Stuff-Messer’s Rehabilitation Program

Hal has a problem messing with other people’s stuff. His curiosity consistently gets the best of him. I was recently sitting in my bathroom and I could hear him moving around in my room. I called out to him.

“Hal! What are you doing?”

I got the standard reply: “Nothing!”

“Oh, yes, you most certainly are doing something. What are you doing?”

“I’m messing with your stuff.”

This cracked me up because he knew that the next phrase out of my mouth would be “stop messing with my stuff!” He hears it a lot. The admonition does no good, though. He still regularly, daily messes with other people’s stuff.

Daryl bears the brunt of the messing. He has to share a room with the serial messer, after all. This means “Hal, stop messing with your brother’s stuff” is the most common version of the refrain.

The single most often messed-with item is Daryl’s Nintendo DS, which he just got for Christmas last year. Hal’s desire to play with the DS is so strong that he began to hide it under his pillow. He’d get up in the night to try to play with it in his bed when no one could see him. He’d hide with it during the day.

We had tried everything we could think of to get him to stop. We tried timeout. We tried denying him special opportunities. We tried spanking. Nothing stopped him. It didn’t even cause him to hesitate or hold off for a day. We were catching him with the DS every single day!

On one particular day, my exasperated husband asked me “What are we going to do about Hal and Daryl’s DS?” I didn’t have an answer. The situation seemed unsolvable. “I honestly don’t know, honey.”

That night, I went into their room to tuck Hal in bed for the night. He was laying on his stomach and did that telltale shuffle and flop that kids do when they are trying to hide whatever they are doing. I told him to get up. He moved. Reluctantly. I lifted his pillow. I saw the DS. Then I saw red.

I wanted to rage. I wanted to shake some sense into him. I wanted to get through to him that this had to stop. I’m pretty sure I yelled as I grabbed the DS. I headed down the hallway to give it and the responsibility for finding a new consequence to my husband. When suddenly, inspiration struck. I was still angry but I had just thought of something we hadn’t tried yet. Something that was bound to work.

What is the best way to teach someone to respect someone else’s stuff? Perhaps take away their favorite stuff? I grabbed a trash bag and returned to his room. I began to grab his most favorite possessions and put them in the bag. His “sleep bee” (bumble bee pillow pet), his Pooh-bear blanket, his huge stuffed caterpillar, Dug (the talking dog), his lullaby lightning bug, his cowboy boots, his Green Bay Packers jersey, Mr. Fuzzy (a stuffed seal), his Battat airplane, and more. I filled the trash bag while he wailed and cried. And then I sat down on his bed.

“Hal, I’m not going to throw these things away.” His crying settled down. “I am taking them away and you will not have them for two weeks. You have got to stop touching Daryl’s stuff, particularly his DS, without permission. If you touch his DS during that two weeks, you will have to pick something out of this bag to give away. We will give it away and you won’t have it anymore. It will be gone. And then your two weeks will start over again. Each time you touch his DS, you will lose something out of the bag. But if you go two weeks without touching it, then you will get all of it back.”

That was a week ago. So far, everything that was put in the bag is still in the bag. We appear to have achieved success. He’s not moping around, pining for his missing items. He’s actually started playing with things he didn’t used to play with. But not Daryl’s DS. And while he’s not talking about the bag’s contents, I’m fairly sure he’s still thinking about them. And eagerly awaiting their return.

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