By: Alyson Schafer

Here’s an e-mail I just 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.

About the author
Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach and popular public speaker. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice.

Alyson is called on regularly by the media as a parenting expert. She has been featured in articles in Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, and Reader’s Digest. She has also been interviewed by the CBC and has appeared on TV shows like Planet Parent,Agenda, Health on the Line, W-Live with Erin Davis, and the CHCH Morning Show.

September 25, 2005, in Money
Article re-published with permission,