What to Do When Your Child is Stealing
By Anthony Kane, MD
Introduction: My Child, Thief
One of more common problems that we as parents encounter, but that nobody likes to talk about, is what to do when your child steals. There are a number of different reasons a child steals and a number of different ways to handle problem.
Young children do not steal. Children below age of four or five do not have a concept of ownership. They do not understand that it is wrong to take things that belong to others.
By time a child enters elementary school, he should know that stealing is wrong. Often children at this age take things because they lack self-control.
A preteen or teen may steal for thrill of it or because that is what friends are doing. He may be trying to gain a feeling of control over his life or to fill an emotional void.
Whatever reason a child is stealing, parents need to approach problem with wisdom. If parents just react according to their natural inclination, their response will almost certainly be wrong and destructive.
Why a Child Steals
1-Child Can't Control Himself
Younger children have difficulty with self-control. A child may take something although he knows that stealing is wrong simply because he can't help himself. You have to give your child ability to get what he wants in an honest way. Also, you must try to minimize temptation.
2-Child's Basic Needs are Not Being Met
Children are completely dependent on their parents for all of their needs. A child who feels that his needs are not being met will eventually take matter into his own hands. The easiest way for a child to do this is to take what he needs.
What a person needs is subjective. Even though a parent may not feel that a child should have something, it might be a real need for child. For example, if child's school friends have pocket money, then your child could have a need for pocket money. He will feel a lack if he doesn't have it, even if you provide him with everything that he wants. This type of child may be tempted to steal money just so he has money like everybody else.
3-Child Needs More Attention
Probably most common reason that children steal is that they feel an emotional lack in their lives. A child who does not have his emotional needs met, feels empty inside. He may take things in an attempt to fill void. Often children who steal are lonely or having trouble in school or with friends. They lack tools or opportunity to express their feelings.
Many children do not get attention they need. Such a child may feel unloved or that parents are not interested in him. This may or may not be true. As I explain in How to Improve Your Child's Behavior, how your child perceives your attention is more important than amount of attention that you give. These children may translate their emotional needs into material desires. Stealing is their way for these children to express their discontent and to seek gratification.
4-Child Needs to Have Control Over His Life
Children are acutely aware of their vulnerability. They lack control over their lives. Some children have difficulty with this. If child has trouble feeling dependant, he may steal to gain a sense of control or to rebel.
Older children are pulled after what their friends do. If child is with a group of children that feel stealing is exciting, child may steal to be part of group. Sometimes, a child may steal to show bravery to friends. If your child has fallen into a group of bad friends there are some very concrete things you can do to address problem. See article What to Do When Your Teen Chooses Bad Friends.
What to Do When You Suspect Your Child is Stealing
Don't overreact. When a child steals it does not mean that he is a thief or is headed for a life of crime. It is really no different than any of mistake that your child makes.
2-Do not Take it Personally
Children steal to get attention. If your child is stealing from you and you take it as a personal attack you are reinforcing reason child stole.
3-Do Not Accuse or Confront Your Child
This point must be stressed. You must catch your child in act so that situation speaks for itself.