

He said, “You didn’t FIND that badge, you stole it, didn’t you?” I began to cry and said yes. He took me into the store and told me to stand there while he found the manager. He and the manager worked together to concoct a scare scheme. I thought I was headed straight to jail. He made me confess, PAID FOR THE BADGE and handed it to me without another word.  

When we got home he said, “Go to the basement.” He came down a few minutes later with my mattress and a sheet. He said, “If you want to be a thief, you better know how a thief lives.” I was essentially in JAIL. A mattress, meals brought to me, one light on in the basement and nothing else for the rest of the weekend.  

Monday morning, I was allowed back up and had to work off the cost of the badge that I wanted “BAD ENOUGH TO STEAL IT.”  

To most, this may sound like child abuse. But I know one thing; I never stole anything again.

father son silohuette

I am curious to hear what you think about how the father in this story responded. The father definitely created an experience for the son to live the consequences. In the short run, it may have been painful for both of them, definitely for the son; however, in the long run, do you agree it was a valuable lesson that positively influenced future choices by the son? Doesn’t that make it a t.e.l.l.ing interaction?

When I asked this subscriber to elaborate further on this situation and his mindset as a 6-year-old, he added other thoughtful lessons learned from his father…

Going back that many years to identify my mindset might be a challenge but I do think that even at 6, I took the badge knowing it was wrong. I didn’t go in with the intent to steal it but when I saw it, I wanted it. We were very poor and I knew I couldn’t ask for it so I guess I took it. Lying to my dad was a natural act I guess, since I knew if I told him the truth I’d be in big trouble. Not sure how reasonable a 6-year-old’s mind is, but I knew enough to lie about it. 

My initial thoughts in the basement were, “Am I ever going to get out of here?” I neglected to share that when he would bring food or water, he always had a story or lesson about trust, honesty, stealing, hurting other people by my actions etc. That was the longest two days of my youth. 

My dad had matter-of-fact ways to teach. Like the time we were driving to my grandmother’s house in the country and I threw a tissue out the window. He locked up the brakes, I went flying into the back of his seat and he looked in the mirror and said, “Go get it.” When I came back he simply said, “Don’t ever throw anything out of the car again.” He never said another thing, but I STILL don’t throw things out of a car or litter. 

Many thoughts have come to my mind as I read and write this story to share with you. Why and how do you think these interactions are t.e.l.l.ing? That is, how did the father’s lessons teach, encourage, listen, and love the son? Send me a message below.

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