Kelly Sikkema

Parents need to know that it is common and normal for children under four and five to take things that do not belong to them without understanding the concept of stealing. Children need to learn about personal property and not taking something without permission. Children under the age of five are generally self-centered, and their primary focus is often seeing and taking what they want. Parents must teach their children the manners of asking permission to take, borrow or use someone else's belongings. Parents who overlook these important lessons may receive embarrassing phone calls from their child's school, youth programs, or neighbors regarding their child's theft issues.

A child in care may have more reasons for stealing than an age-appropriate life lesson. Some children may have needed to steal for survival or be taught to steal before coming into care. There may be an emotional need for the item that they have taken. It could remind them of home or someone from before they came to live with you. The action of stealing may be a simple, age-appropriate lesson to explain and redirect, or it could be trauma-related.

Why Do Children Steal?

There are several reasons why children may take things that don't belong to them. Parents need to become more concerned when they see a repeated pattern of stealing and are beginning to identify their child with more than one of the reasons for stealing listed below.

Acquire Desired Objects Children may steal items because they can not afford them, for example, candy, toys, or clothing.

Lack of Attachment A child will steal as a form of self-love, especially those abused and neglected. Stealing is a way to maintain emotional distance in the belief that parents are uncaring. 

Excitement/Adventure/Challenge, Older children may want to see if they can get away with it. 

Developmental Lag Children, young children, may not understand that items must be paid for before getting to keep them. In addition, older children with a developmental delay may not understand right from wrong because the line has not been instilled in their previous homes. 

Peer Pressure Children may be “dared' by peers to steal, and the desire to be accepted is not about stealing but acceptance.  

Support Another Need: Children may steal to get money or items to sell to meet another need. If it's for drugs or alcohol, this is serious and may require professional assistance.  

Objects that Belong to a Significant Person Children may steal from people because of significant attachments. For example, the belongings may signify their affection for that person. A child may also bring something to pretend that the person gave it because the child is valued and essential. 

Feel Competent Children who steal well may want to continue that behavior because it is something they are proud of and makes them feel successful.

Learned Behavior Children may have been taught to steal by their parents or other adults. They may continue to steal because they think it pleases the adults or because it's all they know. 

Nobody Objected Children who steal often have parents who are “disengaged, and they don't respond to negative behaviors or encourage the child's good behaviors.

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