When a Child Steals

February 12th, 2013 posted by Elizabeth Pantley

by Elizabeth Pantley


I’m in shock! My child was caught shoplifting! She’s a good kid, so I’m really puzzled. What should I do?


Many children will steal something at least once in their lives. If parents don’t panic and overreact, it can be a time for teaching a valuable lesson. There are different reasons that children steal, and it helps to know your child’s motivation so that you can address your child’s belief directly. The bottom line, however, is this: stealing is wrong and it’s against the law. This is the primary message you want to convey to your child. // Solution #1: If your child is six or younger, she may have taken something simply because she wanted it, without a genuine understanding of the ramifications of her actions. This is a great time to teach your child about the rules of property and purchase. In most cases, it’s beneficial to have your child return the stolen item, along with an apology, to the manager of the store. (Call the store first and ask what their policy is about children shoplifting. If you have a feeling that they would be overly harsh, you may choose to handle this situation yourself without involving the store.)

Solution #2:

If your child has stolen clothing, jewelry or the like, the motive may be a desire to fit in with peers. A child who observes classmates wearing the latest fashions, and whose own wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs or the functional basics may be trying to gain acceptance through her appearance. It’s difficult for adults, much less children, to understand and accept the fact that while some people in our world have excesses, others are barely getting by. A shoplifting situation opens the door for extensive conversation about this aspect of life. It’s important to talk about your child’s good qualities, about not judging a book by its cover, and what “success” in life really is. In addition, it’s realistic to acknowledge that it’s wonderful to have nice clothes to wear. Help your child find ways to make the best of her current wardrobe, find a second-hand store that sells quality merchandise, and help her develop a plan for earning money and saving it for those items that are most desired.

Solution #3:

If you’ve discovered the stolen item at home, don’t try to trap your child by asking sneaky questions such as, “Where did you get this?” If you do, you’ll only have to deal with lying, in addition to the stealing, as most kids panic when caught red-handed. Instead, make a non-threatening factual statement, “Heather, the new CD in your room came from the music store last night. You didn’t pay for it. We need to talk.” Ask your child why she took the item, and discuss the ramifications of such an act. Make a plan for its return or payment. If your child continues to shoplift, or if this is accompanied by other disturbing behaviors, or part of a pattern of antisocial behavior, seek the help of a professional.

Read more articles from parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley on FamilyCorner.com (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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