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Parenting Feature

Why Kids Steal and How To Help

When a child steals it can be concerning or even embarrassing, but if it happens it’s important to remember it’s not a reflection on your parenting skills.

Southern Highlands Clinical Social Worker and foster carer, Linda Burgess, says there’s a host of reasons why a child may steal and if they do, it’s a good idea to make them make amends for what they’ve done.

Why Steal?

Linda says the child in your care may steal to get attention and be noticed.

Or they may steal something that means a lot to you as a way to break the tie you have with it, or they may steal food because they fear not having enough.

“Children in care are known to steal and hide food even though they are safe and fed. It’s an unconscious fear of not having enough,” says Linda.

Younger children can steal as part of their natural ego centric phase – “You want it so you take it”.

Sometimes anxiety can cause lack of impulse control which results in stealing.

Teens may steal for different reasons - they have a sense of entitlement, or they may want to impress their friends. There may even be a need to buy something they don’t want you to know about like alcohol or condoms.

What To Do

Linda says restitution (or making them make amends) is a good way to start when dealing with stealing.

It might mean taking the item back, or if the item can’t be returned getting the child to do some chores.

Don’t humiliate the child, make them as secure as possible so they don’t think that by stealing they may lose their foster home.

“It’s more difficult with food,” says Linda. “When you’ve been starving before and you can’t feed yourself you fear hunger. You need to teach them what they can eat, how much they can eat and let them know they can eat as much as they want so they’re not hungry.”

You could even try to make the child feel more comfortable by providing a box of food to access so they feel some control over their food.

If the child steals things or money, talk to them about what it means and calmly explain the item has value, the person who owned it likely worked for it and they shouldn’t take it away.

But if you get the child to make amends with chores ensure the punishment isn’t excessive says Linda, especially for younger children.

“Don’t make them pay it off over the next six months, children have as short attention span. If they pay something off for too long they may steal again,” she said.

Most of all “don’t give up, if they stay with you, you will see the rewards. Show them they are still loved and don’t need to steal because they will always get love and approval from you,” Linda said.

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