i can’t even.

This morning I peeked in on the boys in their room via the video monitor. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have assumed it was the one and a half year old who did it, but no. It was my three year old who was sitting on his bed ripping strips of paper off of library book pages.


of pages.

from library books.

Item one: Since OBrother has been in a big boy bed, we removed all paper-paged books from their room and replaced them with board books. This was mostly because I don’t trust a toddler alone with paper books, but apparently it’s a good rule for both him and the preschooler.

Item two: We were out on a date last night and were not here to enforce the paper-book thing. These were the books they read before bed.

Item three: We had just checked the books out from the library yesterday, after I paid a hefty late fee tab. O and most of them came from the “What’s new in Children’s Picture Books” display, of course.

Item four: OBoy was not being malicious. When I asked him why he ripped up the pages, he said he wanted them to be puppets. Classic imaginative play, exploring his surroundings.

Item five: The library isn’t open yet today so I’m not sure what the total cost to replace them will be, but much of it will be coming out of OBoy’s piggy bank… whether or not he’ll really understand that.

I am at something of a loss. This feels like a big teachable moment and I want to do it right. I want him to learn that this is not ok and to not do it again, but in an even bigger picture way, I want him to learn that we are fully responsible for our choices. So far I have told OBoy that we will talk with Daddy about what to do this afternoon. I have framed it in the terms of “making it right” with the library and with Mommy and Daddy.

I’m not really sure what that will mean, though.

Friends, what would you do and say if you caught your three year old shredding library books?

Help a mama out.

32 Responses to “i can’t even.”

  1. Caitlin MidAtlantic

    I’m not sure about Library books, but Laura did tear a page out of her favorite book (Ferdinand, btw) a few weeks ago. It was almost as if she was trying to capture some magical essence of the book to keep with her, like some sort of relic. She didn’t get that she was hurting the book – she was just so pleased to carry the shred of paper around the house. I’m still not sure what to do about it!

  2. Kelly @ Love Well

    Does he already understand that you were very sad he did that and that he should never do it again? Because if he does, that might be enough. Take him to the library, let him say he’s sorry, and hope he gets it. Like you said, he didn’t do it maliciously. I’m not sure “punishment” is warranted for curiosity. If he does it again, it’s a more serious offense.

    If it helps, Kieran has been ripping library books for fun this week. Most of the time I catch him before it’s too bad, so I can just repair it with some moving box tape. (Hey! We have tons of that stuff!) And if you’re curious about cost, you could always check Amazon.

  3. Amy

    I would probably tackle the concept of the library with him first. I would talk about how you checked the book out so that you could read it at home. Then mention a number of his friends and talk about how they go to the library too. Talk about how they won’t be able to check that book out of the library to read it because the book is “broken” now. Then talk a bit about all the kids he doesn’t even know who go to the library and won’t be able to check that book out.

    Then if you have coins around, I take one of the books and look inside or on the back for the list price. Then show him in coins how much money it costs to buy just one book. Kids don’t understand paper money so well but I think they get the concept of stacks of coins better.

  4. NanM

    (long time reader, first time commenter, but I had to chime in as a library worker)
    It seems like this is a learning experience both for you and for him. I have had the exact same thing happen to me in the past. You’ve learned that OBoy is not ready to be alone with paper books. As much as you can, now you know that it’s board books only without supervision (until he’s older). I went through the same thing with my daughter at that age.
    Secondly, librarians know that books get ripped. I am a library assistant, and I worked for years in the kids department. It’s sad when a book comes in torn, but the best possible thing to do is to bring the book and all the torn pages straight to the librarian (or library assistant), tell them exactly what happened (and this is when you can get OBoy to apologize!) and ask what you need to do. They may be able to repair the books, to only charge you for one… so many things might be possible. I’ve found that the workers may not always understand why your kid is apologizing, but it’s for the kid, not for them.

    • SethG

      Hey Allison,

      With previous comments I like the idea of explaining the concept of a library; borrowing books; how hurting the book means other children can’t borrow and enjoy the books. I also like the visual idea of showing him how much a book costs in coins. But THE thing I would strongly consider is having Micah apologize to one of the library workers and ask for forgiveness. I would probably talk with the librarian in the children’s department ahead of time to get his/her cooperation because like NanM said, they might not get it. But this seems like a great opportunity to teach Micah about apologizing for doing a wrong (even an accidental one that he didn’t realize was wrong), asking for forgiveness, and even making restitution. So, maybe having him bring money from his piggy bank to pay to the librarian, obviously you’ll cover the rest….p.s. AWESOME gospel opportunity to show him he doesn’t have enough money in his piggy bank to pay back what he did wrong but mommy and daddy will cover it because Jesus paid for our greater debt (sins) and yours (See matt 18:21-35 parable of the unmerciful servant); Just my thoughts, you know your kid best and what he can handle/understand.

      I’ll be interested to hear how it turns out.

      p.s. Miss you, DanO and the kids!

  5. Megan

    Hmm, at 3, I would say he would know that tearing pages out of books wasn’t okay. How did he react when you saw it?

  6. Cristin Vosburgh

    possibly find the book online (used or new) might be cheaper than teh library replacing it…if you can show them the book you replace it with is in good condition, they might be willing to accept that…and not charge you a massive fee. :)
    this is a tough one…my 3 year old (almost 4!) does things not out of malice, but just ‘because’ or whatever reason…we constantly have problems with issues such as this…so I will be checking back for advice.
    raising children is a huge responsibility and sometimes i think there should be an application process! it’s tough and i don’t know what to do sometimes! :)

  7. Melinda

    could o boy do some age appropriate work around the house as a way of earning money to buy the book? I know he’ll neve earn enough to pay for the book, but maybe having to help mommy do somethIng when he would rather be playing, etc. might make an impact?

  8. erin

    In no way do I have this parenting a 3 yr old thing down, but I feel like often they take a message much better from anyone but me. If his teacher says it, its as if it was carved in stone by God himself, but if I say it, that just means do the naughty thing as often as possible. So I would do like a previously commented, get the librarian involved. Perhaps by the books via Amazon, bring the old and the new books, explain what happened, ask the librarian to explain why that is so bad and then the three of you come to the proper solution. OBoy will totally pick up on the seriousness, any frusterations and the end results this way. Just my two cents…

  9. Jen Strunk

    I would suggest that OBoy has to pick three (maybe one or two) of his favorite books to donate to the library, on top of the fee. Maybe with him having to give up a couple of his favorite books he will understand the importance of having nice books?

  10. Lindsay

    My 2 year old daughter ripped a page out of a library book a few weeks ago. Same thing, she wasn’t trying to be destructive, she just really liked the picture. We talked about how the library is nice enough to let us borrow their things (like a friend) and how we have to take care of other people’s things or they will not let us borrow them anymore. The next day I took her back to the library and she had to tell the librarian what she did and apologize. Having to face the librarian (aka any other authority figure besides her mama) made her realize that tearing that page was not okay. The librarian was really great about it said things like that happen all the time. Definitely a teachable moment about taking care of things and the concept of borrowing.

  11. Vanessa @ Strickly Speaking

    You aren’t alone. This is not deviant behaviour. And as you said, he wasn’t being malicious. He’s three. He’s still learning.
    I liked the comment that said OBoy should apologize at the library to one of the workers after you’ve explained what happened. I think that is a good learning point and teaches him that other people are affected by his choices – including the other children who can’t enjoy that book now. Not to push him to feel guilty, but to help him understand that the library is for everyone and when we damage the books, then other children can’t read them.
    You’ll all figure it out. :)

  12. Molly

    My baby girl just turned 3 last week and went to a big girl bed a few months ago. It’s a transition that is still tricky. One day she got into her changing table (which has since been removed) and got out thick diaper cream and rubbed it all over her, the bed, the carpet, walls, etc. She was “painting.” When she got out all the wipes (several packages) and tried to “clean it up” while wasting lots and lots of wipes. When I can in the room I made a big deal about how disappointed I was and asked her why she would make such a mess. She immediately started bawling saying she was sorry and that she would never do it again.
    I don’t know about your son but with her if she knows she’s done something wrong and I tell her that it’s not okay she is extremely remorseful and talks for weeks later about how she did that and how she’ll never do it again.
    And she hasn’t.

  13. Sara

    I think the other posters have great suggestions…I think it would be great to explain why this is wrong, have him apologize to the librarian, and then be done with it. I don’t think you should make too big a deal out of it – like all of the discussion about it/punishment about it/etc should be done in one day. My mom used to drag my punishment out forever…I know that I would have been doing chores to “pay” for the books for days, and that she would have reminded me of the time I tore the books just about every time I read a paper book for months. And that kind of stuff filled me with shame and anxiety. I’m not saying you would ever go to that extreme, I’m just sharing my perspective.

  14. Kim

    I think all these suggestions are wonderful! Getting the librarian involved is a great idea, as is possibly donating a book or two of his — that way he may understand that if he ruins something he also needs to make it right. This is a tough one, that’s for sure. I know my kids were SO loud one Sunday in church and disturbed the people behind us. So they had to write/draw pictures of apology to them and give the letters/pictures the following week. It really drove the point home, without me having to be the ‘bad guy.’

  15. Sarah Scribner

    Hmm… at 3, I would tend to be over-dramatically shocked “oh my goodness! The pages are ripped!” followed up with a stern “we do not do that” and then take him to the library with you as you deal with it and ask how much the books are. Other than that I would let it slide (along with keeping library books supervised) unless it happens again. If it wasn’t malicious, I might almost be tempted to go another direction for some relationship building and not make him explain to the librarian himself. Instead as he’s standing next to you just say “these books were ripped and we need to pay for them”. I always liked to really illustrate to my kids when they were little that I was on their side and had their back. No matter what they did, and yes, I might be super furious with them and have consequences at home, but I would always stand up and defend them. With an older kid, i would probably have them write an apology note to the library and pay for it but three is too little for that I think.

  16. Beth Anne

    I have no words.

    Because I’m too busy re-mourning the first time I came in to find Harry ripping apart the pages of a book & the literature lover in me had a complete emotional break-down.

  17. Candace

    Oh Goodness Mama, what a pickle. When I nannied, I always made sure that the che knew they were 1) not bad for doing a naughty thing but 2) responsible to make the situation right. I’m sure you’ll teach him the importance of taking care of books, in a loving way… You’ve got this!!

  18. Caroline

    I teach young kids – if I remember correctly you are a teacher too right? And book vandalism is my number one bug bear. I know it makes me irrationally angry – yes angry – so I’ve always tried to be prepared for when/if this happens with my own kids. Luckily I’ve never had this problem so far with my three year old – there’s always time. I would hope that if I discovered this scene I would be able to react calmly – sounds like you did. I would want my son to understand that by damaging the book it can no longer be read in the same way by him or anyone else and how sad that makes me. I try to take time my pupils and my children to cherish books when we read them and show them the way we should treat books if we want them to last a long time. All that is fine and dandy but we all know what there’s not always enough time to do these things. Good luck and please let us know what you choose to do and how O Boy gets on.

  19. elizabeth

    I agree with you about behaving based on their motivation. It’s a recent goal of mine to try to see things from J’s perspective and not just from a “what if an adult or clear thinking and rational person did this” standpoint. So, while I would obviously be upset and mad that I have to replace these books, I wouldn’t discipline him too much. I’d just make sure he knows he cannot rip books and tell him here is paper you can rip… and make sure all future babysitters know no library books in his room! I keep our library books in the main room so they stay there.

  20. Suzanne

    I came home from running errands last Saturday to find Caroline’s bed full of pages ripped from a library book. Apparently my husband had put her down for a nap she was not very excited to take so she threw a temper tantrum. I did take the $10 from her piggy bank ($8 to replace a very small book plus a $2 handling fee) and I used my angry voice when I told her how disappointed I was, but the real punishment is she isn’t allowed to read books on her own anymore. She LOVES books, and has been fine with them since she was barely 12 months old, but now after bedtime stories they go up on the highest shelf. She’s a little sad about it every single night, which I’m hoping is reinforcing the lesson.

  21. LoraLynn

    I’m not sure I have any good advice, but I can give you an empathetic hugs. My boys did the EXACT same thing. Only I’m pretty sure there was poop involved, too. It’s not helpful, but let me reassure you that this is normal, this destructive bent. And I say this not to belittle our children, but because psychologists will back me up, the child’s brain, especially a boy’s brain: they don’t think about consequences or use much common sense. When you ask them “what were you thinking?” the answer “I wanted to see how it would sound when it ripped” is TOTALLY normal. And this phase lasts through most of childhood for boys, according to the books we’ve read. *sad face* I do know that boys respond better to “natural consequences” meaning, you show them “if this, then that.” “If you tear the books, we won’t have any more books.” Then maybe remove the books? All of them? For a set amount of time. He’s pretty young, so I don’t know if that will get through entirely, or if it will be more punishment for you than him, but you know him best, I’m sure you can think of some other natural consequence he might understand. I tell you all of this not to discourage, but just to encourage you that it’s normal and you’re not alone. Because while my boys may have torn up 50 bucks worth of library books, we had a dog once who ATE $250 worth of library books. (One of the books was considered “rare.”) So, um, at least he didn’t EAT the books? Gah. I’m no help. :-) *****HUGS*******

  22. Jenny

    I think the bigger concept to teach is “borrowing”. The books belong to someone else ( the library) and when we borrow anything, we need to return it to them in the same shape or get a replacement or pay to replace. The other nice teachable moment concept is about paper in general. I always teach kids they need to ask before using any paper for anything ( coloring, cutting, making puppets:) That way you will not have any paper ( e.g.the reports for my college kids I was grading!) turned in to art work. Really, natural consequences are the best and this situation allows you to teach great life concepts with natural consequences. Your boys are simply adorable!

  23. Kayla Bartikoski

    Oboy was very sad last night when he was trying to sleep , he told me how Mommy and Daddy were going to smash his piggy bank to pay for the book he ripped. It was cute to hear this after 5 minutes of silences or so and made me think that he really was sorry. I think I have a great book ( pinterest find ) for you ! We just read it to the kids in the preschool room that I work in . It is called Forest Friends and here is the link for it , http://www.kindergartenkindergarten.com/reading-workshop/ . You will have to scroll down a ways but I think this may help Oboy and Obrother to understand how to treat their books better. They also seemed to enjoy throwing the books off the shelfs in the playroom last night too . I hope this helps !

  24. Kimberley

    This isn’t related to parenting, but just to comment on potential solutions suggested very helpfully by other posters, I probably wouldn’t buy the book yourself on amazon. Most libraries get special “library-proofed” copies directly from the publisher – you know, with the plastic dust cover over the outside and whatnot. I don’t know if that was the case with these books, but it might cost more to buy the book and then have it prepared for circulation than it would be to compensate the library directly. Hope this makes sense, and good luck!

  25. Roommate

    When I was 4 sitting in a Christmas Eve service in the front row I was flipping through the pages of the Bible reciting “Glory to the newborn king, glory to the newborn king, …” when I came across my mother’s notes written in the margin, to which I responded by flipping out and shouting in the middle of the service, “WHO DID THIS? YOU SHOULD NEEEEEVER WRITE IN A BOOK!!” My mother must have done something right!

  26. Megan Ronderos

    Hi Allison. You are right. This is such a teachable moment and you as their momma know your children best. Trust your instincts. This very same thing happened with my now-for-year-old. She was quiet in the bathroom when she was newly potty-trained and when I walked in… she had completely ripped apart a library book. I was so upset. After mulling it over in my head, I decided she would have to pay for half the book. We had just started to teach her to “save some, give some, spend some” and I wanted her to make a connection if possible. I talked to the librarian and explained the situation and how we would be handling it. The librarian was AWESOME! She talked my daugter through everything…why it was so sad and that other children wouldn’t be able to read the book for a while because it had to be ordrered. She then told her that everybody makes mistakes and that is how we learn and she knew that my daughter would be very careful with books in the future. She was young but I know she got it. Best of luck to you!
    Hugs, Megan

  27. Jessamyn

    As a mom and a librarian I can give you a few ideas :)
    First of all, this happens all the time! As another poster pointed out, we do buy our books from special vendors and ISBN numbers need to match etc so while the thought is sweet to replace it, we’d rather purchase it ourselves.
    When my oldest was 3, we were at the library as patrons and he proceeded to throw a huge fit over a movie. A screaming, all out on the floor fit at my place of work. I was humiliated. We went home and I had him verbalize an apology which I wrote and he signed. I think an apology and him going with you to return the books is more than enough. If your library is small enough, you could even check to see if they’d let him tour the building and see how they fix the books.


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