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Children & Stealing

Hi Mark

It's been a long time since we were last in touch.

I'm afraid the relationship between my son and us has completely broken down. We've left London and now live in Leeds, my son K__ didn't want to come with us, so he stayed with his grandmother who has served to cause further damage between us.

We've recently started living with one of my husband's two sons, J__.

I was really pleased to be living with him, but he has brought an entirely different problem to us: He steals. From his family. So far he has stolen from four of his cousins and from my mother. He was living with my sister-in-law for a while before my husband and I were able to move to Leeds at the beginning of June. Within three weeks of living with her he had stolen over £100 - he is only twelve years old. He lies and doesn't care about the pain and upset he causes, he will just deny that he has stolen anything for months on end. When he finally admitted to stealing from his aunt's house, he went around there with the intention of apologising for as little as he could get away with. In the end, because I told him I would only forgive him when he made a full apology for stealing from all of the people he had really stollen from, he finally admitted to it and told what he had done with the money, how he had spent it, etc.

He can no longer stay at his aunt's house.

So, he is staying with us at my mother's house until our home is renovated (hence him not living with us in the first place). The only thing is, he stole from my mother the very next day after making his "full apology" at his aunt's house. He has not apologised for stealing from my mother, nor has he admitted to it or given the money back.

Today, it has come to light that he has stolen from his six year old cousin (on my side of the family) whilst she was staying here at my mother's with her parents and other siblings.

I'm really annoyed with him and by him. He is SO polite all of the time and yet he could steal without the least bit of conscience at all. He told me once that when he steals it's nothing personal, he doesn't dislike the person he steals from. He said that he didn't see the point of apologising or giving the money back because it's like when you squeeze out too much toothpaste from the tube; you can't put it back in so what's the point of trying?

I really don't know what to do about him. I can already feel resentment building because I don't like the idea of bringing a thief into my mother's home so that he can take what he pleases. He has created financial impacts on us because my husband has taken time off work to deal with his misbehaviour (he only gets paid when he works) and we have to pay the money back he keeps stealing because he doesn't get much pocket money.

I want his stealing to stop. I know what I would do if he were my son, but he isn't so it's very difficult for me.

Do you have any advice?

With thanks in advance,

N.

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Regardless of why kids steal, the stealing itself must be handled by following the steps below. Knowing what lies behind the stealing helps you recognize patterns that may be occurring in other parts of your youngster's life. It also assists you in understanding needs that aren't being met in his life that you can teach him to meet in socially appropriate and effective ways. These are the primary reasons kids and adolescents steal:

• It is a way of seeking attention.
• It is done for revenge or to hurt somebody.
• It may support a drug habit.
• Older kids may like the risk.
• They may not have learned to respect the rights of others.
• They think taking something is the only way they can get what they want.
• They think they can get away with it.

WHAT TO DO—

When kids take items like money, toys, pens, pencils and erasers, they think that is the only way to easily get these items. Brainstorming ideas with your youngster about how to appropriately get what he wants lets him know you want him to meet his needs successfully. If he receives an allowance, offer suggestions about how he might earn extra money to buy the school supplies or toys he wants. Assist him in planning a savings budget for wanted items. Model for him how to ask for the extra money he desires. For example, you might say, "It is not okay for you to take money from my purse (your sister's room, etc.). If you want or need money, come to me and say, 'I need extra money for pencils', or 'I want money for candy.' Sometimes we might work out a loan. Sometimes I will say that I can't give you the money. When that happens, we'll see if we can create a plan together."

If stealing is done to seek attention, the youngster usually does it in such a way that he is easily caught. Handle the stealing straightforwardly but give no extra attention to it. Do not discuss it past the time of returning or replacing the taken item. Look for positive behaviors the youngster exhibits and begin acknowledging them regularly. When kids feel acknowledged for appropriate behavior, they seek less negative attention.

Sometimes kids steal to hurt their victim or to get revenge. This can be a way siblings inappropriately handle hurt feelings with each other. Their motive is, "I'm going to make you feel as bad as you make me feel." If your youngster wants to hurt you because she feels picked on or misunderstood, she may take money from your purse or wallet. She may take something from your dresser drawer. What better way to arouse your hurt and concern?

Your own injured feelings can be a sign that this was your youngster's motive for stealing. Address your own feelings with her; then explore her hurt. You might say something like, "I feel sad and scared when you take money from me. I know you were angry this morning when I yelled at you for missing the bus. I said some unkind things. Taking my money won't solve our problem. I'm sorry I was mean. I know you weren't feeling well and didn't want to go to school." Let her know that she can tell you she is angry. She doesn't need to take your money. If you are wrong about the motive, your youngster will let you know in such a way that you can continue exploring through positive communication. Only attempt this kind of communication when you have time to complete the process.

Kids may steal because they think they can get away with it. This is particularly true when parents are inconsistent in following through with consequences for not complying with household standards or when deviant behavior has been inconsistently addressed in the past. When we are inconsistent in our effective parenting, kids know that they have a strong chance of getting away with inappropriate behavior. In assisting our kids toward appropriate behavior, we must be willing to take the necessary time and energy for following through on set consequences for family standards.

The best way we can assist a youngster in learning to respect the rights of others is to model that respect ourselves. If we take sugar packets from restaurants, don't tell a cashier if we have received too much change or are dishonest in business transactions, we are letting our kids know this behavior is acceptable. If we take items from our kid's rooms or backpacks without asking, we are not respecting their rights. Be a good model. Teach the respect you want your youngster to give to you and others through your own respect for the rights and property of others.

When older kids and adolescents who do not have a criminal history engage in stealing, it may be to experience the high risk factor at play. Like younger kids, the motive is to see if they can get away without being caught. The stakes are high. Shoplifting or taking hubcaps or hood ornaments from cars are common choices. The sooner the adolescent needs to face the consequences of such behavior, the less likely he is to continue in it.

It is important to remember that straightforward and compassionate handling of the problem is called for. Verbally attacking the adolescent will not solve the problem, nor will consequences unrelated to the incident. If the police are involved, the consequences may not be in your hands. You may want to seek professional help if your older youngster or adolescent steals.

Kids and adolescents who are involved with drugs steal to support the drug habit. If you have any reason to believe that this is the motive for stealing, seek professional help immediately. As parents, we don't want to believe our kids use illegal drugs. Closing our eyes to the possibility is not the answer. Neither is demanding answers from our offspring or indiscriminately punishing them. Kids and adolescents who use drugs are hurting. They need guidance beyond what most parents are able to provide. Professional intervention offers the best opportunity for positive outcomes.

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