The reasons why some children steal are varied. Some of them crave the excitement. Others may want to look cool to their friends, or may actually want the item in question. Still others want some sort of revenge on their parents, or stealing may give them comfort. A staggering 25% of children steal or have stolen during their short lifetimes. Usually once is enough, but those who become repeat offenders keep it up because they get what they are looking for. Whether it’s attention, money or just the excitement, stealing does the job of providing it.
Sometimes, the excitement generated by stealing is motivation enough. As many as one in four kids have stolen something – although most will never do it again.
Along with this, your main emphasis needs to be on promoting honesty. Use everyday events, such as stories from television or school, as a starting point for talking about honesty, integrity, and family morals.
Of course it’s imperative that you set a good example. Turning in a lost wallet or giving back too much change when you receive it. Doing these things won’t be lost on your children.
Keep an eye on your kids, watching for good behavior. Each time they perform an act of honesty, no matter how small, be sure to reward and praise them.
At the same time, you need to model the behavior yourself. Are you conscientious about returning change when you are given too much in a store, what do you do when you find a wallet or money in the street? Your children learn by watching you.
Keep your eyes on your children. Catch them in the act of being good instead of focusing on when they are doing something wrong. Children respond to reward and praise for their little acts of honesty. This helps promote a culture of honesty in the home.
Give the stolen goods back to the owner, with the additional compensation and a heartfelt apology.
Children respond to being encouraged to do the right thing. This means making things right. This means a variety of steps, not just paying back what was stolen, but also paying compensation for the inconvenience and disrespect caused by the theft. Encourage the child to find solutions him or herself with your support. Here are some ideas:
If the goods have already be sold and spent, he may have to sell some of his possessions (perhaps to you) to pay for them and the fine. Make sure what he sells is gone for good.
If taken from a stranger, remove the items (perhaps hand them in at the police station) and impose a fine or loss of privileges.
Taking the stolen property back is his opportunity to do the right thing. If refuses, you then have no alternative but to impose an even higher penalty. The message must always be that doing the honest thing, even if it is after the event, is still the best policy.
Just as jail isn’t a deterrent to a real criminal, grounding your child most likely won’t cause him to change the behavior.
The final point is to let it go once the event is over. Go back to work at rewarding right behavior and quit concentrating on the wrong. What we all should strive for continually promoting honesty. Your child isn’t your enemy, the dishonest behavior is.
Sometimes the temptation is to impose a long grounding sentence. Remember, jail does not reform hardened criminals, so expecting a different result with your own child is not realistic.
Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children’s behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website: www.good-child-guide.com. This article is copyright. You are encouraged, however, to freely copy it provided this signature block is included without modification (other than the addition of your own affiliate link)