When Kids Break Things

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When my kids were born, I gave them a special gift.

Not the gift of life. That came from God via my wife.

I gave them a $5,000 deductible. Here’s how it works.

Kids break stuff. They break stuff by accident, they break stuff on purpose, and sometimes they break stuff on purpose and make it look like an accident.

As a parent, you’re dragged into the unfortunate dance in which you have to assign blame, determine the amount of the damage, and then dock your kid’s allowance until the thing is paid for.

This turns you into the three things you never wanted to be when you first had the idea of having children: a cop on the beat; an insurance adjuster; and the wage-garnishing department of the IRS.

I knew there had to be a better way. I found it. It’s the $5,000 deductible. A kids’ version.

Here’s how it works: The first $5,000 worth of stuff your kid breaks, in the house, out of the house, wherever, whenever, is covered by the deductible. The deductible, by the way, is entirely no-fault. This means you don’t have to figure out which of your kids did the actual damage, or apportion blame for a situation involving more than one of them.

That’s the beauty of the $5,000 deductible — it’s a no-questions-asked policy.

It’s also big enough to take you at least into middle school with each kid, and maybe all the way up to the day they leave for college. Unless one of them wrecks the car.

So what have my children broken, you may ask?

Thirteen years in, and they’ve broken toys. They’ve punched and kicked holes in the walls and doors. They’ve broken entire doors, for that matter. Slam a door hard enough and it’s history. Windows? Probably.

My kids have also broken each other’s phones. (If you take the cover off and smash it on the floor, you can do a lot of damage that way.)

But that still doesn’t come close to the $5,000 deductible. So what’s up?

Rabbi Noach Orlowek, my personal gold standard for guidance on parenting, has a great line: Small children are “basically suicidal.”

He means they have no idea of how to keep themselves safe. So if they don’t know how to keep themselves safe, then why on earth should we adults expect them to keep things safe?

Does this mean I don’t hold my children accountable for malicious behavior? Of course I do. I’m still a parent.

But when kids break things, I think they feel guilty enough. They might not have realized how powerful they were. They didn’t realize they were strong enough to kick a hole in a wall or slam a door hard enough that it no longer closes properly.

I don’t need to compound the guilt they already feel. But accountability, yes, I am all for that.

There are limits, of course. The $5,000 deductible does not apply to cases of repeated damage to the same type of object. I am realistic, after all.

But do I actually have a running total somewhere, perhaps on an Excel spreadsheet, explaining what damage was done, what cost I imputed to the destruction, and so on? Of course not.

The concept of the $5,000 deductible is a convenient reminder for me that nothing my kids have done really causes that much trouble or damage. At least nothing they’ve done exceeds the normal expectations of childhood.

My plan doesn’t mean things won’t get broken. It just means that I deal with the people involved and worry a little less about material things. And that’s what I was aiming for in the first place.

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