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Dear David Coleman: My four-year-old son steals things from playschool - I'm mortified

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It's important you son doesn't feel punished or shamed for his behaviour

It's important you son doesn't feel punished or shamed for his behaviour

It's important you son doesn't feel punished or shamed for his behaviour

Q I am very worried about my four-year-old son. He attends play school and is due to start national school in September. He is bringing little things home with him from school which I have to make him take back. His friend was around to play with him last week and told me that the teacher searches his bag before he goes home. I'm mortified. Why does he keep taking things and how can I stop him?

David replies: It is quite common for a child his age to take things that don't belong to him. He hasn't yet developed an understanding of how taking things (stealing) can affect other people and be harmful. He is probably motivated by his impulses and his desire to have whatever objects he is taking and, developmentally, doesn't yet have any moral imperative to not take them. He also, at his age, won't have developed a conscience that might provoke some guilt or remorse for his actions (especially as he doesn't even yet recognise that he is doing a bad thing).

Comfortingly, though, it is also unlikely that his stealing represents some deviant personality that will be heading him towards delinquency either. He is just behaving in accordance with his desire and hasn't yet learned that he must curb his desire sometimes, when that desire is bad for himself or other people.