Is your child stealing? First and foremost don’t panic. Stay calm. When I was a child I stole from the corner diary. The shopkeeper caught me and gave me a bollocking and told me to go home and tell my parents or they would ring the police. I figured telling my parents might be better than getting the police involved. My mother was highly mortified. What did that teach me? It didn’t teach me to stop stealing, or that it was wrong, it taught me that my mother was highly mortified by me. (My mother spent a lot of my childhood being highly mortified by me one way or another.) 

Tip one therefore is STAY CALM. 

Tip two, don’t let it get to the stage that your child becomes afraid to tell you because you have been too judgemental in the past, Mistakes are a common factor in our life’s journey. Be matter of fact and look at it like a problem that has to be resolved and that your child has faulty thinking, and is not a betrayal of your parenting. 

Tip Three – ensure your child is aware of the implications of what he has done – the anxiety he has caused; the loss of security; the distrust raised; and naturally the intrinsic value of the item. Then recompense, if not to the victim then to charity. Get them to write a letter of apology. 

Tip FourStrategise for future – for instance don’t let your child be alone in the situation where he/she has run afoul.  Or plan out/teach better self -control techniques so he knows how to act in future situations (e.g. label feelings, anger management skills, teach them to listen to directions by getting them to repeat them). 

Young kids don’t have a sense of right or wrong, and so sometimes the emphasis needs to be put on sharing. Their impulse control is not yet developed. They have a poor concept of ownership and won’t know they are stealing until such time they are told so. With older kids it can be a case of peer pressure or a need for attention that they are not getting.  

Generally there are common reasons why a child will be inclined to steal, and it is not that parents are wilfully neglectful, however, if you have a case of busy parents sometimes the needs of their child are missed or misread.  If a parent is not good with exerting discipline or teaching impulse control techniques when the child is young this can cause negative results. Similarly, a parent may unwittingly brush off comments made by a hurt child, instead of listening. Over time the child begins to learn that their emotional needs are not important, and the child becomes uncaring or indifferent. The child more inclined to steal will be one that: 

  • has poor self esteem 
  • is impulsive: with strong desire but weak control 
  • is generally insensitive to others 
  • is not connected 
  • is angry 
  • has a change in family situation, e.g. divorce 
  • is generally bored 
  • is alone a lot 

The more a child steals the more he will desensitise himself. If he does not learn remorse then he may turn into an adult without controls. So, while it may seem a small matter when petty stealing is undertaken learning the right way from the start paves the way for smoother sailing later. 

Some positive things a parent can do therefore is teach a child to 

Control Impulses 

Some simple ways to teach children impulse control is to teach your child to label their feelings. Kids tend to be more impulsive when not understanding what they are feeling. Ask them to repeat directions. How often do you give direction and they are not followed because they really weren’t listening? Problem solving is one of the most effective impulse control techniques. If they learn there is more than one way to solve a problem, they might not be so impulsive in their actions. Anger management is also important because they learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Be clear in your rules and ensure they understand the reasoning behind them, as well as be consistent . Encourage plenty of physical activity. And don’t forget to be a good role model! 

Delay Gratification  

When children are young it is sometimes hard to teach delayed gratification but here are a few easy ways…. Give thanks before eating. The food smells delicious that is sitting on the table, but before they dig in they need to stop and participate. Bake their biscuits. Get them to join in and help mix. They can’t eat it until cooked. This can become a weekly family tradition even. Once in a while run out of an item they might want. Teaching distractions is also a good way to delay gratification. Examples such as counting backwards, exercise, drawing pictures, cleaning room or changing the focus of attention are all ways of distracting attention. 

Respect the rights and property of others 

Funnily enough teaching children responsibility with simple chores like helping clean up at the same time teaches them to respect the rights and property of others. Also, egads, how our children behave is an indication of our own character, manners and attitude, therefore, we need to practice what we preach. Discussing and demonstrating is also important. Discuss it from his point of view – what would he feel like if it if something happened to his stuff. And teaching empathy is very important as it goes hand in hand with respect. 

 Apply Consequences 

How are our children going to develop a conscious if we don’t dish out consequences, and consequences that are relevant for that matter? Consequences are not physical punishment they are natural consequences that children will learn from. If a child steals then forfeit their pocket money to recompense either the wounded party or to charity, along with a letter of apology. 

 Teach problem solving alternatives 

Practice makes perfect – so it’s a good idea to practice what he would do in certain situations or act out how she would say or feel during specific moments. 

 Practice Attachment parenting 

The more connected you are with your child, the more empathy can be practiced by parent and by child, and therefore they have a better understanding of the effects of their actions on others. 

 If you have found this helpful please share with a friend, or visit my blogs for further helpful tips. 



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