How to Deal with a Child Who Steals
If you found a pack of gum you didn’t purchase in your child’s coat pocket, you should know that you aren’t alone. Roughly one-fourth of all shoplifters are children, according to research from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. Parents rightfully panic over the idea that their child is a thief and worry about the long-term implications of frequent shoplifting.
Stealing is a common issue among children, especially those who lack impulse control. When their mind is focused on getting what they want, it can be difficult to deter them from simply taking it. Getting your child’s stealing under control should be a major priority for parents. Employ these simple solutions to help you teach your child not take things that don’t belong to them.
Understand why they stole the item.
You may think you have a great relationship with your child, but do you really know why they chose to steal? Before you jump to conclusions, you need to sit down and have a frank conversation with your child. Discuss why they stole the item and how they felt afterward. There’s a good chance that your child may already feel extremely guilty for their actions. Avoid lectures and character judgment during these open conversations.
Older children should be given the opportunity to discuss what should be done about the theft. They may decide to return the item on their own or to confess to a friend what they did. Honesty is always the best policy, and you should encourage your child to come to this conclusion on their own.
Have your child return the item.
This is one of the most effective ways to teach your child responsibility for their actions. If they stole a small toy or item from the grocery store, have them return it to customer service. Help them to work through an appropriate and short confession of what they did.
For young children, you may only have to do this once. Many customer service representatives are understanding and gracious during these interactions. Repeat offenders may need security or shoplift prevention services to have a stern talk with your child about the seriousness of their actions.
Work out a system for restitution.
Perhaps your child stole something that can’t be easily returned to the store. Maybe they stole money from a friend or a candy bar that they already ate. The better option in these situations is to teach them the real cost of the items they stole.
Develop a system that allows your child to earn money to pay for the item they stole or to pay for damages done. This shouldn’t be an overly punitive practice. Instead, think about what would be fair given the circumstances and your child’s age. You may choose simple chores around the house, some yard work, or community service at a local nursing home.
Stealing can quickly evolve into a serious problem if parents aren’t careful to address it quickly. While you don’t want to be overly harsh in your punishments, children need to understand the severity of shoplifting and stealing. Try implementing these strategies to keep a potentially minor issue from becoming a grave concern.