What to Do When Your Child is Stealing

Closeup of a frightened girl's blue eyes.

One of the more common problems that we as parents encounter, but that nobody likes to talk about, is what to do when your child steals. There are a number of different reasons a child steals and a number of different ways to handle the problem.

Young children do not steal. Children below the age of four or five do not have a concept of ownership. They do not understand that it is wrong to take things that belong to others.

By the time a child enters elementary school, he should know that stealing is wrong. Often children at this age take things because they lack self-control.

A preteen or teen may steal for the thrill of it or because that is what friends are doing. He may be trying to gain a feeling of control over his life or to fill an emotional void.

Whatever the reason a child is stealing, the parents need to approach the problem with wisdom. If the parents just react according to their natural inclination, their response will almost certainly be wrong and destructive.

Why a Child Steals

Child Can’t Control Himself: Younger children have difficulty with self-control. A child may take something although he knows that stealing is wrong simply because he can’t help himself. You have to give your child the ability to get what he wants in an honest way. Also, you must try to minimize the temptation.

Child’s Basic Needs are Not Being Met: Children are completely dependent on their parents for all of their needs. A child who feels that his needs are not being met will eventually take the matter into his own hands. The easiest way for a child to do this is to take what he needs.

What a person needs is subjective. Even though a parent may not feel that a child should have something, it might be a real need for the child. For example, if the child’s school friends have pocket money, then your child could have a need for pocket money. He will feel a lack if he doesn’t have it, even if you provide him with everything that he wants. This type of child may be tempted to steal money just so he has money like everybody else.

Child Needs More Attention: Probably the most common reason that children steal is that they feel an emotional lack in their lives. A child who does not have his emotional needs met, feels empty inside. He may take things in an attempt to fill the void. Often children who steal are lonely or having trouble in school or with friends. They lack the tools or the opportunity to express their feelings.

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Anthony Kane, MD has been helping parents of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder children online since 2003. Join over three thousand parents and get help for your Oppositional Defiant Disorder child, help with defiant out of control teens and ADHD treatment and ADHD information.

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