Teaching a Child Not To Steal

Our son is seven years old and we have been having trouble with him stealing for some time. It is really starting to scare me. He has stolen from stores (we made him return the merchandise and apologize and store management spoke with him about what happens when you steal and where it can lead.) He has stolen from others in school (we brought him to school and spoke with the principal and returned the items.) Now he has been caught stealing from us and his grandparents. My husband and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want him to end up in jail in the future. I have a younger brother that had this problem and our mother never did anything about it and now he has been to jail several times and I don’t want my son to end up in the same situation. My husband and I give our children everything they need and reward them for good grades, kindness to others and generally doing the right thing. We don’t buy them toys as a reward, we buy educational computer games, clothing,etcFirst of all, you need to know that it’s fairly normal for children of this age to steal. It does not mean that your son will end up in jail like your brother. I remember both my brother and my son stealing at this age; it did not continue into adulthood.

Your son does not understand private property. Perhaps because you have always given him everything he needs, he doesn’t understand that things belong to certain people, and that money has to be earned and spent from those earnings. Your job is to teach him about private property, so that he will understand that some things belong to him and some belong to other people.

The first step is to make sure that your son has some personal property which no one else is allowed to touch without his permission. He keeps it in his room, and he does not have to share it unless he chooses to. You ask his permission to use it.

If he takes something from you, explain to him that the thing he has taken is your personal property, and he has to ask if he wants something of yours, just as you have to ask if you want something of his.

Now, give your son an allowance from which he is permitted to buy anything he wants. Ask other parents how much is appropriate for a seven-year-old : somewhere between two and five dollars a week. It is important that you stress that this money is for buying whatever he wants, and this should include toys. Children need to make some of their own choices about what they own. Toys give an opportunity for imaginative play which “educational” products do not give.

Take your son shopping to spend his allowance to a toy store, a bead store, a store which sells shiny rocks places where he can find things he likes and will be able to afford to pay for them. Let him count out the money himself, and help him figure out what he can afford, and give the money to the sales clerk. Now he will come to understand that possessions cost money, and that money is limited. If something costs more than his allowance, help him figure out how to save up the money. If he takes something from the store, explain to him that the sales clerk may have to pay her own money to the owner to pay for it, and that isn’t fair.

Also, give your son an opportunity to earn money in addition to the allowance which he gets every week. Find small chores which he can do for a dollar or so. This will teach him the connection between money and work. Now he will know that possessions cost money, and that people have to work to earn money. Explain to him that you work to earn the money you give him for allowance, and that the sales clerk works to earn the money she is paid.

Don’t make a big deal about it if he steals; just use it as an opportunity to teach. And don’t just frighten him about the consequences of stealing; just teach him about private property, money, and work, and the problem will disappear.