Taking Things Without Asking

CTO-L&L-Sticky-FingersHas your child ever had “sticky fingers”?  No… not the kind of sticky fingers they get after eating cotton candy at a ball game or while chomping down a bucket’s worth of buttered popcorn at the theater.  I am talking about the type of “sticky fingers” that take things that don’t belong to them… stealing.

When begging and nagging for a toy or attending an activity doesn’t work, kids may decide to take something that doesn’t belong to them from a family member at home or even worse, at a store.  But, no matter where the stealing occurs, you have a responsibility to help your kid(s) understand why it’s wrong, what the consequences are, and why the end result just isn’t worth it.  While discovering your child has “sticky fingers” may feel embarrassing and frustrating, it is important to realize that your child may be expressing some underlying emotions by acting out in this way.  Sometimes when kids steal, they are communicating a feeling of emptiness or neglect and they may believe they aren’t getting their fair share and sometimes resort to desperate measures to get what they want.

Although it is understandable to get mad when you realize your child has taken something that doesn’t belong to them, it also presents an opportunity to teach them about respecting other people’s property. A Love and Logic parent would ask them to put the item back where he or she found it and express his or her happiness that the child has returned it.  More than likely, you will have more of an impact when you try to address the child’s feelings rather than just lay out stern consequences.  Kids need their parents to help them understand their feelings, improve their self-concept, and most of all, demonstrate their love.  You can use phrases like, “Thanks so much for giving it back to me,” and “You’ve made me so happy that you’ve returned it where it belongs.” This reinforces the good feelings the child will have for putting the item back.

Keep in mind, age does impact the cause of a case of the sticky fingers.  Young kids between four and six years old may simply take something from their parents because it looks fun to play with or because there was easy access to it like a necklace left out of mom’s jewelry drawer or a dollar bill that dad left lying on the dresser.

Elementary-aged kids and teenagers may take stealing a step further by shoplifting from a store. When you first discover that your child has shoplifted, try to stay calm but don’t compromise.   Explain to your child that you will take them back to the store to return/pay for the item and allow them to admit to their mistake. Before you return to the store, call the store manager and arrange for a meeting and ask for help in explaining to your child why stealing is wrong and what consequences he or she might face. Although it might be painful, this is a chance for your child to learn from a mistake and for the learning to take place, the consequences must be carried out completely.  Returning or paying for the item may not be enough, so consider working out a further punishment with the store’s manager. It might include paying an extra fine or doing some sort of community service at the manager’s request.  If the stealing habit is serious, you should seek professional help for you and your child.

Kathy Jenkins is the President of Come To Order, a residential professional organizing company in Richmond, VA.  As a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Family Manager® Coach, Love & Logic® Parenting Facilitator/Coach and Student Organizer, Kathy especially enjoys working with kids and their families to help them learn good organizational skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.  To learn more about Love & Logic Parenting, follow Kathy on Twitter.


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