Why Do Kids Steal And What To Do About It

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Raising a child is no joke. It’s a lot of responsibility and pressure because they always look up to you. You have to instill values in them and be their role model. But no matter how much you try to do your best, sometimes, your kids can mess up. It’s natural, and there’s no reason to feel bad and blame yourself. You catch kids making mistakes, and most of the time, you can tell them why they are wrong (in a patient way) and move on from it. However, some behavioral patterns in children should not be ignored. Stealing is one of them!

Kids tend to steal, mainly because they don’t know it’s wrong. It’s normal for kids who are around three to five years of age (1). Your child has probably brought home a fancy pen-pencil, hairband, belt, or other items that do not belong to them. It’s your duty to check them and tell them that it’s wrong. Tell them that taking something that doesn’t belong to them is bad and make them return it. They might be embarrassed or scared to return it but tell them that actions have consequences and there’s no way around it.

While these behaviors are quite common in children, especially when they are young, they should not be ignored. Children steal primarily because of poor impulse control — they want it, they take it. However, when kids grow up and continue to exhibit such behaviors, it could be a cause for concern. So, let’s look at why kids steal and what you can do about it:

Why Do Children Steal?

Why Do Kids Steal

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As much as it’s normal for young kids to steal, it has to be addressed if the behavior persists. Most kids steal because they lack self-control, which can be taught. It usually gets better as they grow older, although some kids might need some extra help to learn self-control. Another reason could be peer pressure. They think it’ll make them look “cool” in front of their friends, or they may have been dared to do it (2).

Kids who experience a lack of love, attention, care, or even things like food and clothing may resort to stealing to make up for feeling angry, jealous, scared, or sad. They do it because they feel like something is missing in their lives. Kids who come from dysfunctional families may steal to feel a sense of control. They do it to make up for feeling neglected and unloved. It may also stem from watching parents argue and fight regularly.

Sometimes, kids steal because they do not care about the rules. So, even if they know it’s wrong and have been reprimanded for stealing before, they could continue to steal because they think they can get away with it. They even feel that they deserve the stolen goods.

Though such impulsive stealing is seen mostly in younger kids, even adolescents can resort to occasional stealing. The reasons for stealing for older kids could be totally different than that of the younger ones. One reason could be to steal money to buy something which they know you wouldnt give them even if they asked you. It’s a real situation to deal with. Let’s move forward and see how this can be handled.

What Can You Do?


Image: iStock

It’s quite unpleasant and embarrassing when your kid steals something. It could cause severe concern, and rightly so! So what should you do to keep a check on your child’s stealing habits? Here are a few methods that might help:

Firstly, when you catch your child stealing, don’t lash out at them, especially if it’s their first time. Calmly teach them about property rights and consideration towards others. Tell them that it’s unacceptable to take things that belong to someone else. For example, if your child brings home a chain that doesn’t belong to them, ask them about it. They will probably lie about it, but with some persuasion, you will be able to get them to tell you the truth. Once they’ve admitted to stealing it from their friend, make them return it and apologize. If your kid shows no remorse for their actions, it might indicate a deeper problem, and it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional immediately (3). If your child has been caught stealing from stores and is a first-time offender, store owners might let it slide. However, some might not, and your kid might have to face the consequences.

In the situations where a slightly older kid steals money to buy things, handling the situation is a little tricky. After all, they are right in saying that you wouldn’t buy them the particular thing they wanted if they asked. For such cases, a good trick would be to give your adolescents something they desire once or twice a year. Make them the promise and keep the promise. This way they will have to reason to steal from you and buy that thing. All they will have to do is wait a few months, behave themselves and then get it from you without resorting to something that will hurt their parents.

slightly older kid steals money

Image: iStock

If your kid continues to exhibit such behavior, it could point to a deeper problem. Therefore, seek professional help. Kids who deliberately steal regularly could have a compulsive disorder called kleptomania. It’s an impulse control disorder that is characterized by problems with emotional and behavioral self-control. With this disorder, you have difficulty resisting temptation that could be harmful to you or others. It’s something that should not be taken lightly and needs medical intervention.

Now that you have an idea of why your kids steal, it could make it easier for you to deal with the problem. Stealing might seem like a simple act of disobedience, but it could indicate a severe behavioral issue that needs medical attention. Therefore, ensure your kid gets the help they need, if necessary. What are your thoughts on this? Comment below and let us know!


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