10-Year-Old's 'No Christmas Gift' Punishment Stirs Debate


‘Tis the season to…leverage Christmas gifts as a way to get kids to behave? Upping the ante on the behavior-monitoring Elf on the Shelf tradition, one mother is making waves on Facebook for considering canceling Christmas —for just one of her children — after the 10-year-old girl stole money to buy candy.

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“She has been caught stealing money from us to buy lollies for the second time in a month,” the unnamed mom wrote in a post shared by Australian parenting site School Mum on Sunday. “She doesn’t have any devices, play computer games or watch much TV so we can’t use this as a punishment. We can’t stop her from going to her sports lessons (which she loves) as it will be letting the teams down. My husband feels we should give her no presents at all at Christmas.” Wondering whether the “big message” this would send her daughter “about how serious and unacceptable stealing is,” could be “too harsh,” the mother asked for some thoughts — and more than 300 people weighed in.

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Some supported the father’s firm ban on holiday gifts. “I don’t think it’s harsh at all,” shared one commenter. “But I do think the punishment needs to happen now as opposed to seven-weeks’ time.” And another advocated taking action, just scaled back a bit. “You could take one of her presents away and have her donate it to a program in your area which helps children that don’t get presents,” the writer suggested. But the majority of respondents cracked down — on the parents.

“Taking Christmas away from her sounds horrible to me,” wrote a parent. “Christmas is about unconditional love. I’d [just] make her work to pay the money back plus extra for a penalty.” Agreed another: “Oh my god I can’t believe a parent would even consider letting their child wake up on Xmas morning with no presents. That is beyond cruel.” A third opponent pointed out that no one will win if the parents play Grinch: “Never ever take away Xmas or birthdays…She will hate you for it!”

Child psychologist Dr. Laura Markham agrees with all of the outrage, because she says it could actually inflict long-lasting hurt on the child.

“Clearly, punishment is not an effective deterrent,” Markham tells Yahoo Parenting of the girl, whom the mother wrote was previously denied “some privileges” and had to repay the stolen money after her previous theft. “It doesn’t address the root problem, because this child already knows stealing is a mistake, since she faced consequences before.” By taking away Christmas, Markham insists that the parents would only exacerbate any underlying issues, making the girl act out. “I guarantee that the damage you do taking away the holiday will only make things worse,” she says, “because instead of helping her with whatever problem she is having, she hears the parents telling her, ‘I’m going to punish you with the worst thing I can think of.’”

The move has major implications on the parent-child relationship, as well. “It becomes public shaming,” she says, “because everyone will know about it, since kids will ask her about Christmas and she will either have to lie to avoid embarrassment or admit, ‘I didn’t get to have Christmas,’ and explain what happened.”

Such public shaming — reminiscent of another family’s discipline drama, shared on social media last year after the parents made their son return his Wii game because he was “put on [the] Naughty List” — may not shrink her heart two sizes too small, but it will harm a youngster’s self-esteem. “Kids who are publicly shamed start to think of themselves as ‘bad,’ give up trying to be good, and act bad intentionally,” explains the expert. “They develop a deep sense of shame that feels like there is something wrong with them. They get the sense that there’s something broken about them and it’s terribly wounding because then they’ll never feel good enough.”

Instead of prohibiting presents, Markham advises talking with the child about why she was taking the money. “If the issue is that the girl really just wanted candy, the parents need to look at what their home life is doing in terms of deprivation,” she says. “It could be that the child really just needs some more sweetness in her life.” Then, she says, they need to show her how she can earn back her parents’ trust. “Taking away Christmas is too extreme.”

(Top photo: Getty Images)

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