My Child Is Stealing. What Can I Do?
If you have a child that is stealing, it can be one of the most frustrating and difficult delinquent habits to break. This video gives 6 tips for what parents can do and explains the several reasons why kids steal. This video also comes with a FREE PDF parenting resource.
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Help! My Child Is Stealing
Where did my $20 bill go? How did you get that new video game? Where did that necklace come from? If your child is stealing, it isn’t easy to get them to stop. There are a lot of layers to this problem, but I got some suggestions for you.
Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at [email protected] or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous.
Today, I will talk about what parents can do when they find out their child is stealing. And stick around until the end because I will also provide the reasons your child may be stealing in the first place. Let’s get started!
What Parents Should do:
NONE of the suggestions I am about to give are easy, but here are my 6 tips to live by.
#1: DO NOT ACCUSE YOUR CHILD OF STEALING UNLESS YOU CAN CATCH THEM RED-HANDED.
Let’s say you suspect your child is stealing. Anything less than catching them in the act will only push your child into defense and fighting mode. Even circumstantial evidence is not enough to accuse your child of stealing. Your child will lie to you. Blaming your child for stealing will make them feel like a scared wild animal backed into a corner. All of these scenarios rarely end well. Even if you have a witness that your child is stealing, you still can’t accuse your child. If your child denies the accusations, you are forced to choose between trusting your child or the third-party accuser. This dichotomy will surely put a bigger rift in your relationship. You have to catch your child in the act. Unfortunately, this leaves parents frustrated and feeling helpless. Yet, my advice does not change. You can’t accuse your child of stealing unless you catch them.
#2: IF YOU CAN GET A CONFESSION, YOU CAN’T PUNISH THEM WITH ANYTHING BUT NATURAL CONSEQUENCES.
Punishing a child too harshly for being honest will teach them that lying is better. This means no lectures either. Tell your child that stealing is wrong and work together with the child to correct the situation. The objective here is to support your child in righting their wrongs. Have your child return the stolen item. Have your child apologize verbally or with a written letter to the person they stole from. The goal here is to make sure that your child can not benefit from theft in any way. Also, praise their honesty! This is important. You are not giving your child mixed signals by honoring what they did right and punishing what they did wrong. Your goal as a parent is to create an environment where you hold your child accountable without holding their poor choice against them.
#3 ADDRESS THE BEHAVIOR, NOT THE PERSON.
Do not tell your child they are a bad kid. Stealing is wrong, but your child is not bad. They just made a poor choice. Do not call your child names like thief or liar. This is detrimental to your relationship, but I have also seen name-calling become a self-fulling prophecy for the child. Kids can be so emotionally hurt by their parent’s name-calling that they take it upon themselves to become what their parents think they are.
#4 MAKE THE NATURAL CONSEQUENCES HARSHER WITH EACH OFFENSE.
This could come down to showing your child the reality of stealing. When they get caught, they may have to take classes on not-stealing, pay off their debt, get probation, and even get arrested.
#5 GIVE YOUR CHILD A CLEAN-SLATE
Once your child has righted their wrong, it is important to move on and not assume it will happen again. You might be on high alert and on the lookout, but don’t assume your child will make the wrong choice again. Your child can feel your mistrust. They can feel your judgment. Again, this becomes another self-fulling prophecy that parents don’t want to encourage.
#6 YOU NEED TO GET TO THE ROOT OF WHY
You can’t support your child in making better choices in the future if you don’t understand WHY they stole in the first place. Children 9 years old or older should know that stealing is wrong. So, if that is the case, you need to figure out why your child is stealing to address the problem. You see, stealing is the product of deeper-seated feelings manifesting themselves in taking possessions that don’t belong to them. Stealing is a reaction. It is not the core problem. To help your child resolve the stealing and stop, you must help them determine the core issue.
Finding the core issue can take some detective work. If you can’t figure it out, you may need to call on a psychologist or counselor to help you. Here are some of the most common reasons why children steal and first steps parents can do to help.
Why Do Kids and Teens Steal?
- Poor impulse control. Your child can’t help himself. If this is your kid, you’ll need to work with them to strengthen their ability to wait and think before they act.
- They want to impress their friends. Your child might have a great need to fit in. They need a sense of belonging and acceptance. Along those same lines, they could be trying to buy friendships. If this is your child, you will need to work on raising their self-esteem and confidence.
- The child wants revenge. Sometimes kids use stealing to get back at someone when they feel wronged. This is a form of bullying, so it will be essential to teach your child other coping skills for handling resentment and anger.
- They can’t purchase the item legally. Some kids steal drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and vapes. They can’t buy those items because they are too young. If you find that your child is stealing substances like these, look into addiction and substance abuse counseling.
- Jealousy. They want what someone else has. Jealousy is common in adolescents, but if you suspect your child is stealing because they are jealous of others, you’ll need to teach your child how to appreciate what they have and respect others’ possessions.
- They don’t have the money. Sometimes kids can’t afford the item they want. They see the ticket price as being unattainable. This causes vast frustration and feelings of desperation. If this is your child, give them the ability to get what they want honestly. While they earn money, you will also have to reward patients and tenacity.
- The child’s basic needs are not being met. Sometimes kids steal food, clothing, and other items out of necessity. This is the child taking matters into their own hands because the adults in their life haven’t provided for them. In this case, you should report the circumstances to the authorities so the child can get help. However, if you are a parent whose child feels like you don’t give them their basic needs then this could become problematic. Sometimes “needs” can be subjective. Your teen certainly feels like they have a different point of view. In this case, you’ll need to discuss these differences and give your child a way to legally get what they want.
- Sometimes kids steal because they are afraid to ask for money. Maybe they want to purchase tampons, condoms, a bra, or a morning-after pill. Suppose the child is too embarrassed to ask for the money or too embarrassed to be seen at the cash register with the items they want. In this case, the child needs a trusted adult to ask for help who won’t judge them or make them feel stupid. This could be you, but obviously your child doesn’t feel like you are this person yet. This could mean working on your relationship with the child to encourage more trust.
- They steal because they are looking for an emotional high. Some kids are thrill-seekers and think stealing is fun. If this is your child, minimizing the temptation to steal is essential. Don’t leave money out on the counter and watch them closely in stores. Giving these children other outlets to seek adrenaline more constructively is crucial.
- The child is seeking attention. Some children who feel empty inside and don’t feel connected to others will use stealing to fill a void. The child wants more attention from their peers or their family. The emotional lack of connection gets filled by risky behaviors and experimenting with getting caught. If this is your child, it will be important to provide one-on-one, quality time with your child to strengthen your bond. Please remember that this isn’t about how YOU feel about the time you spend with your child. You may feel like you already give your child enough time and attention. How you feel isn’t the point. This is how connected the child feels with you. Those can be different things.
- Rebellion, because they don’t feel they have any control. If the child feels like their life is dictated for them and they don’t have any say in their own life, then stealing can manifest as a way of gaining back some control. If this is your child, then try giving your child more choices. Do you want to clean your room now or after dinner tonight? Do you want to finish homework at the dinner table or in your rooms without a phone?
- Not able to process feelings. Suppose your child is going through a big life transition like an unwanted move, a death in the family, or a parent’s divorce. In these cases, the child might resort to stealing as a way of acting out because of the inability to process their big emotions. Teaching your child coping skills will be necessary.
- Mental health problems. Underlying behavior disorders that aren’t treated can cause stealing. Also, kids that are trying to cope with depression may steal as a way of distracting themselves, getting an adrenaline rush, a way to seek attention, or a way to feel excited when they feel numb inside. These mental health issues should be taken seriously, and taking your child to a mental health professional is the best step.
With these examples, you can start digging into the root cause of your child’s delinquent behaviors. Start a conversation with your child when the mood is correct, and your child is open to talking.
Lastly, don’t feel like you must deal with this alone. Stealing is one of the more complicated behaviors to correct. Suppose your child is struggling with mental health, depression, or a combination of the reasons children steal mentioned today, then it is likely time to get outside help. Also seek outside help if your child isn’t showing any remorse for their actions or if you have a child that is a repeat stealing offender. You don’t need to correct their behaviors all on your own. A health care professional can assist you in figuring out why your child is stealing and help your child stop. You are an impactful parent by listening to this episode today. You’re trying to understand your child and get them help. Don’t take the burden all on your own shoulders.
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But until next time, you got this, parents. I am just here to help
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