CHILDREN WHO STEAL
Articles for Parents
All Family Resources
Alphabetical List
  1. Children and Divorce
  2. Teenagers with Eating Disorders
  3. Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs
  4. The Depressed Child
  5. Child Abuse - The Hidden Bruises
  6. Children Who Can't Pay Attention
  7. Children Who Won't Go to School
  8. Children and Grief
  9. Child Sexual Abuse
  10. Teen Suicide
  11. The Child with Autism
  12. Children Who Steal
  13. Children and TV Violence
  14. Children and Family Moves
  15. The Adopted Child
  16. Children with Learning Disabilities
  17. Children of Alcoholics
  18. Bedwetting
  19. The Child with a Long-Term Illness
  20. Making Day Care a Good Experience
  21. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I: How Medications Are Used
  22. Normality
  23. Mental Retardation
  24. Know When to Seek Help for Your Child
  25. Who can be contacted to seek Help for Your Child
  26. Know Your Health Insurance Benefits
  27. Stepfamily Problems
  28. Responding to Child Sexual Abuse
  29. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part II: Types of Medications
  30. Children and AIDS
  31. When Children Have Children
  32. 11 Questions to Ask Before Psychiatric Hospital Treatment of Children and Adolescents
  33. Conduct Disorders
  34. Children's Sleep Problems
  35. Tic Disorders
  36. Helping Children After a Disaster
  37. Children and Firearms
  38. Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness) in Teens
  39. Children of Parents with Mental Illness
  40. The Influence of Music and Music Videos
  41. Substance Abuse Treatment for Children and Adolescents: Questions to Ask
  42. The Continuum of Care
  43. Discipline
  44. Children and Lying
  45. Lead Exposure
  46. Home Alone Children
  47. The Anxious Child
  48. Problems with Soiling and Bowel Control
  49. Schizophrenia in Children
  50. Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  51. Psychiatric Medications for Children and Adolescents Part III: Questions to Ask
  52. Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation
  53. What is Psychotherapy For Children and Adolescents?
  54. Children and Watching TV
  55. Understanding Violent Behavior in Children & Adolescents
  56. Parenting: Preparing for Adolescence
  57. Normal Adolescent Development - Middle School and Early High School Years
  58. Normal Adolescent Development - Late High School Years and Beyond
  59. Children Online
  60. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  61. Children and Sports
  62. Talking to Your Kids About Sex
  63. Gay And Lesbian Adolescents
  64. Foster Care
  65. Children's Threats: When are they serious? 
  66. Helping Teenagers with Stress
  67. Children and The News
  68. Tobacco and Kids
  69. Asperger's Disorder
  70. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  71. Multiracial Children
  72. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  73. Self-Injury in Adolescents
  74. Advocating for Your Child
  75. Pets and Children
  76. Helping Your Teen Become a Safe Driver
  77. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
  78. When a Pet Dies
  79. Obesity in Children and Teens
  80. Bullying #80
CHILDREN WHO STEAL

When a child or teenager steals, parents are naturally concerned. They worry about what caused their child to steal, and they wonder whether their son or daughter is a "juvenile delinquent."

It is normal for a very young child to take something which excites his or her interest. This should not be regarded as stealing until the youngster is old enough, usually three to five years old, to understand that taking something which belongs to another person is wrong. Parents should actively teach their children about property rights and the consideration of others. Parents are also role models. If you come home with stationary or pens from the office or brag about a mistake at the supermarket checkout counter, your lessons about honesty will be a lot harder for your child to understand.

Although they have learned that theft is wrong, older children or teenagers steal for various reasons. A youngster may steal to make things equal if a brother or sister seems to be favored with affection or gifts. Sometimes, a child may steal as a show of bravery to friends, or to give presents to family or friends or to be more accepted by peers. Children may also steal out of a fear of dependency; they donít want to depend on anyone, so they take what they need.

Parents should consider whether the child has stolen out of a need for more attention. In these cases, the child may be expressing anger or trying to "get even" with his or her parents; the stolen object may become a substitute for love or affection. The parents should make an effort to give more recognition to the child as an important family member.

If parents take the proper measures, in most cases the stealing stops as the child grows older. Child and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that when parents find out their child has stolen, they:

  • tell the child that stealing is wrong
  • help the youngster to pay for or return the stolen object
  • make sure that the child does not benefit from the theft in any way
  • avoid lecturing, predicting future bad behavior, or saying that they now consider the child to be a thief or a bad person
  • make clear that this behavior is totally unacceptable within the family tradition and the community

When the child has paid for or returned the stolen merchandise, the matter should not be brought up again by the parents, so that the child can begin again with a "clean slate."

If stealing is persistent or accompanied by other problem behaviors or symptoms, the stealing may be a sign of more serious problems in the child's emotional development or problems in the family. Children who repeatedly steal may also have difficulty trusting others and forming close relationships. Rather than feeling guilty, they may blame the behavior on others, arguing that, "Since they refuse to give me what I need, I will take it." These children would benefit from an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

In treating a child who steals persistently, a child and adolescent psychiatrist will evaluate the underlying reasons for the childís need to steal, and develop a plan of treatment. Important aspects of treatment are helping the child learn to establish trusting relationships and helping the family to support the child in changing to a more healthy path of development.

For additional information see Facts for Families #1 "Children and Divorce," #3 "Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs," #33 "Conduct Disorders," #43 "Discipline," and #44 "Children and Lying."

 

Article #12 Updated 4/99

All Family Resources wishes to thank the (AACAP) for giving us permission to use this article.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 6,900 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Facts for Families© is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale. To order full sets of FFF, contact Public Information, 1.800.333.7636.  Free distribution of individual Facts sheets is a public service of the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund. Please make a tax deductible contribution to the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund and support this important public outreach. (AACAP, Special Friends of Children Fund, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, D.C. 20090).
   
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