My eldest son collects coins. It’s a nice enough hobby to have. I’d like to say it keeps him out of mischief, but it doesn’t.
When your son collects coins, or no doubt stamps or anything else, it turns the whole family into collectors. When we check our change it’s not to see if we’ve been given the right amount, it’s to see if there are any rare coins in it. You would be amazed at how many different 50p, £ and £2 coins there are out there. There’s less variety amongst the lower denomination coins, but it’s there too, if you look for it. Throw in different dates, plus oddities like coins from Gibraltar or Jersey and the queen’s head looking different, and keeping your eye on coins is practically a full-time job.
The problem is that an obsession with coins in a 10 year old, who isn’t as au fait with the subtleties of polite and acceptable behaviour as adults, looks rather than like an obsession with money. And an obsession with money just isn’t ‘nice’.
When we go to fetes and jumble sales and the like (such things go from ‘summer fair’ to ‘autumn fair’ with barely a week off in between), he is there with his eyes on stalks looking at the tupperware boxes of change on the stalls. As these are school fairs, village fairs, Cubs fairs, we always know the people on the stalls, sometimes we even help out ourselves, so he asks to look at the change. Some adults find this endearing. Others find it wrong.
When I collect the cash for my husband’s under 8s football team, my son is under strict instructions to keep his fingers out until we get home. But he just can’t help himself. I really don’t like the way it looks to parents who clearly haven’t got much money to see the coach’s middle class son with his fingers in the cash box.
And so to this week’s dilemma. My husband found a very shiny penny on the floor of a shopping centre and picked it up. 2011, surely. Actually, no, it was 2005. He showed the coin to my son, but didn’t give it to him or offer it to him.
Now I’m not sure why he did this, but clearly he was already harbouring suspicions I was blissfully unaware of. When my husband went to bed, he didn’t dump the penny with his other change on the desk, he placed it there, taking careful note of exactly where it was. In the morning, it had gone.
My son denied all knowledge. He definitely hadn’t taken the penny. So he got his coin collection out. Which contained a very shiny penny. 2005. There was no question it was THE penny, but my son was having none of it.
I’m very proud of the way we dealt with this. Very firm, but not shouting. Both on the same page, both giving exactly the same message, playing the ‘disappointed’ card that kids find much harder to deal with than parents yelling and losing the plot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a penny, a £ or £10, taking it is stealing. And not admitting to it makes it even worse, because you’re adding lying to your crime.
My son didn’t lose the plot either. No tears, no tantrums, no shouting. He remained quiet, not looking us in the eye. He didn’t say he didn’t get it, because clearly deep down he did. But I understand why initially he hadn’t seen a problem with what he’d done. Because it’s only a penny, isn’t it? You can’t do anything with a penny.
It took 15 or 20 minutes before he finally owned up and said he would pay Daddy back. He offered him a very dirty penny. No, Daddy wanted the shiny penny back to teach him a lesson. Would he accept 5p for it? No, he wouldn’t. In fact he wouldn’t accept a million pounds. So Daddy got his shiny penny back and hopefully my son has learned a valuable lesson.
Of course if he’d said, ‘Daddy, please can I have that for my collection?’ the answer would most definitely have been ‘yes’. But now that penny will remain in my husband’s drawer for all eternity to remind us all of an important lesson about honesty.