Children Who Steal - FamilyEducation

Expert Advice

Children Who Steal

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Our seven-year-old daughter has been stealing small items from school. She knows this behavior is not acceptable. I don't know why she's doing this or how to prevent it. Any ideas?
At seven years old, your daughter does know that stealing is wrong. Her stealing may not be confined to items from school. Among the many potential causes for her stealing are:
  • Materialism: She wants to have more things.

  • Trying to impress her peers: Does she share her stolen goods with her classmates?

  • She feels neglected and needs more attention: Has your attention been diverted recently because of a family crisis or problem?
  • She may be seeking revenge on her teacher or you for some perceived mistreatment of her.

In addition to knowing your disappointment, your daughter needs to suffer the logical consequences of stealing. She must return what she steals to her teacher or her classmates and apologize for stealing these items. If she won't apologize, then you need to accompany her and speak for her. Speak to her teacher beforehand about your plans to come to school with your daughter.

All misbehavior, including stealing, has motives. You need to discover what your daughter hopes to gain from her actions. A good place to get those answers, if she continues to steal, is to examine your responses to her stealing.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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