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Why Kids Steal -- and What to Do About It

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Little Kids and Stealing

Tales from the Parent Zone

Tony's mom Roxanne discovered that Tony had stolen collectable comic books from a local store with the reputation for having a “no-tolerance” policy for theft, that is, they reported all shoplifters to the police. As Tony's parent and ally, her job was both to discipline (teach) Tony not to do it again, and to protect him. Before he walked in to return the books, she called the store to find out its policy about returning stolen goods. As a parent, she had to decide if an arrest, trial, and possible record was the best thing for Tony (in some cases, though not usually, it may be). Roxanne talked with the store manager and “made a deal” for Tony to make restitution that taught him the desired lesson but didn't have lifelong consequences.


Five-year-old Hannah came into the house, a pack of gum in one hand, an eyeglass repair kit in the other, and a hangdog expression on her face. Her crimes had just been discovered by her dad as he got her out of the car. It was late—there was no time to go back to the store that night to return the booty, so her parents let her know that stealing was unacceptable, illegal, and wrong, and removed the stolen goods.

“People who steal things can go to jail,” her mother told her. “Not if they're little kids, and not usually for small things, but you could be arrested.”

Hannah's eyes grew wide and scared. The next day, her mother took her back to the grocery store. On the way, they planned their approach.

“Will you say it, Mommy?” Hannah asked.

“Yes, but you'll hand back the stuff you stole,” her mother said. At the cash register, Hannah listened as her mother said, “Hannah took this yesterday without paying for it. She is sorry and won't do it again.”

Unfortunately, the clerk didn't understand the lesson. “That's okay, honey,” she said to Hannah, “We didn't even notice they were missing.”

“It's not okay,” her mother corrected, firmly. “It's illegal and it's wrong.”

Then the clerk understood. “Thanks for returning these things,” she said to Hannah. “Don't do it again.”

Despite the clerk's slow response, Hannah was deeply affected by the experience. Hannah had tried a behavioral experiment and the results had alarmed her. Because the feedback wasn't enjoyable, Hannah hasn't stolen anything in the three months since the incident.

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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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