Why Do Toddlers Steal and What Parents Can Do

toddler took balloons stealingWhen a toddler takes something that does not belong to them, they don’t see it as taking something ‘that does not belong to them‘. As far as they are concerned, everything belongs to them. Therefore, when your toddlers takes a piece of candy out of the bin at the grocery store and you find them chomping on it as you’re in line to pay for your groceries, try not to freak out. Take a deep breath and pay for the candy. Yes, your toddler has lessons to learn. Yes, you should let them know that you are upset that they took the candy. But no, they aren’t necessarily stealing.

Children under the age of four do not have a clear understanding of ownership. They aren’t sure what is mine and what is yours. Mostly, if they want something, then it is ‘mine’ and they take it.

So when the opportunity to teach ownership to your child presents itself before the age of four, parents should take advantage of it. Try not to use times when your child has an emotional attachment to an object. Use every day things and times instead. For instance, when you get dressed during the day, ask your child whose shirt they’re wearing. Then, ask your toddler whose shirt you are wearing. Then have some fun ask your child if daddy is wearing mommy’s shirt. Then say something like, “No, silly! Daddy is wearing daddy’s shirt. Daddy can’t have mommy’s shirt. It belongs to mommy!”

Use times like this as a teachable moment – and don’t forget to have fun with it. The more your child understands that things belong to people, that they own their things, and other people’s things do not belong to your toddler, the less likely your child will take things that do not belong to them. But know this is not a onetime lesson. It is ongoing as ownership is a big concept to grasp.

If your toddler does take something from another child, you will need to give it back and apologize for them. This will show them – through modeling – what is expected of them if they take something that does not belong to them. If your child is throwing a tantrum, place them in a timeout until they can calm down. Explain to your child that the object did not belong to them, so they may not take it, then move on. Your toddler will understand the concept of ownership at some point, but that time is not now. Therefore, logical consequences are not effective in this instance.

Alert! You will need to be on your toes and prevent times like in the example above in the first paragraph. If you don’t want your toddler to take candy out of a grocery bin you will need to prevent it by keeping that bin from being within your toddler’s reach. This will prevent a lot of frustration for you while you teaching your toddler about ownership.

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