Why Do Kids Steal And What To Do About It

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Sometimes, children don’t know how to curb their urges and may steal things without realizing the consequences of their actions. However, if this occurs frequently, the child may get habituated to stealing. If you find yourself in this sensitive and alarming situation, you may be confused, like most parents, about what to do when your grown child steals from you. The desire to steal often arises from an impulse, causing the child to indulge in fulfilling their needs, even by immoral means. However, this tendency must be nipped in the bud tactfully and cautiously. Here we discuss why children steal and how to discipline a child that lies and steals.

Why Do Children Steal?

The urge to steal may not always arise due to a lack of money. The following are some reasons a child may get involved in stealing:

1. Not knowing about it

Young children may do it out of innocence. They may not know taking away a thing that belongs to someone else amounts to stealing.

2. Lack of control

Sometimes, a child may not have the self-control to resist the urge to acquire things they fancy. This could lead to shoplifting or swiping of items from a friend’s house.

3. Peer pressure

It could be of two types. The first type causes children to desperately want to own something that is considered cool or that every person in the group owns. The second type pressures children to be involved in activities such as stealing because their peers are.

4. Revenge

Children are not mature enough to understand the boundaries of taking revenge and may go overboard. For example, if a friend unintentionally breaks their toy, they may steal something valuable from the friend in retaliation.

5. Lack of money

The lack of sufficient resources to purchase an item may push a child to steal it. In such circumstances, help the child understand that not everyone can afford such things. Also, teach them that they need to work hard for what they want, and there are no shortcuts in life.

6. Stress

A stressful situation at home or school may force the child to behave differently. They may steal objects that do not particularly attract them simply for the adrenaline rush.

No matter the reason, stealing should be dealt with seriously, and the child must be made aware of the consequences.

How Should You Punish A Child For Stealing?

The following points do not merely discuss punishment strategies but also aim at improving the child’s perspective toward life. Here are some ways to respond when your child steals:

  • Disapproval

Make it clear that you are disappointed and upset with them. Tell them that such behavior is never acceptable, and they are required to follow a code of conduct as a part of society.

  • Household chores

As a part of disciplining the child, assign them certain mundane chores around the house for some days. Ensure the child does not skip a day to prevent taking the matter lightly.

  • Social service

Social service is often wrongly associated with punishment since people are pushed to do it only when they do something wrong. Therefore, take this opportunity to introduce your child to how meaningful social service can be. Helping the less fortunate may give them a different perspective on life.

  • Journaling

Ask your child to write down why they stole and why it was wrong to do so. This will encourage them to reflect on their actions.

  • Owning up

If your child has managed to steal something without getting caught, make it clear that they need to admit their mistake and return the object. Ensure that they apologize for their behavior and offer to make amends instead of justifying what they did.

How To Prevent Or Stop A Child From Stealing?

Stealing may not appear to be a serious crime at first because the child may begin with insignificant objects like bobby pins. But it needs to be addressed to prevent bigger problems in the future. Here are some strategies to help discipline your child and prevent or stop them from stealing:

  • Inculcate honesty

If your child has been brought up with values of integrity and honesty, they are less likely to indulge in stealing. Teach them that even if they did so by mistake, they must be honest and accept it.

  • Respect others’ properties

Teach your child how to respect the property of other people. Make it clear that an object owned by some others does not rightfully become theirs when they steal it.

  • Make them aware of the consequences

Your children need to know what happens if they steal. Tell them how a tiny theft can escalate into something they didn’t see coming, and the best way to deal with it is by admitting it and never doing it again.

  • Take action right away

Don’t delay reacting to your child’s misbehavior. Do not wait for them to repeat it a second or third time to address the issue. Instead, talk it out the first time they steal to prevent it from escalating.

Early intervention prevents stealing from becoming a part of your child’s personality. Therefore, talk to your child and understand why they are stealing. Also, make them aware of the serious consequences stealing can have on their life. However, if your child does not stop stealing, consider seeking professional counseling.

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Manjari Srivastava

Manjari Srivastava is a graduate of psychology. She also holds certificates in Basics In Clinical Psychology and Identifying Early Signs Of Psychosis In Adolescents And Young Adults.  Previously, she volunteered with an NGO specializing in positive psychology, where she took up individual counseling sessions for students. She also taught English to underprivileged children and helped them with their studies. At MomJunction,... more

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