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Why Kids Steal -- and What to Do About It

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Point 1: Kids steal. Little kids steal a lot—from poor impulse control. It's a developmental stage; they want it, they take it. Older kids often steal, too. Your child is probably not evil or destined for life in prison.

Point 2: Of course it's not acceptable. It's embarrassing, shocking, and angering.

In this section, we'll talk about petty, occasional small-scale stealing.

Kids steal for any number of reasons:

  • Poor impulse control, as I mentioned above.
  • To be cool and impress her friends.
  • When somebody else has a one-of-a-kind something she wants or needs.
  • To get back at somebody (stealing a bully's lunch money).
  • When she wants or needs something, she doesn't have enough money, and you can't afford it either.
  • When she's afraid to ask you for the money for this particular object (condoms, a bra), or feels too embarrassed to purchase it.
  • When she may not be able to legally purchase something (beer, cigarettes).
  • Because it's fun; kids enjoy taking risks, and in a society that is careful to protect kids as much as possible, stealing provides a risky, thrill-provoking activity.
  • During times of stress. What else is going on in your child's life?
It's a Good Idea!

When your child is caught stealing, try to emotionally separate yourself from the action. The fact that your kid is stealing is not a reflection on your parenting skills. Take comfort in the fact that most kids who steal do it only occasionally, as a crime of opportunity. And most do it poorly (which is why they get caught).

It's a Good Idea!

If your child needs to pay off damages and she doesn't have any money, you can pay the damages and have her work off her debt. Be fair now! Consider keeping the consequence more in line with the misbehavior than the actual monetary amount of damages. The main idea is to teach her to never do it again. You might take some of it as a financial loss, with an eye for the future.

Here's what you can do if your child is caught stealing (or if you catch her yourself):

  • Use disapproval. Immediately make it clear that you don't tolerate this behavior. No, it's not okay.
  • Talk with your child. Try to determine why she's stealing, what the motivation is, if this is a regular thing, if she's done it before. Don't grill her. Don't berate, embarrass, scare, or ridicule your child, unless you want to end the conversation and gain no information at all.
  • Talk about values and ethics. Keep this part short, not a lecture, just a reminder.
  • Have the child make restitution, helping her if you need to. This means she needs to return the merchandise, or pay off damages.
  • Tell your child that you are watching her behavior, that she has lost some trust, and that she needs to re-earn it.
  • Assess the situation. Be honest with yourself. Is there a pattern here? If your kid is stealing frequently, or the stealing is combined with other misbehaviors, seek professional help.


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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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