Life Mothers & Babies

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Our eight-year-old daughter has stolen money from several members of our extended family

Published 22/10/2013 | 05:00

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We discovered our eight-year-old daughter has stolen money from several members of our extended family when they have visited us. She has stolen money and valuables from some school friends also.

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We punished her by making her return the money and apologising to each family member and her friends. She was extremely upset, embarrassed and seemed genuinely remorseful.

We spoke at length to her about how serious it is to steal. We are worried as to why she did the stealing in the first place?

Her older sister is careful with her money and loves to save her pocket money whereas this daughter loves to spend all her pocket money. We thought perhaps this was the reason for her stealing.

We are totally distraught and confused, as we haven't had any disruptions in our life or major events to explain why she is acting in this way.

CHILDREN often steal. Predominantly, with very young children, they take things because they don't even realise that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else.

As children get older (and at your daughter's age) they may know that it is wrong to steal but they may be overwhelmed by the desire to have whatever it is they take.

Their usual impulse control that inhibits them from doing things they know are wrong can get overridden.

With older children and teenagers, the same reasons for stealing can apply, but stealing may also arise from peer pressure (for example, maybe a close friend is into shoplifting). They may want to impress their friends by having all the latest designer gear that they couldn't otherwise buy.

Sometimes stealing is a means of getting their own back, for example, by taking something from someone that has been picking on them or bullying them.

Sometimes stealing can be a way to support a habit like drinking or drug taking.

Stealing, lastly, can occur when children are emotionally traumatised and distressed because of significantly upsetting events in their lives. Perhaps, then, the stealing represents a form of escape or a relief of the troubling feelings they have or a way to express anger and "get at" other people.

It sounds to me like your daughter stole because she had some poor impulse control at the time.

It seems like she saw something and then just took it because she wanted it. Importantly, she didn't really think about the consequences of her actions.

Perhaps (as can be the case at age eight) she doesn't really understand the value of money and simply wants to be able to have whatever takes her fancy in the moment. Unlike her sister, she hasn't learned to save for these moments of whimsy.

It doesn't sound like she is evil or destined for a life of petty crime and delinquency!

Your response to her, when you discovered the stealing, also sounds like it has been really helpful.

You seem to have given her a very clear message that taking things is wrong, which reiterates and strengthens what she, hopefully, already knew.

In this way you have explicitly stated your values and I would guess, also gave her, through the tone of your voice, if nothing else, a sense of your distress, disappointment and probably embarrassment that she acted in this way.

You also gave her the most natural consequences for her actions. Returning the money or other things she took and apologising is the most logical consequence that a child who steals needs to experience.

The one thing you didn't mention is whether you also helped her to think about, and understand, how the person she took from may feel about having their stuff taken. Encouraging children to empathise with how sad, angry, hurt or upset the person they stole from may feel should also strengthen their resolve not to steal again.

Your daughter's reaction of embarrassment, upset and remorse is ideal. This suggests, further, that she stole impulsively with no great thought about the moral "wrongness" of her actions.

Once she was encouraged to think about her behaviour she seems to have realised that it was not the right thing to do.

Now that you have responded to her stealing in a clear and firm way, ensuring she has made restitution for what she took, you need to forgive and forget.

You have corrected her behaviour appropriately, and now you and she needs to move on.

Your daughter has made a big mistake and through your reaction (and her response) it seems to me that she has learned about the mistake she made and is likely to be very clear about what is expected from her behaviour in the future.

Irish Independent

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