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Child Behavior: Kids Who Steal - What Can You Do About It?

Jan 16, 2008
The reasons why some children steal are varied. Some of them crave the excitement. Others may want to look cool to their friends, or may actually want the item in question. Still others want some sort of revenge on their parents, or stealing may give them comfort. A staggering 25% of children steal or have stolen during their short lifetimes. Usually once is enough, but those who become repeat offenders keep it up because they get what they are looking for. Whether it's attention, money or just the excitement, stealing does the job of providing it.

The big question of course is, how to make them stop? They need to find other ways to get those needs met and you need to help.

Repeat offenders do so for one simple reason: because it works. Regardless of their motivation: attention, money, or excitement, the stealing fulfils their needs.

At the same time, model it yourself. What do you do when you find a wallet in the street? Or when you are given too much change in a shop? Your children will be watching you, and learning.

Keep an eye on your kids, watching for good behavior. Each time they perform an act of honesty, no matter how small, be sure to reward and praise them.

In the unfortunate event that you do catch them stealing something, don't overreact. Don't let them lie about it, but also don't reward their attention seeking with a display of temper.

Keep your eyes on your children. Catch them in the act of being good instead of focusing on when they are doing something wrong. Children respond to reward and praise for their little acts of honesty. This helps promote a culture of honesty in the home.

If you happen to catch your child stealing, stay calm. Losing your temper, yelling or screaming will not help, and may even be perceived as an attention reward for them. Secondly, do not allow them to lie to excuse their behavior.

If taken from a stranger, confiscate the goods (perhaps hand them in at the police station) and impose a fine.

In the event that he spent the money or sold the item to get money, require him to sell something of his own. You can even buy it from him but make sure that he knows the item is gone forever.

Arrange for some "community service" for the victim or, if unknown, for the family or neighbours.

Taking the stolen property back is his opportunity to do the right thing. If refuses, you then have no alternative but to impose an even higher penalty. The message must always be that doing the honest thing, even if it is after the event, is still the best policy.

Another option that has an effect is to arrange for some "community service" for the theft victim or, if you don't know their identity, for the family or neighbors.

Finally, once it is over, get over it. Get back into reward mode, look for the things your child is doing right, not wrong, and work hard at reinforcing honesty. It is the stealing that is the enemy, not your child.


Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website: www.good-child-guide.com. This article is copyright. You are encouraged, however, to freely copy it provided this signature block is included without modification (other than the addition of your own affiliate link)
About the Author
More expert advice on how to solve children's behavioral problems can be found on Dr. Noel Swanson's website, which is all about solving Child Behavior Problems. Make sure you get his FREE newsletter and 1 hour audio too.
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