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Kids stealing - Why they do it and how to deal with it

Why do kids steal?

When confronted with a child who is stealing it is important to be aware of the cause or trigger behind their behaviour. There are many reasons that may explain the stealing including some serious deep rooted issues that the child may have.

Kids may steal for a variety of reasons:

    • Very young children below the age of 4 will take things that they want without understanding that it is wrong to do so. In a young child’s mind they often think that they have the right to anything and everything, and won't fully grasp the concept of ownership until the age of about 4 or 5.
    • School age children know that stealing it wrong, but often lack the self control to stop themselves from doing it. Children of about 5 and 6 are in the process of developing a conscience, but can find it very difficult to control their impulses. They will often see something they want and simply HAVE to have it. Children learn to have better self control as they get older.

    • Pre teens and teens may steal simply because they believe they can get away with it or they do it for the thrill and excitement. They may also be influenced by peer pressure. If their friends are stealing, they may feel pressured to do the same in order to fit in. As children get older they may also use stealing as a form of rebellion.

    • Kids may steal because they cannot afford to pay for what they want or need - from food and clothing to the latest computer game.

    • Stealing may represent a cry for help. The child may be suffering from emotional or physical abuse and is looking to get attention from adults who may be able to support them.

    • Stress at home, in school or with friends may cause a child to act out and steal. A child may be angry or upset due to this and take part in destructive behaviour, including stealing and lying.

How to deal with a child that is stealing

If the child that is stealing is your own, it is easier to deal with the situation yourself. In these circumstances there are a number of ways to deal with the problem at hand.

    • It is important to remember that just because a child has stolen something it doesn’t mean they are a bad kid or you are a bad parent. As we have explained above, there are many reasons that may be the cause of your child’s undesirable behaviour. It is most important to identify the cause of the behaviour so as to help your child.

    • Don’t get bogged down with the fact that your child has stolen something - look at stealing as an opportunity to teach your child about right and wrong.

    • Your reaction should depend on whether this is the first time your child has stolen something or if there has been a number of incidences. A stricter approach should be taken where there has been a pattern of stealing in the past.

    • If your child is very young, make sure they understand that stealing is wrong. Have them return the item they have taken, whether it be to a shop or to another child. Have them apologise and take responsibility for their actions.

    • With young children, it is important that they have a better understanding of the consequences of stealing. Ask them how they would feel if someone took their favourite toy or teddy. This will help to encourage them to think before they act.

    • With an older child or teen, try to explain to them that stealing from a business or shop is the same as taking money from the owners. It also increases the prices that other customers have to pay as the shop or business has to make up for lost stock.

    • It is important for children to be aware that stealing is a crime with serious consequences, and will not be taken lightly. Children who are aware of the very real consequences of stealing will be much less likely to repeat their behaviour in the future.

    • Give your child some opportunities to be responsible with money. Provide them with a small amount of pocket money for them to manage themselves. Your child will be less likely to steal if they have their own money and will also benefit from the experience of starting to manage some of their own finances (even if it is only a few euro!).

    • If your child keeps stealing, professional help may be necessary. Repeat offenses often indicate a bigger problem that your child may have. While kleptomania is uncommon, it is always a possibility. While it may seem slightly intimidating, a doctor or therapist will be able to help you and your child get to the bottom of the problem at hand.

Childminders and teachers - dealing with stealing in the classroom and at home

It can be extremely difficult to deal with a child that is stealing when they are not your own. Once you are certain that a child in question has been stealing, it is best to discuss their behaviour with their parents. You cannot be expected to deal with the situation alone and parental involvement is essential. While there is little you can do beyond this, there are many ways to prevent children from stealing in the first place.

    • Make sure not to allow for temptation by keeping all valuables such as money and jewellery out of sight. A child will be less likely to purposely look for things to steal, and will be more controlled by impulses upon sight.

    • Hang coats and bags out of reach so as little hands cannot access pockets, which could provide them with an easy place to hide their new valuables.

    • Place a box by the door that allows children to return toys and other objects on their way out that they may have ‘forgotten’ to take from their pockets after play time.

    • Set a good example by always being honest - children will learn much more from what you do in their presence rather than what you say.

    • Teach children about respect and honesty. With young kids, you can set up roleplays on stealing, using teddies and toys as the offenders. Ask for suggestions from the children as to why they may have acted in this way and what consequences may come about as a result of their actions.

    • Most importantly, ensure that the children that you are responsible for know that they can trust you and talk to you about any problems they may have. Your support and attention will be a great factor in preventing any stealing or dishonest behaviour that they may otherwise engage in.