Home > Kids > Behavior and Discipline > Behavioral Problems > Seven-Year-Old Is Stealing

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Seven-Year-Old Is Stealing

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I caught my 7-year-old taking things that don't belong to her. She has taken a necklace from her grandmother and dolls from her cousins. I punished her by grounding her for a week and demanding that she write, "I'm very sorry. I will never steal again" 100 times. She also had to apologize to the people affected. Did I handle this properly? What else can I do to prevent this from happening again?

A: Your daughter is at an age where she understands that stealing is wrong. There are several reasons why she might be stealing from family members and possibly from non-family members as well. I believe that she didn't take her grandmother's necklace and her cousins' dolls simply because she liked them and wanted them for herself. She is old enough to know that she was doing wrong by stealing these items and that she might get caught. You were right in having her return the stolen items to their owners and to demand that she personally apologize to these family members. These were logical and natural consequences of her stealing. Having her write the 100 sentences of apology is an inappropriate punishment; it serves only to punish, not to discipline and teach.

I would try to discover what is behind your daughter's stealing. My bet is that your child is suffering emotionally at some level, perhaps at an unconscious level that she can not articulate well. Please reaffirm her basic goodness and your unconditional love for her, while you ask her what might be bothering her -- does she need more of your time and attention? Is she jealous of a sibling? Is there something going on within your family that could be troubling her? Is there an ongoing family crisis -- divorce, chronic illness, unemployment? Children at this age often steal from family members as a way to express their confusion about current family dynamics. Her stealing is giving you clues that she needs your understanding and attention about something that is causing her hurt. I know that you will approach this in a non-judgmental manner and give her the compassionate help that she needs.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


10 Best Creative Apps for Kids
Looking for apps that foster creativity? Check out these top-rated art and music apps for kids.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

A New Intergalactic Reading Adventure!
Get your reluctant reader hooked on an irresistible new story, Galactic Hot Dogs! Join the Book 1 reading marathon, and get behind-the-scenes tidbits on the official Galactic Hot Dogs blog. Also, print this cool Galactic Hot Dogs reading log to keep your bookworm excited about reading!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks