Child Caught Stealing

Be on the lookout for problem behaviors, even when your child is young.
My seven-year-old son has been misbehaving and stealing. I think he may be trying to impress his friends -- he has just moved to a new school this year. He started bringing toy cars to school and his teacher told me he was "using them to get friends" and disrupting class. I found a lighter in his pocket the other day and he said he got it at a friend's house. I called the friend's mom and asked if they were missing the lighter and she said no. The next day I found another lighter on him. I am not sure where he is finding them. Today he tried to bring his dad's pocket knife to school.

I'm very concerned because we have talked to him about the dangers of these items and how this is not the way to impress his friends. How do I get him to stop this dangerous behavior?

A seven-year-old should be able to understand the danger of having lighters and knives, and he should definitely know that these are not items to take to school. It sounds like his desire to impress his new friends is more important to him than the trouble he is in for taking these things to school.

Sit down with your son when you are both calm and explain again why he is not allowed to have lighters and knives. Let him know that since he has shown you that he is continuing to take things to school, you will be checking his bookbag and pockets each day before he leaves. You may want to purchase a clear plastic bookbag so you know what he is taking with him. Make sure that the teacher knows about these efforts and ask her to keep an eye on your son in case he does take something that could hurt someone.

Also talk with the school counselor. She may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group. You may want to get some additional help for your son outside the school with regard to his stealing and misbehaving. The counselor or your pediatrician can refer you to a therapist in your community.

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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