Jail. Not something you would anticipate would play on the mind of a 6 year old child with no particular history of violence (aside from the standard attempts to bite, hit, kick or otherwise maim her older sister, of course), but my youngest daughter has developed something of an obsession.
I can’t figure out what started it, but I am guessing it was probably me making an off-hand comment about people going to jail if they do bad things. Suffice to say, that once she had the prospect of jail in her head, Faith was not letting it go.
Every so often when told off for some misdeed, you can see the cogs in her brain working before the question bursts out: ‘Will I go to jail?’. A simple ‘No’ is not enough to placate her and so begins a lengthy discussion about the circumstances under which people might be sent to jail. And here my problems start…..because I have kind of made it my unwritten rule that I don’t want to tell outright lies to my children (well, only when necessary) so this ‘jail’ discussion puts me in a dilemma.
One conversation on the matter went like this:
Me: “Did you hand your letter in to school today.”
Faith: “No, I forgot……(pause)…….will I go to jail?”
Me: “No, of course not.”
Faith: “Why do people go to jail?”
Me: “Well, if they have done something really bad, people might get sent to jail.”
Faith: “Like what?”
Dilemma number 1. I do not want to frighten my 6 year old with stories of the horrible crimes people commit so I shy away from suggesting murder as a possible jail-worthy crime….but equally, I want her to understand that jail is a place people go for serious crimes, rather than for forgetting to put the bins out on the right day.
I settle for theft.
Me: “Well if someone steals something from a shop they might go to jail.”
Faith: “What, like sweets?”
Darn it, should have gone for murder.
Me: “Well, no. It would have to be something bigger than sweets, like a TV maybe.”
Faith: “OK………………..so can children go to jail?”
Me: “Well they can’t go to jail, no. ………(pause)………but if they do something very bad, they could go to a juvenile detention centre.”
Now I know what you’re thinking. I am thinking it too. Seeing it written there in black and white has just served to further emphasise my foolishness. What on earth is wrong with me?! Why would I say that?! She is 6 years old!!
Of course, this sparked another question, throwing up further dilemmas:
Faith: “What would be bad enough for that to happen?”
Me: “Well I guess the same sort of thing. Stealing things. But probably, if you were a child, you would have to do it lots of times before that happened because they would give you chances as you’re so young.”
Faith: “How many chances?”
And on the conversation rumbles, with no chance of a satisfactory ending: a stark reminder to me that less is often more when answering my children’s queries.
Unsurprisingly after that disastrous attempt to deal with the topic effectively, jail did not stay far from Faith’s mind and a few weeks later it appeared, like a ninja-stealth topic, in a completely different conversation about heaven:
Faith: “So when you die and you’re in heaven, are you just nothing?”
Me: “Well I think maybe you are just your thoughts and feelings.”
Faith: “So you walk round with your head open and your thoughts coming out?”
Me: “Well no. Your body is gone so you’re kind of just thoughts and feelings.”
Faith: “So I would be like just ‘jail’ because I think about jail a lot?”
I am starting to worry about this child.
The final instalment in the current saga of Faith’s jail obsession came this week when Faith was brought in from the garden after repeatedly breaking the ‘No screeching at the top of your voice when we have neighbours’ rule. I will leave you with her final thoughts on the matter:
Faith: “I will pay you if you give me one more chance.”
Me: “I don’t want you to pay me, I just want you to stop shouting.”
Faith (shouting): “I will stop shouting ….OUTSIDE!”
Me: “But you need to stop shouting in here first.”
Faith (hysterically): “Give me one more chance! Daddy gives me loads of chances.”
Me: “Well that’s very nice of Daddy, but I am not giving you a chance if you won’t stop shouting.”
Faith: “Well you should go to jail then!”
A jail-worthy crime right up there with TV theft. Silly me. I should know better than to cross this 6 year old!