DEAR HARRIETTE: I have discovered that my 10-year-old son has been stealing money from my husband's wallet. I found this out when I saw a pair of expensive headphones in his room and asked how he managed to pay for them himself. My son told me he got himself a "Christmas present" from dad's wallet because we never get him what he wants. We spring for one expensive gift a year and make the rest reasonable and useful purchases.
I am appalled that my son would do this -- and so freely admit to it. What kind of punishment can we give him without ruining the Christmas spirit? I know the family would judge us if my son had zero presents waiting for him under the tree. -- Naughty List for Sure, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
DEAR NAUGHTY LIST FOR SURE: Take the headphones from your son. Tell him you intend to wrap them up and he can open the present at Christmas. Tell him that you are taking back or not purchasing the expensive gift that you normally get for him. Punish him for at least the week leading up to Christmas, taking away a privilege that will make him uncomfortable. This could be playing videogames, watching TV or playing with friends. Explain to him that stealing from anyone is bad and even a crime, including when it's from his father. Further, tell him that if he has preferences for what he wants for Christmas, he should make his desires known. This does not mean that he will automatically receive what he wants, but it gives him permission to let you know.
As it relates to expensive items, let your son know that you and your husband work within a budget. If his desired gift fits in your budget, great. If not, he may have to wait for it.