When a Child is Caught Stealing

February 12th, 2013 posted by Elizabeth Pantley

crying toddler Situation: Money has been disappearing from my wallet, and my daughter is suddenly buying things that she couldn’t possibly afford on her own. I suspect that she’s been taking the money from me, and it makes me wonder if this is the only incident of her stealing.

Think about it: Your daughter isn’t yet a scoundrel on the low road to villainy. A lot of kids steal something at some point in their lives. Some kids steal simply because they want something and so they take it, without thought to the rightness or the consequences. Some steal to impress their friends. Some steal to “punish” their parents for not giving them what they want. Whatever your child’s reason, now’s the time to get control of the situation.

Solution #1: Don’t play Sherlock Holmes and try to “trap” your child into confessing. If you hint and question, “Bonnie, where did you get the money to buy that new shirt?” you’ll have to deal with the inevitable lie that she’ll respond with as she tries to protect herself. Instead, confront her with the evidence, “Bonnie, I see that you have an expensive new shirt on. Yesterday, after you left for the mall I discovered $20 missing from my wallet. Let’s talk.” Try to determine what led to this behavior. Have a serious discussion about stealing. Hold your child responsible for her behavior. Require that she return the purchase to the store, if possible, and if not, require that she re-pay the money. (Before requiring her to return the item to the store, call to inquire about their policy regarding thefts by children. If you feel their policy is too severe, handle the issue at home.)

Solution #2: Children younger than about age six steal because they see something they want and they take it. They don’t know the implications of their behavior. A first incident of stealing gives you a perfect opportunity to teach your young child some valuable social lessons.

Solution #3: First deal with the stealing episode according to the above solutions. Next, take a look at your child’s money needs. Determine if her allowance is meeting her basic needs, or if an adjustment needs to be made.

Solution #4: Ask yourself if you’ve been an overindulgent parent. Children who are used to getting everything they want start to believe that they are entitled to have what they want. Maybe it’s time to start saying NO more often.

If your child continues to steal, or if this is accompanied by other disturbing behaviors, or part of a pattern of antisocial behavior, seek the help of a professional. (Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999)

Elizabeth Pantley (57 Posts)

Elizabeth Pantley is also the president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues. Elizabeth’s newsletter, Parent Tips is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Twins, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. You can visit her website at http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth/

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