There are many reasons children pick up a habit of stealing. Discovering why a child is stealing can help a parent understand and help their child. They may not understand the difference between borrowing and stealing, they may be looking for a replacement for something that is lacking in their life (emotional), they may have observed another person stealing, or enjoy the thrill that comes with doing something that is forbidden. No matter the reason for the child’s sticky fingers, the behavior needs to be addressed, and the child needs to find more productive ways to fulfill the need that taking something that does not belong to them is currently providing.
1. Give your child a moral foundation and a good example
Teach children from a young age that honesty is a principle that is essential for happiness and expected in your family. When you see or hear something that is contrary to this belief, address it with your child and turn the bad behavior into a teaching moment. Read books with your child that show characters in difficult situations and discuss the options. Ask your child to place himself or herself in the character’s shoes and role play options to the dishonest behavior. Many current favorite television programs and movies have young characters engaging in anti-adult behavior, hiding their disobedience, dishonesty or other mistakes from adults, and the conflict is resolved without adult help. Discuss this with your children and encourage them to come to you with anything that is troubling them. Always be honest with your children. Never let them see you “fudging” by taking something that doesn’t belong to you. (Not me, you are thinking — have you ever snagged a bit of cash from your child’s piggy bank when running short without telling them?)
2. Keep communicating
By strengthening your relationship with your child you are showing him that you value him and are interested in him. If she feels your unconditional love, she will be able to work through the challenges of being tempted as she faces them. Remember, “love” is a verb, and an action verb, at that. Demonstrate your love and devotion to your child, daily.
3. Stay in touch and involved
If your child is prone to stealing stay on top of the situation. Keep an eye out for new items that appear in their possession. If you stay involved with your child and their activities a habit of stealing will not progress without you knowing about it.
Starting from the first preschool play dates, explain to your child that her friends may have wonderful and exciting toys that are different from her own. Teach your child that those items do not belong to her and that she must not bring them home. Remind your child of this frequently. Give an older child his own space and allow them to have their own possessions to take care of and protect the rights of these items. Your child will learn that the “Golden Rule” applies as far as personal property goes.
5. Give an allowance
For children that do not have access to spending money, the temptation may be motivated by them trying to obtain something they do not possess. Giving them a little bit of spending money will remove this possible reason for stealing from others.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.