Niece Has Been Stealing

A woman who has been raising her five-year-old niece seeks advice on what to do about her stealing.
We are raising a five-year-old great niece. She has recently begun to bring home all sorts of toys from school (kindergarten) that are not hers. She claims the kids trade the things they don't want, but I don't think that's what is happening. How can we get her to face the reality?

Her teacher tells me she fixates on objects at school and she wants to work on this also. Her mother (on and off of drugs) did shoplift at times, but the child hasn't lived with her for two years. I really worry about how to stop her.

I would suggest a family/school cooperative effort wherein a school counselor and you discuss how you will both work on your niece's seeming obsession to fixate and possess/take certain things. First find out the realities concerning your niece's "trading things" story, so you can have a baseline in that regard to work from. Although she has been living away from mom for two years, there could still be some internalizations of mom's habits and obsessions that are unconsciously/consciously driving her to these thoughts and behaviors.

I would suggest role playing situations at home and with a school counselor where she gets a chance to reveal her thoughts and feelings around your concerns. Use dolls, toys, and other playthings in these pleasant dramatizations. Ask her to be the teacher, a friend, you, herself at school. Ask a children's librarian to suggest age-appropriate books that would provide examples of these problem situations and how kids resolve them. All the while you are doing these things, pay close attention to offering her encouraging words about her efforts at school and at home. Encouraging words and demonstrations of affection will make her feel secure and appreciated. Let me know of her progress.

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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