Help! My Child is Stealing!

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I have just read a really great article by Alyson Schafer  who has written  many parenting books ( She’s the author of the best-selling “Breaking the Good Mom Myth” (Wiley, 2006) and the new “Honey I Wrecked The Kids” (Wiley, 2009). Her popular TV call-in show The Parenting Show is now in its fourth season) 

In this article she has written about why kids steal that I thought I’d pass on to you as it appears in the Yummy Mummy Club.

My 9 year old daughter steals large amounts on money. How can I break her of this? Vickie

“Dear Vickie,

Stealing really freaks us out. Sure, it’s not right, but thankfully, neither is jumping to the conclusion that our child is morally bankrupt and doomed to a life of thievery. The first thing to be aware of is that stealing, like all misbehaviours, can have a variety of purposes. Let’s see which one it might be for you and other readers:

Very young children may become fascinated with an object and simply take things without concern for ownership. They must be taught about property ownership and asking for permission. This is not really “stealing” per se.

Children may steal from their siblings for the sole purpose of making them angry and provoking a fight. They are looking for a reaction, not an object of desire. Explain that you trust them to “work it out” between them, and that you refuse to referee their fights. Once you stop getting involved and taking sides, they will figure out that a good reason to not steal is because you don’t like to get robbed. After a few rounds of tit for tat they will teach each other that stealing is no good for either and they will make a truce. Trust me on this one. Let them teach each other this lesson.

Stealing, such as shoplifting, may be done on a dare. These children are looking to impress their peers and prove their bravery. It’s about gaining social status not acquiring stolen property. Time to talk about their self-confidence and feelings of self worth. Check out some family counseling.

Stealing money from parents may be the only way the child’s knows how to acquire money so they don’t have to steal from stores. It’s the lesser of two evils in their mind. If this is the case, put them on an allowance, or help them get a part time job packing groceries or babysitting. Keep in mind children with drug habits to feed often steal from their parents or hock their parents possessions. Usually there are other worrisome signs too.

Some children (and adults) steal to prove that they are above the rules and they enjoy the feeling of superiority they gain from outsmarting authority. Again, seek out family therapy so a trained professional can help to re-shape the child’s mistaken beliefs.

Regardless of the purpose for their stealing, here are some actionable steps every parent should take regardless:

Tell your children that stealing is wrong and that acting with honesty and integrity is important. Explain that your family and their community find stealing an unacceptable behaviour. Tell them you believe there are other ways to solving the problems of life without having to steal.

Don’t steal yourself. After all, you are a powerful role model. Don’t confuse your child by sneaking pens home from the office supply cabinet or failing to point out an error at the cash register when you are undercharged or mistakenly given too much change. You get the point.

Yes, make amends, but then it’s bygones people! Don’t lecture and moralize them to death. This doesn’t make them a “bad person”. Don’t distrust them and treat them suspiciously the next time something goes missing. Clean the slate and move on. Forgive and forgo if you want to improve matters.

Good luck!”


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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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  Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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