My Child Steals – Counsellor Scott Wardell Tells Us Why and What To Do
Parents need to know that it is very common and normal for children under the ages of four and five to take things that do not belong to them without understanding the concept of stealing. Children need to be taught lessons in personal property and not taking something without permission. Children under the age of five are generally self-centered and their primary focus is often seeing and taking what they want. That’s why parents need to begin teaching their child the manners involved in asking permission to take, borrow or use someone else’s belongings. Parents who overlook these important lessons often receive embarrassing phone calls from their child’s school, youth programs or neighbours in regards to their child’s theft issues.
Why Do Children Steal?
There are many reasons why children may take things that do not belong to them. Parents need to become more concerned when they see a repeated pattern of stealing and are beginning to identify their child with more then one of the reasons for stealing listed below.
- A child may be stealing to get attention. The attention that they may be seeking, other than the parents, may include their peers or brothers and sisters.
- Children often learn from adults. When a child sees a parent take items from their work, neighbours or even stores in front of their children, are modeling the behaviour of stealing. Children often learn from this example that some stealing is acceptable behaviour.
- A child may feel that they “found” an item that does not belong to them, and therefore they may keep the item. Parents need to teach their children that a “found” item is not necessarily theirs to keep.
- A child’s basic needs may not be met. Some children who steal often feel they are lacking something that other children may have. For example: Some of your child’s friends may have pocket money to buy extra food while they are at school. The parent may not view this desire as necessary or the parent cannot afford the “pocket change” to give to their child, so the child steals the money to meet his or her needs.
- Some children steal to gain control or power.
- Some children steal for the thrill. This often occurs with older teens and adults. This type of stealing often becomes habitual.
- Some children steal to fit in or to be accepted by their peers. This type of stealing is often caused by peer pressure.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents who do nothing to react to their child stealing are only condoning the behavior. Parents need to take steps immediately when they catch their child taking something that does not belong to him or her. Below are some parenting solutions that can be implemented for children who exhibit stealing behaviors.
- Parents always need to be aware of where their children are and what they are doing.
- Sit down and talk with your child about stealing. The conversation should include what is and what is not stealing. This conversation may take place, depending on your child’s reasoning abilities, between the ages of four and five. Tell your child that stealing is wrong.
- Have your child agree that he or she will not touch some ones property without their permission.
- Make sure that your child knows that there will be natural consequences for stealing. Examples of natural consequences include loss of friends, loss of trust and not having a good feeling about stealing.
- Let your child know that there will be negative consequences from you. Your child should either return the item to the owner or pay for the item. If the child does not have money, he or she should do some extra tasks to earn the money. Hold your child accountable for the inappropriate action.
- If your child is stealing items from other kids at school and the items include things that he or she needs (pencils, paper and crayons), tell your child not to take another student’s belonging, you will buy what is needed.
- Avoid lecturing or labeling your child as a thief. Once your child realises and agrees that the behaviour was wrong the child should be given a chance to start over.
- Put all items that you do not want your child to have in an area that he or she cannot get to them.
- Teach your child that he or she will have a chance to earn the item in the near future. This will teach your child patience and delayed gratification.
- Teenagers who steal often do so for the thrill of the experience. Get your child involved in other activities that will fill their need for excitement.
- Children, especially teenagers who have habitual stealing behaviours, arrest for shoplifting or other reports of theft should see a trained professional (doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist etc.) who specialises in the area of stealing for more necessary interventions.
Scott Wardell is a school counsellor and created Scott Counseling to provide parents with hundreds of free parenting articles online to assist parents with their parenting skills.