By Analissa Louden
First of all, your child is not destined to be a criminal, a lot of children and even teens steal for an array of different reasons. This doesn’t make it okay, but it’s not the worst thing in the world and something can be done about it when you just talk to your child in the right way.
Realize that you haven’t failed as a parent
Before talking to your child, you need to know that you are not the worst parent in the world, when you go into the conversation feeling defeated, it’s not going to be a helpful conversation. Instead, realize that plenty of children steal, and mostly not because they are bad people. Children might steal because they were peer-pressured, or they’re young and have poor impulse control.
With very young children
Children under the age of 6 are often not even aware of the fact that stealing is wrong, how often does it happen that children in strollers take something from the store without the parents noticing and accidentally steal. When you do catch them, calmly explain why stealing is wrong and explain to them that you disapprove of the behavior. Make them return what they stole and apologize to whoever they stole from. This will hopefully learn them that stealing is wrong and that they shouldn’t do it again. When they do steal regularly then something more could be going on, which is where you should start asking why they steal and possibly even seek professional help.
School-aged children should already understand that stealing is wrong, so you need to be a bit harder on them. You could make them pay back their debt to you by doing chores, and you should have a conversation on ethics. School-aged children need to understand why stealing is wrong and why it hurts other people. When stealing happens more often you definitely want to ask them why they are stealing, maybe they have problems in other areas of their life, they feel like they need the same toys as their friends or maybe they still have very poor impulse control.
When your teenager is stealing then there is probably something else going on. Perhaps they want to be cool and thus steal with their friends or they want to drink alcohol and can’t buy it legally. Teenagers could be in real trouble when they’re stealing so make this a big talk where you get to the root of the problem. You should also make them return what they stole and apologize. The embarrassment of this should be enough to make them stop, unless a real big problem is behind it, like drug abuse. Also it will teach them accountability. So don’t settle for a simple ‘I will never do it again’ and get behind the real reason they chose to steal something in the first place. It might not be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
Having an age-appropriate conversation is very important when you want your child to understand stealing is bad and when you want them to stop stealing. When your child is older then there also might be a bigger problem hidden behind the stealing, and you want to know what it is, so make sure to ask them about this and find out how you can help your children. Stealing might only be a small part of a bigger problem, but also know that this isn’t your fault as a parent, and that now is your chance to do something about it.