Home > Behavioural Problems > Children and Stealing

Children and Stealing

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 19 Nov 2013 | comments*Discuss
Stealing steal theft thief children

It is very common for children who have not yet reached school age to steal, mainly because children do not understand that concept of private property at such a young age. Instead, children under the age of five or six have a very self-centred view of the world and tend to act according to a line of thinking such as “what I want, I get”. This means that if they want another child’s toy, for example, they’ll just reach out and take it. Since children this young do not understand that what they are doing is wrong, it is up to parents and other adults to teach them about private property, ownership, borrowing and stealing. However, when children are older than age six they should know that stealing is wrong. When children of this age steal something, parents must strive to understand why the child steals and discipline the child accordingly in order to remind him or her that this behaviour is inappropriate.

Young Children and Stealing

Young children steal items simply because they want them and they do not know any better. This may be as simple as a child taking a stuffed animal from a friend’s house or pulling a new toy off of a store shelf simply because it catches his or her eye. When such events occur, parents must remember that young children do not know any better. They have no concept of private property or that items belong to certain individuals, so rather than punishing a child parents should strive to educate him or her. Reminding children that items belong to people by saying “Jimmy has such a nice teddy! Let’s ask Jimmy if we can play with his teddy” will help them begin to understand the concepts of ownership and borrowing. When children do take items that do not belong to them, parents should address this issue such as by saying “This is Jimmy’s teddy and he will be missing him. It was not right for you to take him without Jimmy’s permission.” Keeping these discussions short and simple will help ensure that children understand the main concepts.

Older Children and Stealing

Older children, those aged six and above, should understand that stealing is wrong but many do it anyway. There may be a variety of reasons that older children steal, including that they have succumbed to peer pressure, that they have no money to buy what they want, that they have seen adults or others steal, that they have never been disciplined for stealing and/or that they have an underlying mental or emotional problem that pushes this behaviour. When an older child does steal, parents should speak to the child to determine why (s)he did so. Addressing the cause of the behaviour will help it from happening again. However, parents should also discipline an older child each and every time (s)he steals in order to reinforce that such behaviour is inappropriate and will not be tolerated.

Discipline and Stealing

How a parent disciplines a child for stealing is a private matter, but any method employed should teach the child that stealing is wrong. For example, having the child return the stolen item and apologise for his or her theft will remind him or her that not only did (s)he take something, but that (s)he hurt someone else as well. Discuss these topics with your child, and also institute a chore or task that (s)he must complete to truly make amends for the theft. Unfortunately apologies can be insincere, so adding another dimension to the discipline is a good idea. If stealing persists or becomes consistent, consider getting a mental health expert involved to help determine how best to help your child stop this behaviour.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi, my 11 year old has just run up a massive credit card bill for me £218.00 and it all went on games for his tablet. When I found out he admitted it straight away, said he was sorry, he knew what he was doing but couldn't give me a reason for it. I took his computers from him and grounded him, I also warned him that the police may be involved. A week later I caught him trying to steal a golf ball from a shop. He doesn't like golf and has no need or want for a ball, so why would he do this? Again he says he doesn't know why he does it. I am going to ask the police to come to the house and talk to him about it but I can't figure out what is going on. He wants for nothing and has always been a happy, loving child. Any ideas what I should do and/or why he is doing this?
Frustrated Parent - 19-Nov-13 @ 9:07 AM
Hi i have a 14 year old son and he lyes and steels of me he take money and little things he as been doing it since he was 12 years old i am now getting to the end of my tether i have grounded him i have taken he game console of him stop he use computer's but he still take things from me and my wife and sister can anyone help because i dont know what to do.He dose chores around the house for his pocket money and again he still does it.I also remind him that if he carry's on i will call the police so if anyone is out there please help me
help99999 - 6-Jun-12 @ 9:52 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Always Rocked
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    This is such a relief that there are many others like me. My mom told me that I used to rock myself to sleep in my crib. From a young…
    19 February 2018
  • Sookie
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    I rocked back and forth alot during my chid hood until about age 19. I force myself to stop because I did not want people to think I…
    19 February 2018
  • Tonya
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    My son is now 8 years old and has rocked since he was a baby. He also humms or says words repeatedly. like a mantra. He does have…
    16 February 2018
  • Vick
    Re: Questionnaire: Does Your Child Have ADHD?
    My son is 7 he hits out at me is very nasty to his sister perfect at school doesn't listen to me at all climbs…
    15 February 2018
  • Rocker
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    I’m 60 yrs old - I’ve rocked my entire life. I’m intelligent, productive, successful and I love to rock – perhaps the reason I love…
    15 February 2018
  • Tb8791
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    My 4yo does this and says choice words over and over. At first it was just “mamma, daddy” but now it’s any 2 or 3 word phrase on her…
    11 February 2018
  • Tippy
    Re: Child Anxiety Disorders
    My son aged 4 attends nursery and hits other children almost daily, he can be quite aggressive towards his siblings and his Dad and l, he…
    7 February 2018
  • car
    Re: Children and Body Rocking
    Both my twin Daughters did this rocking all of there childhood up to adult hood. They both ended up with schizophrenia in there late…
    3 February 2018
  • Gammy
    Re: Children and Whining
    Hi Angie, My daughter and her two kids are living with us until my daughter finishes up her Masters degree. My granddaughter is 5 years…
    26 January 2018
  • Laura
    Re: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
    My 10-year -old son goes beserk if I ask him to do simple things , he hits and bites himself , goes in his upstairs…
    22 January 2018
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the KidsBehaviour website. Please read our Disclaimer.