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Should A Preschooler Pay For His Mistakes?

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Make your Preschool Pay For What They Damaged

Here’s an e-mail I recently received:

Hi Alyson,

Here’s a situation I’d love to get your perspective on.

Our 4 year-old, Adam, recently washed a book of mine in the clothes washer.  As far as I can tell, he was curious about the washing machine.  He may have done it in reaction to a prior power-laden conversation though I don’t recall either Diane or I having such an interaction with him. 

I found the book spinning and disintegrating in the washer and I was angry.   Diane stepped in and did a marvelous job addressing with Adam the need to clean up the mess. 

We are wondering about using a portion of Adam’s allowance to, over time, replace the book.  On one hand, we think that "we replace what we damage" is a respectful approach to living together.  On the other, we fear Adam may perceive this as a random act of exercising power over him. 

How do you see it?  How should we proceed?

Here’s my reply:

Good one! I love the ones that make ya think!

Maybe you could ask him what he thinks about the situation, from your perspective.

I would go with the assumption that it was an accident, but even accidents can result in things needing to be replaced. 

Share with him that you feel you didn’t leave your book in the wrong place or anything, and now you have no book and it needs to be replaced – does he have any ideas?  Who does he think should pay?  If you accidentally step on one of his trucks what should happen?  Make sure the rules for one are the same for all.

You might offer to strike up a deal (not the full price) or maybe he would like to make a "gesture" with his allowance of some amount.   

I did make my preschooler pay for an aquarium ornament that she broke while shopping. She was about 4. I took half her allowance until it was paid down, but it was tallied on paper on the bulletin board so she could see it being paid down.

She has been very careful ever since. 🙂

Let me know how it turns out.

If you have a similar story to share, be sure to share in the comment area below.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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2 Responses to “Should A Preschooler Pay For His Mistakes?”

  1. Maria

    Dear Alyson: I am such a huge fan of your approaches to parenting and your books and website have been great guidance to navigate raising a happy, self sufficient and soulful child. SO here is a question…How do you introduce the concept of allowance to a little one currently in senior kindergarten? And how much is appropriate to give to him? How often? I find it so frustrating everyone around us has so much “stuff” we must be the only family without a Wii or a DS or any of that stuff. What happened with simple toys that necessitate imagination be used?! It is not that we cant afford these things. I want my son to understand that you cant just have everything you ask for (as many of his friends seem to…)

    Reply
  2. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Maria,
    Allowance should not been seen as “extra spending money” but rather, moving purchasing power that you currently control over to your child in small steps as they develop money management skills.
    To make an allowance budget, ask yourself what are you currently purchasing on his behalf? What does he have to “ask” you for? If you pay regularly for his juice box after swimming, may that could be his first allowance : 1.25 for juice. Do you buy him books? Maybe his scholastic book money could be his? or a treat? Does he have to plea with you to buy him a chocolate bar? Maybe snack money should be in the budget.
    I hope that is a good start anyway!
    Alyson

    Reply

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