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."
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.
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.
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.
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,
the child that stealing is wrong
the youngster to pay for or return the stolen object
sure that the child does not benefit from the theft in any
lecturing, predicting future bad behavior, or saying that
they now consider the child to be a thief or a bad person
clear that this behavior is totally unacceptable within
the family tradition and the community
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."
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.
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.
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."
#12 Updated 4/99