You've noticed your older toddler or preschooler has developed a sudden and disturbing new quirk, stealing. It's nothing major, a lollipop from the grocery store or a picture frame from your friend’s home, so you should just let it go, right? Children steal for a variety of reasons, from poor impulse control to a simple need to possess an item. It doesn't mean she's destined for maximum security later in life, but if you didn't catch her in the act, it's possible to get your child to admit she stole without resorting to yelling or sentencing her to time in the time out chair.
1 Provide your child with the potential consequences for stealing if you notice this unwanted habit beginning to occur. Sit your child down, and without sermonizing, let him know that stealing and lying about stealing are both wrong, and punishable offenses.
2 Remain calm and avoid confronting your child if you didn't catch her in the act. The Family Resource website suggests that confronting your kid for swiping money off the dresser or stealing her sister's necklace will result in one of two outcomes -- either she will tell the truth and be punished for doing so, or begin formulating a massive lie. Either way, your child will see this confrontation without facts as labeling her “bad” and could force her into lying to save her own skin.
3 Continue to reinforce your family's stance on lying. Don't be too obvious by bringing up the subject out of the blue; instead, find clever ways to remind your child that stealing is a punishable offense. For example, the next time your child is enjoying a bowl of ice cream, remind him that kids who steal might get their dessert privileges revoked. On the other hands, kids who refrain from taking other people's possessions can potentially eat ice cream after every meal.
4 Inform your child that stealing is wrong in simple terms if you catch her in the act. For example, if you catch your kid stealing candy from the grocery store, stop her and say, “Stealing is wrong. How would you feel if the grocery store owner came and stole your favorite doll?” Replace the stolen item and drop the subject.
5 Punish your child once he finally admits to stealing. Once again, remain calm and avoid labeling him a “thief” or “liar.” Instead, take away his bike riding privileges for a week or don't allow him to sleep over at a friend's house as planned.
- Determine the root cause of your child's penchant for stealing. The child might be stealing as a way to gain control, as a result of lack of impulse control or simply because he really, really wanted the latest action figure. Sit down with your child and ask him why he felt the urge to steal, and once he offers an explanation, work together to end this habit. For instance, if your toddler stole simply to gain a coveted item, remind him that stealing is wrong and could result in an unwanted punishment.
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