It seems that there is always an ideal way of doing things, and then there’s the realistic way. Ideally, all discipline would include restitution for the wrong that has been done. Realistically, however, often there is not enough time, or even enough energy left for the parent to use, to require the guilty child to make restitution. When it can be done, there are many benefits for the child who is being corrected.
When a child is required to make restitution, that child has more time to think of the wrong done. The child who has done wrong also learns about the value of the thing that has been broken or destroyed. When intangible values are involved, the guilty child also learns more about feelings of others and develops compassion.
Many parents think they have done their disciplinary duty with a quick verbal rebuke. Telling is not teaching. If we want a child to learn, that child must realize the wrong in what has been done and decide that he/she does not want to do it again. When a quick verbal, “That’s not nice; you shouldn’t have done that,” is given, the child does not really know why it wasn’t nice and will probably repeat the action. If a child is told why it wasn’t nice and required to do something to make up for what was done, it stays in the mind longer and the learning is reinforced. Discussion of the feelings of the person being offended is good to help the child further realize the reason for the wrong of the action.
If a child breaks something because of carelessness, that child will probably be more careful in the future if his/her allowance is used to replace the object broken. Even if the child must simply glue something back together, or repair it another way, that is better than a simple scolding. If a child borrows something and loses it, the child should have to replace it. This may mean that the child must earn money. By doing so, the child learns the monetary value of the object lost.
When a child says something unkind to or about another child, the offending child should be required to say something good about that same person. At one time, while teaching, I required students to write three good things about a person of whom they had spoken unkindly. They learn by doing this that there is good in all people and they should make it a practice of looking for good in others. In such cases, it is always a good idea to go back to the golden rule and ask the child, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” Children should be taught to treat others as they want to be treated.
There is almost always some way that a child can try to make restitution for wrongdoing and we, as parents and teachers, need to look for those ways and require children to try to make up for what they have done. This is far more effective that most spankings and verbal lectures. The children will remember longer why something shouldn’t be done. They will think more before they act and probably be far more considerate of feelings of others.