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How To Stop Your Child From Stealing & When To Seek Professional Help

Kids go through a lot of strange and often confounding stages as they grow up. They do things that make us scratch our heads and wonder where in the world they got the idea that was OK to do! But it sort of just comes with the territory when you're a parent. You understand that, as young children, they may not necessarily understand why they're doing something, or why what they're doing is not acceptable. A common stage that a lot of small children go through is stealing. We know it can be troublesome and downright embarrassing when your child catches a case of the sticky fingers. But before you start researching military schools, read on to find out how to deal a child who steals.

Why Kids Steal

Kids steal for a variety of reasons, and those reasons are usually dependent on the age of the child. Toddlers and preschool age kids steal because they lack impulse control, and don't quite understand the concept of mine versus theirs. If they see something and they want it, they take it! It's rarely done maliciously, and many time, younger children don't even grasp that taking something that doesn't belong to them is wrong. They also can't understand the vague differences between stealing or borrowing, or taking something that you're allowed to take versus taking something you're not supposed to take.

In older children, stealing can be a way that they try to fit in with their friends, or a result of your child succumbing to peer pressure. Or, again, it can simply be a matter of taking something they wanted without considering the consequences. Kids between the ages of 7-9 certainly understand personal property and mine versus theirs, but they haven't quite grasped the value of things. So they may take a few dollars from your purse, but they don't necessarily understand the value of that money.

Worried girl with pony tails wearing checkered shirt standing at food shelves and holding plum while stealing it in food store
Credit: iStock

Discipline To Address Stealing

While the occasional bout of stealing in young children isn't necessarily cause for alarm, you should definitely address it anytime it happens. Even if they didn't understand what they did was wrong, they should still face some consequences for it! First and foremost, if your child is old enough (over 3), they should be made to return the item they stole and apologize to the rightful owner. Taking responsibility for their actions goes a long way. If you've caught your child stealing, use that as an opportunity to impart some really important lessons. Emphasis the importance of honesty, always telling the truth, and respecting other people and their possessions. Find some creative ways to address situations where this happens most; for example, if your child steals toys from their siblings, they should be made to loan all their toys to them for the day. For older children, being made to pay someone back from whom they've stolen something, or doing extra chores to earn enough money to pay them back, is a good place to start.

When To Seek Professional Help

If your child steals consistently, despite being disciplined, or steals without showing any remorse or guilt afterward, it may be time to seek professional help to deal with the issue. It's likely there's something else going on, and the stealing is a symptom of a larger problem.

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