Dealing With Stealing
If you are concerned because your child has been caught stealing, rest assured that stealing in elementary school children is fairly typical and can be due to a variety of reasons. Young children often understand that stealing is wrong but lack the self control to stop it. It may also be because they are angry about something or it may also be a stress reaction about things going on at home, school, or with friends. Stealing may also be an indicator that your child may simply need more attention and it usually passes fairly quickly when handled appropriately.
First and foremost, make sure that your child knows and understands that stealing is wrong and will not be tolerated in your family. It is also important to have your child explain how it would feel if other people took things from him/her. This will help your child develop empathy for the people from whom he/she has taken things.
Be sure that your child returns the stolen object and have him/her apologize to the person to whom it belongs. If the item is broken or cannot be returned, find ways to have him/her “pay you back” (extra chores, etc.). You can also implement other discipline methods as well (going to bed early, loss of privileges, etc.).
Because the stealing behavior may be attention seeking, it is important to not give it TOO MUCH attention (even negative attention is still attention). It is very helpful to simply be matter of fact when discussing the behavior and implementing the consequences. Deal with it and then move on. However, be sure that your child is getting that special one on one attention from you to perhaps fill that need that he/she may have. This is not to say that you are not already providing that attention but for whatever reason he/she may simply need more of it at this point. Remember, the stealing may be a stress reaction or a response to changes going on in your child’s life (for example, starting school, moving, new sibling or a separation or divorce) and being with you is of great comfort to your child.
Stealing becomes more serious when a child is not remorseful or when the stealing behavior is persistent and does not respond to intervention. It is also of concern if a child is also aggressive, clearly hostile or just seems out of control. These may be associated with underlying depression or anxiety. When this is the case, it is often helpful to seek counseling to help the child develop more appropriate coping skills.
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