Remember these morality tales from "Highlights for Children"? I observed one in real life, although of course, things were not as cut and dried as in the comic.
Isaac had a playdate yesterday with a classmate we'll call Bobby. Bobby is a good kid from a very warm, kind family, and the two boys make very natural friends.
Today, though, my mama spidey-sense tingled as I heard them argue about something. Apparently, Isaac was rooting through Tim's change bowl for quarters to add to his state quarter collection, and Bobby was afraid Isaac was stealing from his father.
"Isaac, no! You can't steal money!"
Isaac was confused because our family has more of a community property vibe. Aside from our laptops, underwear, and a few other private things, everything else is pretty much fair game for the kids, as long as the reasons for exploring are legit, as in this case. Bobby didn't know that, though, so he went on as Isaac continued grabbing coins from the change bowl.
"Isaac, I'm going to tell your mother if you keep doing that."
I'm sure if Isaac was a more aware or a stronger verbal person, he would explain that it wasn't actually stealing, but being the boy of few words and little introspection he is, he just kept going.
"Isaac, stealing is wrong! Please don't do it. Isaac, I will give you a quarter if you stop stealing."
Isaac stopped then, and said, "Really? Where is it? Give me a quarter."
Bobby is not even seven years old, yet he has such a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. I couldn't help but admire him and his parents for that. We really struggle with Isaac in that area. His empathy skills are not fully developed; he honestly cannot put himself in other people's shoes without a full hands-on guide. He also cannot analyze a situation as it is unraveling. So instilling values into him is a bit like teaching a goldfish values. He is eager to please, he really wants to learn, but the lessons don't stick, so we end up just repeating ourselves over the years.
Example: we've been telling him to stop touching people's faces without their permission since he was 1.5 years old. And still, to this day, he occasionally will just reach up and squeeze my cheeks together or cover my eyes with his grubby hands. It's not an everyday occurrence anymore, but still, his ego has a ways to grow before catching up to his id.
Don't get me wrong; Bobby learns from Isaac in a lot of other areas, and they always have a great time together. Isaac encourages him to be more adventurous, to crack jokes, to find their own solutions after a conflict or a mess. Like now:
"Ooh! Bobby, I found Hawaii! Let's see if we have Hawaii!"
The boys scurried towards Isaac's desk and high-fived each other when they discovered that indeed, the slot for Hawaii was vacant.
PS: In case you're wondering why I didn't step in, I think it's important to let children at least make a first attempt at handling things themselves before stepping in. I learned this when trying to teach Emi and Isaac to say "Thank you" when people give them things. I used to just automatically say, "Now what do you say?" and they will parrot back "Thank you!" But then it turned out that they learned to just wait for me to prompt them and would forget to say it when I didn't, so I stopped myself. And now, they remember do it themselves (most of the time, heh heh). It's definitely a very fine line between directing kids towards the correct behaviors vs. micro-managing their every move.