One bad behavior parents have a very hard time dealing with is stealing. That’s because in society, stealing is a crime and we don’t like to think of our children as little criminals. Well, I’m here to tell you that they are not criminals, but you are right to think that stealing is a very bad behavior that you will need to deal with. A stealing habit is a bad behavior that cannot be allowed to continue for obvious reasons not the least of which being the loss of trust of the people around your child.This could lead to very poor relationships in an unhappy life, not to mention jail time. And since ensuring your child has the happiest life possible is one goal for a successful parent, read on to learn how to deal with this bad behavior if it has happened or how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Why Do Kids Steal?

You can prevent your child from stealing by addressing the issue before it is a problem. Talking about why stealing is wrong and letting your child know that your family values honesty. Explain what ownership means using examples of things that your child owns. Helping the impulsive child learn to delay their gratification will help the child who just takes things without thinking or caring what others think. Also, how you react sets the tone for most bad behaviors. Never laugh it off, always convey the seriousness of the act of stealing to your child.

There are age-related reasons behind why kids steal items from other people. But one reason for stealing transcends age; kids steal simply because they want something that they are unable to get on their own many times because they do not have the money to pay for it. They take the item from a friend or relative and sometimes they take the item from store.

Parents do not normally catch their child’s stealing when it is happening as the parent isn’t usually there when the child is stealing. In most cases, you will find the stolen item in the child’s room or backpack. At this point, you wonder how it got there and worry that it may have been stolen.

Ages and Stages:

What to Do If Your Child Is Stealing

The question of what to do if your child is stealing is twofold, each are explained here:

Is this the first time your child is stolen?

If you have found an item that does not belong to your child in their possession, you will need to ask them how it came to be in their possession. Let them know that you understand that this item should not be in their possession. Tell your child you will be checking out their story so you would prefer they told you the truth.

If your child admits stealing the item, move on to the next step. If your child did not admit to taking the item, check out their story. Do not get caught up in a power struggle of whether or not an item has been stolen.

If your child did steal the item from a friend or peer, they will need to give it back. Writing an apology note or giving a sincere apology to their friend at the same time. While in a perfect world we are all able to say I’m sorry we’ve done a wrong, your child may not be able to do this face-to-face. So give them a little leeway by allowing them to write an apology note that meets your standards.

If your child stole the item from the store, things get a bit tricky. While the optimal thing would be to return the item to the store and allow your child to take the consequences for their actions, these days you never know what you’re going to be up against. You certainly do not want to be the reason your child has a juvenile criminal record. So a logical consequence would fit here. Take the item from your child and give them a consequence like taking away their ability to be in a store without you present. They will need to stick with you the entire time you were in a store. Explain to your child that they of loss that privilege and may have it back after certain amount of time in which you feel that they have not stolen again.

Explain to your child why stealing is wrong and how it hurts others. Have your child take a walk in their victim shoes and let you know how it feels to have something taken from you. Then, let your child know that you are on their side and you hope that they have learned from this experience and will no longer be stealing. Let them know that you will be willing to trust them again after some time has passed and they have shown you that they have learned their lesson.

Is your child making stealing a habit?

Generally when stealing is a habit it is being used as an acting out behavior and there is an underlying problem for the child. The child seeking attention or has a need to be in control because something in their life is not being fulfilled. This could point to problems in the family, like a divorce, problems with peers, like bullying, or other problems that leaves the child feeling out of control or alone.

The best way to handle this type of stealing is to deal with the underlying problem and use the steps under ‘Is this the first time your child is stolen?’ While, you may want to ‘give the child a break’ by not giving them a consequence for stealing because the child is handling some tough life issues, a break will not build their resilience nor will it teach them the lesson that stealing is wrong. Follow through is still vital. Help fix the tough issue your child is facing, be there for them, but do not neglect your responsibility to teach them right from wrong by ignoring the stealing.