Children steal for a variety reasons. Some steal for comfort, others to impress a group of friends, get back at their parents, or to get the things they want. Sometimes they steal just because it is exciting. Probably as many as one in four children have deliberately stolen something at some time. Most, of course, never do it again. But those who do, do so for one reason: it works. Whatever their core need: attention, money, or excitement, the stealing provides it for them.
The big question of course is, how to make them stop? They need to find other ways to get those needs met and you need to help.
They also must learn the value of honesty. If you are trying to help your child or someone else's, it's a good idea to talk about ordinary things like school or television. You can work in your points about the positive traits of honesty and integrity. Using this technique, you can also bring them subtly around to sharing your family's moral code.
At the same time, model it yourself. What do you do when you find a wallet in the street? Or when you are given too much change in a shop? Your children will be watching you, and learning.
Keep an eye on your kids, watching for good behavior. Each time they perform an act of honesty, no matter how small, be sure to reward and praise them.
If you do catch them stealing, stay calm. Losing your temper will not help, and may even act as a reward for them. Secondly, do not tempt them to lie their way out of it.
Keep your eyes on your children. Catch them in the act of being good instead of focusing on when they are doing something wrong. Children respond to reward and praise for their little acts of honesty. This helps promote a culture of honesty in the home.
Give the stolen goods back to the owner, with the additional compensation and a heartfelt apology.
If your child stole something from a stranger, take it away and consider contacting the police. Also fine your child yourself.
Bring the item back to the manager of the shop, school child, or teacher, along with some compensation and an apology.
If taken from a stranger, remove the items (perhaps hand them in at the police station) and impose a fine or loss of privileges.
If the item is no longer in the child's possession and the money has been spent, ask the child to sell some of their own favorite items (even to you) to pay for them and the fine. Make sure what is sold is gone for good.
Another option that has an effect is to arrange for some "community service" for the theft victim or, if you don't know their identity, for the family or neighbors.
As we said, taking the stolen property back is the first opportunity to do the right thing. If your child refuses, you then have no option but to impose an even stiffer penalty. The most important message to convey is that doing the honest thing, even after the event, is still the best policy.
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Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website: www.good-child-guide.com. This article is copyright. You are encouraged, however, to freely copy it provided this signature block is included without modification (other than the addition of your own affiliate link)
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