Kids and Personal Property Rights

Personal Property Rights? Really? Isn’t that a legal principle? What does this have to do with kids and raising a family? Everything! Once you grasp this legal concept that your children already intuitively understand, you will be able to more effectively manage your children.


‘Personal Property’ is considered temporary or moveable, like clothing, cars, toys, and furniture; whereas, ‘property’ is a piece of land or a building.

Kids’ view of personal property rights


Have you ever heard...

  • “But that’s not mine, why do I have to pick it up?”

  • “Mom, her clothes are on my bed again. Tell her to get them off my bed!”

  • “He used it last, why doesn’t he have to put it away?”

  • “That’s not mine, so I don’t care if you throw it away.”


Or my all-time favorite:

  • “Mom, she’s looking out my window!”

Those are all expressions of the innate understanding that kids have about the principle of personal property rights.


Parents’ view of personal property rights in a home environment


As a mom and dad, since everything in the house is actually yours and because you view these little darlings as extensions of yourself, you, therefore, view the house as “our” house and the stuff as “our” stuff and the maintenance of all this as a joint effort - team work - a “we’re all in this together” kind of feeling. However, those little darlings aren’t quite as benevolent in their ideas about personal property. They still view personal property in a family setting as…uh… personal. Therein lies the problem.

Problem or Opportunity


Maybe rather than that viewpoint being the problem, that viewpoint could actually be considered an opportunity. The purpose of parenting is to train these little people to be adults one day. To train them to think for themselves, to handle finances well, to be able to provide for a family, to know and love God, and to care for others. In essence, the end goal is to raise children up to think and behave like mature adults rather than children. One of the difficulties of parenting is the continual balancing of knowing where they are in their journey to adulthood and helping them to press on while not pushing them too quickly so that they become utterly frustrated.

Since one of the foundational principles in all of law is personal property rights, you can actually be encouraged to know that your children already have some minimal understanding of that concept. They are keenly aware of when they want to have control over something and also when someone else should be responsible for something. As a result, the idea of personal property rights is a concept that you will want to use as a foundation in many of your conversations with your children.

When you are trying to reinforce personal property rights the conversation will go something like this:

Child: “Mom, she left her shoes out again. Please make her put them away. I am tired of putting her shoes away all the time.”

Mom: “I understand that you think that she should put her shoes away because they are her shoes, right? But if that is the case then that means that you should always have to put your schoolbooks away when you leave them out and other people shouldn’t have to do that, right? So in the future, you make sure you put your school books away and I will talk to her about making sure she puts her shoes away.”

When you are trying to reinforce family helping one another regardless of who the owner might be, the conversation will go something like this:

Child: “Mom, she left her shoes out again. Please make her put them away. I am tired of putting her shoes away all the time.”

Mom: “I understand that you think that she should put her shoes away because they are her shoes, right? So that means that when you leave your school books out, which you do quite frequently, that you should always be required to put your schoolbooks away, right? So next time your schoolbooks are out, and you are sick, do you want me to make you get out of bed to put them away? Or do you want me to ask your sister to do it for you since you aren’t feeling well. You know that is one way that families can help one another.”

Personal property rights will come up again and again as we discuss ways to implement systems in your home and family life that also includes your children and their things. Systems of maintaining virtually everything in the household will bump up against private property rights. There are privileges as well as responsibilities that come with ownership and helping children discover the differences is part of a parent’s job. What better environment to learn about these concepts and practice using them, than through family living.

As we venture into all things family life with children from the cradle through college, be encouraged that your children already have a small grasp on a fundamental system of equity in our country. It is your job as a parent to refine that thinking, help the child to understand all aspects of personal property, and to know how to use wisdom in implementing that idea in everyday life.


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