My daughter is a toy smuggler

Joy Sluiters is one of our Family Coaches, working with families of children aged 0-12 years and a regular presenter of Hot Tips Workshops and Hot Tips community events in Auckland and further afield. Joy has four adult children and five grandchildren and leads a busy life as a hands on nana, Family Coach, and restorative justice facilitator for Waitakere Courts.

Dear Joy

We have a six-and-half-year-old daughter who is excelling at school, loves to read and write but is smuggling toys to school. Her teacher brought this to our attention and asked if we could help as there was a ‘no toy’ policy. We explained to Lucy that toys were not to be taken to school and that if the teacher found them, they would be confiscated. However, the smuggling has continued. I feel like a policeman in the mornings.

Her response to my asking if there is a toy in her bag is always, “No,” and yet when I check, there it is.
I have tried taking the toy and keeping it for a week. Recently, I discovered she had taken several toys so I confiscated all her toys from her room except for her teddy for bedtime. But today she told me she had still taken a toy – one of her sister’s. I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of being lied to and tired of policing. What do I do to stop this toy smuggler?


Some of Joy’s tips

This must feel extremely frustrating for you and I can hear that you need some new ideas fast. First thing – remember that we can make telling the truth more desirable and telling lies less attractive. Try to respond to Lucy’s lie calmly and in a factual manner. If it is obvious that she’s hidden toys in her bag but is denying it, in a friendly but firm voice say, “I’m disappointed you have toys in your school bag – they belong here in your room.” Try hard to keep the emotion and disappointment out of your voice.

Remind her of the importance of telling the truth. “Honey, it is important you tell Mummy the truth so I can help you solve the problem.” Resist the temptation to ask her questions that you already know the answer to. Most of us hate being interrogated and it’s very difficult for a child to answer ‘why’ they did something. Let her know that you appreciate that it was hard for her to tell the truth.

Acknowledge her feelings so that she feels your support, not your anger. “I see that you really wanted to take your toy to school today. The school has said that toys need to stay home and they’ll be waiting for you to play with at home time.” The idea is to treat our children with dignity and as we hope they will become. She is a bright young lady who loves to read and write. These are the qualities in her you need to affirm. It’s important to stop thinking of her as ‘someone who lies’. When we speak well of our children, they often rise to the expectation we have of them.

Most importantly, we need to ask, “What’s really going on?” Often there is an underlying anxiety or need a child may not be able to articulate or express. Find the time of day your daughter is most receptive to you – maybe at bedtime or afternoon tea time. Perhaps even a mummy date to a café for a hot chocolate. Simply listen and encourage her – let her do most of the talking. You may just find her telling you the ‘why’ behind what’s happening!

Let her know your dreams for her – how you would like her to develop her skills and have many, varied experiences. This can help children understand why you are being firm.

The outcome

Being calm with Lucy has helped immensely. She has been much more relaxed. My husband and I followed your suggestions and now she is hearing more about the caring girl we adore – a girl who loves reading and writing. I didn’t realise that I had gotten so negative with her.

We had the café date and I gently opened up the topic. I didn’t ask her ‘why’ questions but tried to really listen to her and not do all the talking. When I did, I discovered she is really anxious about moving into a new class (her old one had grown too large) and here I was thinking she was breezing through it! She was finding having a toy with her helped give her emotional support and something to show her friends.

What a relief! We have met with her teacher and have been working as a school/home team over the past three weeks to help support Lucy’s transition and I’m thrilled to tell you that for the past week there has been no toy smuggling. Thank you again for your insight and wisdom – it’s really helped us get unstuck.


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