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The Informed Parent

When My Child Steals

by Sandra Smith, Ph.D.
Published on Apr. 15, 2002

As an informed parent it is assumed that you are trying your best to instill good moral behavior in your youngsters. One of the areas of great concern deals with taking the property of others. In other words, stealing.

First of all, it is normal and natural for a parent to feel shocked and hurt when they learn that their child has shoplifted, or taken something from a peer, either at school or at the other child’s home. Don’t overreact with your child in response to these initial feelings on your part. If necessary, take a “time out” while you contemplate what to do next. Talk with your spouse, a trusted relative, or a friend.

In fact, “lifting” among children in the six to ten year old age group is common enough that some second grade teachers routinely check the pockets of their students at the conclusion of each school day!

Motivationally, a six-year-old may take what he feels he deserves, or he may take what is not his for the excitement of trying, and not being caught! In either case, it is important to use this opportunity to make your child responsible for his actions--by returning the stolen items.

Do not spank, lecture or scold. Instead, emphasize that you are raising your child to exercise good self-control, to make good choices, and to use good judgment. Consistently assist your child in returning the stolen items.

This approach is difficult. Friends and family members may criticize you, insisting that your child should be punished. It will obviously be much harder to be patient, and to assure your child that you are maintaining your faith in him, and in his ability to evolve into a responsible child. Be certain to discuss why this behavior occurs each time it happens, and steadfastly be firm and loving while you insist that the stolen items be returned. With this type of behavior, the stealing should eventually lose its appeal.

If the stealing persists despite your consistent efforts to provide a firm but loving parental response, consult a professional. Such persistent behavior in the face of consistently positive parenting could be more than the “muscle flexing” which characterizes this age group--it could be a call for help.

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