A child who is 4 years old or younger probably doesn't understand all the rules about stealing, but a child who is 5 years or older does. Kids older than 5 years know when they've stolen something, and they know it's wrong. But, they may do it anyway. It's your job as a parent to stop this behavior and to teach your child to respect other people's rights.
Why Kids Steal
Kids steal for all sorts of reasons. Some steal because of peer pressure. They may want to look cool in front of their friends. Maybe your child has seen other family members steal, making it more likely for your child to steal, too. Your child may feel pressure to have nice things like those that some other kids at school have, so he steals. Other kids steal to get your attention. Sometimes a disruption like a divorce causes kids to act out by stealing.
Your Parenting Skills
Before you deal with your stealing child, look at your parenting skills. If you and your partner spoil your child by always giving her what she wants and when she wants, she may believe she deserves or is owed anything. You haven't taught her any impulse control or self-discipline by raising her this way, says TV personality and clinical psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw.
Stop the Behavior
Dr. Phil says that to stop your child from stealing you have to find his currency -- what he values most -- and take it away. Maybe you can start by taking everything out of his room, except for his bed and bedding. He has to earn back all of the other items that were in the room, one by one, by demonstrating good behavior. Next, punish him for the stealing, comparable to what he stole. For example, if he stole something worth $20, make him work around the house until he earns the $20 back. Then, Dr. Phil suggests he work to earn $20 more and donate that to a charity.
If you discover that your child stole a toy from a store, for example, tell your child that stealing is wrong. Then, make your child go with you to the store and have her return the item to the store manager. This might scare her enough to stop the behavior. If not, take your child to a counselor or a therapist.
If your teenager is shoplifting from stores or is stealing from neighbors' homes, seek professional help from a therapist. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention says that stealing is almost always a way to cope with unhappy personal life situations. People who shoplift need to learn better ways to cope with their problems. Some people can become addicted to shoplifting and stealing. Therapy can help your teen improve the quality of his life so that he doesn't feel the need to steal anymore.
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