Newsletter Signup

emailEnter your email address to receive our FREE weekly parenting newsletter
  View Email Archive

Latest blog Posts

Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting

by James Lehman, MSW
Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting

“My fourteen year old daughter was arrested for shoplifting make-up this week,” said Marie, a working mother of two girls. “Is this just normal teen behavior, or is it something more serious? She’s grounded for a month and I’ve taken away her iPod and computer privileges, but to tell the truth, I’m still in shock. I’m furious and I don’t even know how to talk to her about what she did.”

No matter what parents you have, no matter what mental health diagnosis, no matter what stage you’re in, it’s wrong to steal because it hurts others.

Many parents have asked me over the years, “Is shoplifting a candy bar or cosmetics or clothes the same as stealing?” The truth is, stealing is stealing. It’s criminal, antisocial and worst of all, it corrodes a child’s development, character and integrity through the use of justifications and excuses. However, shoplifting candy bars from a store and stealing with aggression are two very different acts.

Stealing is wrong, and the best way to understand it is to examine your child’s thinking. Kids who steal often feel entitled to what they’re stealing, even though they or their parents can’t afford it. There is a fierce sense of competitiveness amongst teens and pre-teens these days regarding having the cool stuff, wearing the hip clothes, and sporting hot make-up or accessories. Many kids will resort to stealing as a response to this phenomenon. Sometimes kids even steal for the sense of excitement it gives them, or do it under peer pressure. A big part of the problem is that our society’s message is completely absent of a strongly objective morality. In most movies and songs today, the bad guys do good things and the good guys do bad things, and everybody looks the same. So kids justify what they’re doing. It’s not surprising when kids develop these ambivalent feelings about integrity, character and the difference between right and wrong.

The “Five Finger Discount”—What’s Behind a Child’s Thinking When He Shoplifts?
A child’s thinking behind this type of behavior is that “No one will get hurt and the store has a lot of money.” They rationalize that they need to have this stuff in order to be accepted. They might say, “My parents won’t allow me to buy clothing or makeup like this, so I have to steal it.” But remember this: It’s our job as parents, teachers and therapists to strongly defend the concept that stealing is wrong. Tell your children this: “Stealing is wrong for two reasons: It’s illegal and puts you at risk of being arrested and prosecuted. It’s also hurtful because when you take something that doesn’t belong to you, somewhere, someone down the line is being hurt.” Make it real to your child by explaining that if they shoplift cosmetics or video games, the company adjusts its price upwards to insulate itself, and all the rest of us pay a little more for it because of it.

If your child is caught stealing, in all cases, there needs to be meaningful consequences for the behavior.  To you as a parent, the most important aspect of your child's decision to steal is the way of thinking that preceded the stealing. She should pay whatever the consequences are for stealing, and also write an essay on how she justified it. Ask her, “What were you thinking before you stole this?” Remember this: It is in the examination of the justifications and excuses where the true learning will take place.

Certainly consequences like making her take the stolen item back to the store, apologizing and making financial amends are all very good parts of the equation. That kind of accountability can be very productive in deterring future stealing, if accompanied by an examination of the faulty thinking which drove them to do it. You also might give them the consequence of, “You can’t go to the mall for two weeks. Two weeks of no stealing.” If parents ask me, “How do I know?” I say “Don’t worry about it. They need to get another chance. You’re not there to be a cop.” Always give them the chance to earn your trust back.

Stealing with Aggression: A Whole Different Mindset
“Aggression” means a “threat of harm or violence or the use of harm or violence.” Some kids have gotten to a level of stealing where they are willing to physically assault someone else to take what they want. When dealing with stealing with aggression, the focus has to be on very strong consequences to deter future behavior, as well as a very focused examination of the thoughts, not the feelings, the thoughts which underlie this type of behavior. When people steal with aggression, they're clearly saying, “I want that bad enough that I’ll hurt you if you don’t give it to me,” which is very different than a shoplifter who says, “This won’t hurt the company, they have a lot of money.” It’s a very different mindset and has to be addressed with vigor.

Let me be clear: Stealing with aggression is hardcore antisocial behavior. When you deal with individuals who exhibit criminal behavior, you’ll often find that one-on-one, they can be very charming, pleasant, and intelligent. Many criminals have advanced social manipulative skills. The difference between a criminal and a non-criminal is that the criminal is willing to use violence and aggression to get what he wants, while the non-criminal has very strong boundaries in those areas. So when children are willing to use violence and aggression to get their way, it can be a key indicator that they are quite far down the wrong path. Of course there are always isolated incidents where kids will threaten other kids to get their way. Adolescent bravado can sometimes lead to threats. The astute adult has to ferret out which is which. But make no mistake, if your child is using threats of violence and aggression to steal, he has to be dealt with very sternly. Again, it is very difficult to counteract the media forces in our society which constantly advocate aggression and violence as legitimate means to solve problems. Our media promotes the idea that if you want or need something bad enough and you have a good excuse-making system in place, you can justify anything. And you can use aggression and violence to achieve your end.

Related: Learn how to manage your child's aggression.

So here’s the message kids are getting: “If you can justify it, then it’s OK to do it.” And we all know that kids can justify anything. So society has to react very strongly to aggression and threats involving stealing or anything else. I mean, look around you. Look at all the violence and aggression, senseless killing. Now think about this: in the minds of the kids who are committing that violence they believe it’s the OK thing to do. If you look beneath the violence, to the thinking patterns, it’s very scary. That’s why you see situations like Columbine and Virginia Tech, where kids commit horrible violence on other kids and justify it because they perceive themselves as victims. Stealing is wrong and hurtful. But stealing with aggression and violence is much more problematic and needs to be dealt with aggressively.

If Your Child is Stealing within the Family, Everyone is Paying the Price
It’s common to hear that kids steal from their family members. Younger kids after all don’t have the level of moral development that leads to them understanding that this type of stealing is wrong and hurtful. This has to be taught with patience and firmness. Stealing within the family should have the same consequences as stealing from a store, whether it’s from a sibling or a parent. Labeling, yelling and name-calling does not change the behavior. Discussions about the rights of others and respect for other’s property, followed by a consequence the child must carry out, are the preferred ways of dealing with theft in the family.

For young children, a consequence might be that they go to their room with the door open for 15 minutes, at the end of which time you come in and talk with them about stealing. Focus on the child realizing he was wrong, instead of just saying he is sorry. As kids get older, other consequences come into play, like paying rent for the stolen property, paying back the stolen money, and loss of social privileges. Tell them you’re taking away their privileges because you’re not sure they can be trusted outside of the house. Don’t forget that if someone is unsafe or untrustworthy in the house, there should be real concern about what kind of trouble they might get into outside of the house where there is even less structure.

Volume and frequency of the stealing are also important to address. If a pre-adolescent or adolescent steals a large amount of money, which is measured compared to what the family has, the police should be called and you should be starting the legal process. This is designed to hold that child legally responsible, not only family-responsible. The assumption here is that you've tried all you can within the family and it’s not working, and that now the police have to get involved. Stealing is a crime. These acts should be looked at as criminal acts more than as mental health problems. While mental health issues may be involved, adults who have mental health problems are punished for stealing just like adults without mental health problems. Prisons and correctional institutions are full of people with mental health problems who also stole. They're not in jail for mental health problems, they’re in jail for stealing.

If there’s a high frequency of theft, or stealing for no apparent reason or the hoarding of food, that can indicate deeper psychological forces at play. These kids need to be assessed to see if there’s a therapeutic response to their behavior. But make no bones about it, they also need to be held accountable in the home as well as outside of the home for their antisocial behavior.

Although stealing may be a symptom of a larger problem, it is still stealing. The lesson about not stealing has to be reinforced and the child has to be held accountable. We can’t make excuses about antisocial and harmful behavior even when it occurs in the home. Remember, you’re trying to produce a person who can function safely and productively in adult society. Excusing stealing will not produce that person. Sometimes parents minimize this behavior and it comes back to hurt them later on.

When Your Trust is Betrayed: How to let Your Child Earn it Back
The sense of betrayal that parents feel after their child has stolen from them is very real and should be addressed openly. If it’s a younger child, certainly the emotion should be screened out of it, and your child should be taught about trust. The way you’d explain trust to a younger child is by saying, “Stealing is hurtful and if somebody trusts you, it’s important not to hurt them.” Explain that trust is really a word we use for depending upon other people to do certain things or to not do certain things. The stronger that our belief is that they won’t hurt us, the deeper the sense of violation is. As kids get older and become teens, I think that their loyalties and allegiances are torn between the values of their peer group and the values of their family. Very often there’s a contradiction between the two. This contradiction needs to be tolerated by parents to a certain degree because the teenager’s developmental role is to become an individual. And one of the ways that teens do that is by pushing their parents away and by rebelling against family norms and values. A certain amount of rebelliousness should be tolerated. Nonetheless, a teenager stealing from parents is not an act of rebelliousness. It’s a violation of trust and it’s the commission of a petty crime in an arena where the teen doesn’t feel there will be severe consequences.

Related: Give your child consequences that really work.

If there are several acts of stealing, they should be dealt with sternly in the family, using the behavioral concepts that I mentioned earlier. If there is major stealing of money and other valuables, the parents should consider involving the police and pressing charges. Although this seems harsh, the principles behind it are easy to understand. If a teen is stealing from you because he perceives you as being weak and if family consequences aren’t helping with that, the family needs to seek outside help in order to strengthen itself. Secondly, and this is very important, if kids get away with stealing valuables from home, they’re going to develop a value system which allows for stealing any time the person can justify it. When I have gone to youth detention centers to talk to the teens I was working with about the crimes that got them there, they invariably had a justification for it. That type of justification, or what we call an “alibi system,” is developed and reinforced at home. In short, teens develop a way of thinking to justify their teenage behavior. They develop an alibi for everything. Once that alibi system becomes criminalized, you’ll see an increase in the amount of antisocial behavior such as stealing, drug use, and sometimes aggression. Parents who insulate kids from the consequences of their behavior are only extending, supporting and reinforcing the bad judgments that lead to those behaviors.

The way trust is won back: for younger kids, they should be told what to do in order for the family to feel like they trust them again. “Don’t take your brother’s things so I can trust you to be upstairs alone. If you steal something from your older brother, you can’t go upstairs unsupervised.” Make the child uncomfortable. Consequences make them uncomfortable. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink—but you can make them thirsty. Consequences are designed to make the child thirsty.

In addition, positive statements about trust should be made frequently with younger kids. “When you handle it that way, I know I can trust you.” Model the values you want your younger kids to have and identify them. Make statements like, “It’s good when you tell me the truth. I know I can trust you downstairs with the TV. I know I can trust you to go into my bedroom.” The more we say statements like that, that you see what your child is doing, or you hear what they’re saying, the more real it makes them feel. With older kids who steal, it’s important to say, “You’ve lost my trust, and therefore you can’t go upstairs alone. I don’t think I’m going to be able to trust you around money again. So I’m going to close my bedroom door and you can’t go in anymore.” There are parents who put locks on their doors, and I think kids should pay for those locks. But always give them a means to earn that trust back, either in that conversation or a subsequent one.

Is Your Child Stealing Chronically?
If a kid steals chronically, earning a parent’s trust back is the least of his problems. Because he’s already developing an alibi system that says it’s OK to hurt the people you love. There are plenty of parents who don’t trust their kids around their money and valuables. In today’s society, parents are second class citizens and there’s almost a societal expectation that their kids will abuse them and that they should take it, and that’s just crazy. That expectation is expressed in justifications like, “All kids steal, all kids lie, kids sometimes lose their temper.” But certainly all kids don’t lie or steal to the same degree, nor do all kids verbally abuse their parents and break things in the home. And when they do, they need to be held strictly accountable.

Right and Wrong: There is a Difference
I truly empathize with what parents are up against these days. The concept of right and wrong has taken a real beating in our recent history. It’s been replaced by the concepts of “consumerism” and “possessiveness.” Therefore, when you tell kids it is wrong to steal, they have limited formal moral and ethical training to use as a reference point, and whatever moral and ethical training they have is easily drowned out by the media, which screams at them constantly. And there’s too much excuse-making for kids’ behavior. Adults say “It’s only a stage he’s going through.” Or he has ADD. Or his father is an alcoholic. And they keep making those excuses until the kid is in serious trouble. Things like developmental stages or mental health diagnoses or family influences have to be dealt with as separate issues from the stealing or aggression. Do these issues need to be addressed? Of course they do. Are they significant? Absolutely. Should they be allowed to justify stealing or aggression? Never. No matter what parents you have, no matter what mental health diagnosis, no matter what stage you’re in, it’s wrong to steal because it hurts others.

That has to be black and white to everybody.

Enter your email address to receive our FREE
weekly parenting newsletter.

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


My son has been stealing from me for over two years. First it was my digital camera, a walkman, items from the house, coins, then a VERY signifcant amount of money. We didn't press charges; but put him into PINS. After months of therapy, lots of consequences, and losing the right to live in our house, he is still stealing from us. I do not know what to do.

Comment By : Overwhelmed Mom

This article came at such a good time. I have three teenage daughters and they all steele from me, their dad and eachother. From me and eachother it's things like clothes and makeup, from their dad it's video games or DVD's. Recently I found some cash missing. It was maybe $8 at most, but I was really upset that during a time I was struggling to put food on the table, my own kids would take the little bit of grocery money I had left. For me, I always treat the stealing seriously, but much of the time I have no idea who takes what is missing so I can't do much except publicly tell all the kids that I am very dissapointed, that taking what is not there's only hurts the family because it means I can not trust them, and we have less money and resources as a result. I have barred the girls from my bedroom, I have done backpoack searches when they leave the house, I have grounded, taken away their make-up and clothes, made them pay me back, etc. Nothing I have done seems to work. They keep doing it. I always try to make them understand that stealing from me is the same as stealing from a store. I tell them that if they stole mascara from the drug store they would go to jail. It is no less of a crime to steal it from me. It's not about the material loss for me, it's that I can not trust my children. I don't know where me and their dad went wrong. We do not steal, we have always told them that stealing is wrong. I see many great suggestions from this article for what to do when you know who has stolen from you, but I don't know what to do when it is unclear who did the deed. I don't think punishing everyone is helpful. I want to trust my kids and often give them a clean slate, only for them to break that trust again and again. I'd like to see more on multiple child stealing and trust issues.

Comment By : Wendy

Thank you James Leman for your input. It's so easy for a parent to get lost in their childs shocking behavior and what to do about it! I finally had my son move out permanently at age 26 because he was bringing 'pot' onto my property & stealing small items from family members. He USED to steal more expensive things when he did harder drugs, but got the police involved, he stopped the drugs but recently went back on Pot:( I told him he's not allowed on or around my property or I'll turn in the 'Bong' I found of his to the police! So far it's worked:) Now we need to work on rebuilding our brokendown relationship.

Comment By : Thankful parent of an adult child

Thank you for this informative article. We had a situation in which our daughter and 3 of her friends were accused of trying to shoplift at a local mall. I called the store and spoke to the manager to get the "other" side of the story. I was at a loss of what to think. This was the first time she had been allowed to go to the mall with out an adult staying with her and the first time with these friends. The other parents were angry at the mall personnel and refused to believe their daughters would do such a thing. Our daughter has a history of taking things of ours without asking and saying later that we just forgot we gave them to her. I am shocked at how naive these other parents are. Mall cops don't just chase down 13 year old girls and question them about stealing if they aren't doing something to make them suspicious. I think these other parents need to get a clue and wake up to reality. We discussed this with our daughter and explained the proper etiquette when shopping. We made it clear that whether or not they actually stole something they were doing something to draw unwanted attention and that they need to follow dressing room procedures or ask a clerk to explaing them if they were unsure. I am so sorry for these other girls. Their parents actions, openly accusing the mall cop of harressing their daughter, cussing in front of all of the girls and stating that the cop was unjustified for doing his job is such a horrible lesson to teach these young girls. No wonder society is so mess up. Now our daughter thinks we are awful parents because we doubted her story. But I'd rather be that than to encourage bad choices.

Comment By : Carol

Hi Wendy. I very much understand your dilemma, and I must say there are no easy answers. What's happened is that your kids have developed a type of subculture within your family, in which stealing, lying and cheating are OK. Your values don't mean anything to them. So all the speeches about morality and right and wrong fall on deaf ears. That doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to teach them the proper values and behavior. It just means don't expect results right now. Many kids don't start applying what we've taught them until later in life, usually after they get into trouble. Your kids have developed their own values, obviously negative, self-centered and selfish, which they use to justify their behavior. This is not uncommon. You see it often in high schools where kids gravitate towards groups which don't expect anything positive from them. Druggies, drop-outs and thieves don't care what your grades are or if you respect your family: they have their own values or "code." Let me give you some feedback. First, don't waste time beating yourself up about where it came from or how it evolved. If you and your husband have been basically honest people, that's great. It sounds like you're putting up a good fight! There are so many things influencing our youth nowadays and distracting them from the real job of growing up responsibly. Second, if you can't influence their values directly you can still hold them accountable for their behavior. Remember, if kids don't follow our lead, it doesn't mean we surrender. They're still responsible. If you're not sure who did it, and they're all stealing from you, hold them all accountable. You and your husband need to come up with a general consequence, like taking away something from everyone, unless some one comes clean. Again, the goal is not to change behavior, which would be nice, but to maintain expectations for a certain level of behavior in your family, whether they follow it or not. Of course, if you determine one of the kids has stolen something, you should hold them individually responsible, and don't forget to do an Alternative Response with them. Over time, those tools produce change. But, again, it might not be in our time. I wish you all the luck in the world. james

Comment By : james lehman

This was a very helpful and timely article for me. My 14 year old son recently received a 5-day suspension from school after he and 2 of his friends came upon a vending machine at school that wasn't locked properly and decided to open the machine and help themselves. The security cameras caught everything. I was absolutely devastated that my son would do this, but after reading your article, I'm actually sort of patting myself on the back for doing things right (for once). We emphasized with him how this hurt the vending company representative in loss of pay, made him pay for the stolen product, made him write an apology letter to all involved, and he spent his 5-day suspension doing community service work at a local food bank. All in all, I think we were able to turn a negative act into a positive learning experience. We'll see!

Comment By : Mom of 3 sons

Kudos to Carol for helping her daughter to see how her/her friend's behavior drew the attention of mall police. I am so quick to jump on my kids for the behavior when they are caught doing wrong and then stacking the consequences because of my heightened sense of distrust, family reputation, etc. I want others to be held accountable, those who influenced, set her up, instigated, etc. But, the bottomline, which Carol clearly noted is that the lesson is not in whether it happened or not, but that what was being done was noticed and perceived as wrong. I appreciated this article, not just for the face value of dealing with stealing. You could substitute any other behavior for stealing and the point/lesson is the same. We can't justify wrong doing. Wrong is wrong. We have to help our kids truly believe that and the only way it will happen is holding them accountable. If we mess up, holding them accountable for something they didn't do, is still a lesson. You can be treated the same through association.

Comment By : Colleen

I think my one daughter steels money from all of us. She was caught shoplifting, but then was not prosecuted,it was with her with friends and family. It was so embarrasing. It has been hard to catch her again. I do know that if we can't find something it returns, mysteriously. I am going to have to keep better track of things. She has always been my snoopy one, knows where and what is around her constantly. This article is very helpful.

Comment By : CJ

My son stole money from me one morning. He and his 2 brothers weren't allowed to leave the house until I found it. As I searched his backpack, his brother, who was watching the whole thing, suggested I check his shoes. There it was - try pulling out the insole and see what you find.

Comment By : Your Mom

My 14 year old son has established a history of "taking stuff" over the past two years. First it was just food, which continues to be an issue. We have to check his room every couple of days for garbage. He will eat anything he wants, usually sugar based stuff, reguardless of what he's been told about it being off limits or how many healthy choices there are. He claims that it's my fault for not supplying the foods he wants. We have a footlocker we keep locked in our closet with certain foods to protect them from ending up in his room. He also takes cd.s and tools, personal items or office supplies: basically anything he wants or is interested in. Once he took a piggybank full of change from our closet. It only contained about $49.00, but we did call the police. They were't helpful at all. They told him not to do it again!! Then they told us "Good Luck". The courts are so full of real trouble that we don't have time to mess with this small stuff. Now my son thinks it's even less of a big deal. He has no respect for anyone else or their property, but thinks he actually owns the space he's alowed to use in our home. He refuses to share anything that's "his", but claims he dosen't have a choice except to take things because we have the nerve to tell him "NO" when he asks. We really are at a loss. We've made him pay for or replace the food he's consumed. He's had to make apologies and restitution for all items, but time and time again, we find our things in his room, or hidden elsewhere: usually consumed , used-up or destroyed. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Comment By : Adoptive Mom of four

* Dear Adoptive Mom of Four: I frequently hear from parents of adopted or foster children who find themselves dealing with instances of the child repeatedly stealing from the family. You have spent a great deal of time trying to change this behavior with no success, and it seems that despite your hard, consistent work you continue to be puzzled by your child’s attitude. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that if stealing is persistent, it may be a sign of problems in the child’s emotional development or relations in the family. Children who frequently steal may struggle with trusting others and forming close relationships. Just as you describe, these children often do not feel guilty but blame others, and feel that they need to take what they need since it was not given to them. Because your work with your child seems to be at a standstill, consider having him evaluated by a child or adolescent psychiatrist who can help you and the child understand the underlying reasons for his continuing need to steal. They will also help you create a treatment plan so that you can help your child develop healthy emotional responses.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Thanks Carole, I appreciate you comments concerning my fourteen year old adopted son and his pattern of stealing. Your suggestions were right on track, but unfortunately we've had our son evaluated and in therapy for four years. Stealing isn't his only negative issue, but was the only one relevant to this article. He currently is taking medications for a.d.d., bi-polar disorder, and is also considered by some to be o.d.d. None of these issues EVER manifests it's self anywhere but with our immediate family. He is the student" poster child" at school, and everywhere else, with everyone else.He came home to us at only nine weeks old, and appeared to be like every other child until the age of nine. We continue to see a decline in compliant behavior and an increase in antisocial behavior: but again, only within the family. It's a real blessing to have this support line in place. Knowing we're not alone makes a world of difference.

Comment By : Adoptive Mom of Four

I so relate to "Adoptive Mom of Four"! I have 3 adopted children from birth (was their birthing coach and have an open relationship with their birthmothers). My 12 year old was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and then whoever we saw professionally, was given the diagnosis that they specialized in from Depression, Anxiety, Attachment Disorder, even Aspergers and now the latest is that it is none of those but Bipolar. Nonetheless, nothing seems to help manage her hostile, disrepectful, often abusive behavior in the home. With teachers, peers, she holds it together and does fairly well. She lacks strong social peer relationships mostly due to her impulsivity, low esteem, lying--she's plain annoying with them. It does help to talk but sure wish we could find a solution. Her hostile,unpredictable behavior in the home is causing so much frustration, anguish with all of us and I especially feel sad for our younger children. We can become so isolated. It helps to know we are not alone, but there must be something that can tap into helping these kids. We have seen glimpses of the very beautiful, special person she is.

Comment By : Colleen

Our son was diagnosed with ADD at 5 and has exhibited aggressive,disrespectful behavior and stealing from family and freinds. Despite medication, therapy and behavior modification, the behavior continued and escalated in his teenage years. He was interested in the Army and came off medication one year ago so he could pass drug screening but did not reveal his history. He did not make it through basic training and was discharged. We told him he needed to think about what he planned to do to earn a living and offered to pay for technical training when he got home but made it clear that we would not allow him to abuse us financially,verbally or emotionally when he returned from the Army two months later. He made no plans to get a job or enroll in school so we told him he would have to leave our home. He is living with a girlfriend's family who has very few expectations of anyone including themselves. It has been the toughest thing I have ever done and one that causes me to lose sleep but I don't know what else to do.

Comment By : Empty Nest

Hello guys, I have an adopted brother and is also a cousin of mine. I really did not meet the mother of this child. We just recieved a call from government agency to give us the first option to adopt him as he had lost both of the parents. His problem started when he was 6 years old, he was caught taking some money from my Mom. Then later, as he have this rivalry with our youngest brother we decided to bring him to my married sister. Later, we found he is okay but fot more than 3 times now this kid was caught stealing. The thing I do not understand is that he shares the money to the other kids in the forms of giving them food. Other than knowing about this problem, you will really like him as he seems to be so tame when he is at home. He is an intelligent kid and very talented but just have this problem. I am now concerned with this behavior as my brother in law might be tired of him and I do not know where to put him. Do you think he has some psychological problems? Is there anything we can do? everytime we talked with him after such incident, he also cries and feel so sorry about it.. but just about the time he gained the trust, we suddenly learn that he have done something else. what can we do?

Comment By : kim

Hi, we have been dealing with this stealing issue between our two children for some time. Most recently our son took the blame and the kids told the story that he was mad at us so he took $17 from his dad and burned it in the backyard. He had to forfeit his birthday money. I wish I had better techniques with dealing finding out who does the stealing.

Comment By : skater

* Regarding stealing with adopted and/or neglected children: stealing very often becomes an issue, especially in grade school. There are many theories about this, all of which make sense, but I will not go into them here. I will say that this is very treatable in behavior therapy. Parents who react to it as if it’s a moral issue are misinterpreting the motivation of the behavior. You’ll often find kids with this kind of background stealing food to hide in their rooms, and stealing money for no reason. That’s why they buy things for their friends -- they have nothing better to do with it. They’re not stealing for the money, they’re stealing for the emotional relief that it gives them. It’s best to deal with this very consistently in that there should be consequences for their actions that should be followed through on, regardless of other circumstances. If the stealing persists, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be most helpful in this type of situation. But I would urge every parent of adopted or neglected or abused children to not get too discouraged when this behavior happens, and most importantly, don’t give up on them. If it persists, get help, but understand that this is a symptom of something greater. Still, that doesn't mean we don’t have firm consistent consequences.

Comment By : James Lehman, MSW

Great insights, but with my 15 year old step-daughter, consequences mean nothing. She just finds a way to circumvent those as well. When she is caught, she projects her nastiness upon the person who caught her. She has been under the care of a psychologist and a psychiatrist, been admitted on multiple occasions to an inpatient mental health facility, so not giving up is pretty hard given the circumstances. If I did not have great love for my husband, I would have been gone a long time ago. The latest is stealing my Starbuck's Gift Card from my's been cash, my cellphone, my Chanel makeup,my Godiva chocolate that was a gift to me, and other food, etc. What's sad is she had her own giftcard in her Christmas stocking - so why take mine....I am putting a lock on my bedroom door and am ready to totally disconnect, fiscally and emotionally.

Comment By : RX Girl

My 15 year old son has had this issue for the past two years with stealing cell phones from school. He has his own cell phone but continues to steal. His father and I have punished him spoke with him about the consequences of his actions, but he continues to steal. The cell phones would pop up maybe once a month a couple of years ago, now its almost every week or every other week. He has stolen so many phones I can't count on my fingers or toes. The High School he attend suspended him for six weeks which was for the remainder of the school year. He does not steal money, clothes, or any other items, only cell phones. Its like he's obsessed with them. Again he has (I mean had) his own cell. I'm not for sure what's the issue. My last result is to seek counseling because all else has failed. Can you please give some insight of what may be the best route for me and his father to take with him? Thanks

Comment By : Concerned Parent

worried mom>>my child is 8 yrs old he steal money from his classmet last year i thought he will never do this a gain but recently our neighbor said that he caught my son hiding toys and try to steal it from his i dont know what to do and im sleepless verry worried please help me..

Comment By : worriedmom

This article has been very helpful, as well as the reader comments. My niece has been exhibiting this same cluster of behaviors, I've never seen others saying they had the same problems. Her mother refuses to believe that she does any wrong, and gets angry at anyone who points out that her daughter is doing wrong....including a teacher who caught her cheating ('What kind of a teacher is he? How dare he accuse her!') I noticed problems nearly 10 years ago, there were countless food wrappers under my niece's bed. I am no authority on child development, but it didn't seem normal. Years on, she takes food from the kitchen, garage freezer, the guest room when people are staying over. She has recently started opening the fridge and freezer at others' homes and taking what she wants. Asks for a popsicle or some other treat, tries to get upstairs with her pockets crammed full of them. She also carries huge handbags lately which I suspect contain food. She also buys boxes of treats 'to share on the school bus' but to my knowledge there is no eating on public school buses. She has eaten huge amounts of chocolate, hard to believe amounts from a store my mother had hidden for holiday baking. The latest wrinkle is taking money from my mother's wallet, $10 and $20 at a time, frequently. My mother is 77, so when she said anything the first few times my sister said that our mother 'is old and having memory problems'. If my niece is asked if she took something, a very loud 'NOOOOOOO!' is the answer and my sister buys it. My mother has resigned herself to her money, earrings etc going missing as my sister will not even consider that her daughter might take things. Can this be part of a learning disability? My niece (17) cannot do math at all, her friends have recently been tutoring her in 4th and 5th grade math as she is failing algebra in part because she cannot understand fractions....she also cannot spell. As late as 10 years old we could not use two dice to play a game, she could not add the numbers together. Her mother allowed her to use just one die, rather than looking into the problem. She also had great trouble understanding analogue clocks, my sister replaced all the clocks in the house with digital ones as my niece could not learn to tell time. Another behavior that I think is odd is constant, constant chatter all day long. She truly never stops talking, and has no compunction at all about walking into a room where people are talking and barging into the conversation. Since she was small she has also been rather destructive, never an unbroken crayon or toy in the house. Now she's on her 4th or 5th cell phone as she snaps them in half constantly clicking them open and shut. My heart aches for her. I am sorry this is so long, I have never seen anyone talk before about similar behaviors, I am relieved in a way to see these issues addressed. If she has a definable problem, perhaps I can talk to my sister again, to get the child help. I fear she will be miserable if she is not helped in some way. As I've said, I've been seeing all this for almost 10 years and I'm terribly upset by all of it. The fact that my mother has to live like a warden in her own house and lock up all her belongings and the freezer also is very upsetting.

Comment By : Ann

My daughter is 7 now. When she was 6.5 yrs old we found out that she stole her older cousins phone. Perhaps because we told her she would get a phone after age 10-12 or so. She came clear, cried and ll then we returned the phone. Since then we have found a bracelet, decorative bear that she stole from a store and just yesterday we found a electornic toy PDA she stole from a sleepover she had with a group of 4 girlfriends. We also found a mini diary she stole from her schoool teacher. We are very confused about ther behaviour. She is an excellent student, piano player, great artist, has tons of friends, the leader of her group. We have noted that all these incidents pre-date the time when we caught her stealing but she did not inform us of the other items when we confronted her. She is only 7 and we are very concerned about this pattern. Se promised us all those thefts took place before we confronted her. We feel she is telling the truth. We are dissapointed she did not come clean at that time. We feel this is something we cannot take lightly. She is quite ambarrassed. She even said she felt like pulling her own hair and biting herself to hurt herself. We were quite sad to see this. We are considering seeing a child therapist. Any out there who can give us some advice.

Comment By : Concerned_Parents

What I meant by 'could this be part of a learning disability' was, could the stress of not keeping up in school be causing problem behavior at school, not that a learning disability causes stealing...sorry, that was clumsy.

Comment By : Ann

* Dear Ann: It’s a good question that you ask: “Can stress of keeping up in school be causing problem behavior at school?” James Lehman encourages us not to think in terms of explanations but in terms of problem solving. Too often explanations for behaviors become excuses for those behaviors. If the problem is keeping up in school, the solution should be to find ways to help her catch up. One of the best ways is to establish good structure to develop better study habits. Here’s a great article from James Lehman that you might share with your sister: End the Nightly Homework Struggle 5 Homework Strategies that Work for Kids The only way to know if your niece has a ‘definable problem’ such as a learning disability that is causing the math problems and other behaviors you’re concerned about, is to have her tested. You might suggest to your sister that there are usually services in school systems that will arrange these types of tests for students who are doing poorly. Keep in touch with us and let us know how it’s going.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Concerned Parents: It’s always upsetting to discover our kids have stolen something. I would not focus on the fact that she did not come clean with everything she has stolen when you first confronted her. All children need to learn that they cannot steal to solve the problem of wanting something they don’t have. Borrowing, taking turns, and sharing are the skills to use instead of stealing. If you can problem solve with her by finding out why she wanted the items, then you can discuss other ways of dealing with wanting something. As James Lehman says, it is important to examine your child’s faulty thinking about stealing. Since she can’t keep the things that were stolen, she will need your help in learning how to return those items. If she continues to talk about hurting herself and that she’s a bad person, it would be a good idea to get the help of a family counselor to work through this together. Don’t forget you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line for ideas on how to implement the program techniques. Keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 17 1/2 yr old daughter has been stealing from me & other family members homes for years. When "caught" she will never accept responsibility, in fact she will deny it even when caught in the act. I'm so frustrated. I have tried everything imaginable. I even have signs posted in my bathroom asking her not to steal my things with no changes in her. I just this morning found my makeup in her room again for the umpteenth time! It's embarrassing and absoultely maddening to have to deal with this over and over. I can't trust her. And now she is at driving age, and I am so fearful that she will end up in "real" trouble. ~Defeated Mom

Comment By : defeated mom

Thank you for your reply, I appreciate it. The whole family has some thinking to do.

Comment By : Ann

I am currently going though an issue with my 14-year-old daughter where we will be at fiancees family's house and both the times she has been there something came up missing from their teenaged daughters room. The first time it was a shirt that was never found, and the second time it was a simple plastic attachment to an Ipod charger that my dauther had miraculously appear in her jacket pocket. When I confronted her after to ask her if she was steeling, she was indignant that I would even ask that of her and not beleive her after knowing her for the last 15 years. I am at a loss. She claims to not know how it got in her pocket and I just don't know what to do. Is she not only steeling but lying too.

Comment By : dana

* Dear dana: This situation is a little more complicated than usual because it sounds as though you are beginning to blend two families together. This experience can stir up all types of feelings in kids. I think it makes sense to ask your daughter about the missing items, but given the limited evidence you have, be cautious about labeling what she's doing as "stealing" or "lying". Just work with what you actually know. What you know is that the Ipod attachment was in your daughter’s jacket. Ask her to return it to the owner and to apologize for the worry it must have caused them while they were looking for it. It can take some time for kids to accept a parent’s plans to remarry. And it can take time for all family members to adjust to new relationships. Reducing any problematic jealously between the teens can be helped by making sure you have time set aside to be together as a new blended family, time set aside to be alone with your fiancée, and also time reserved to be alone with your daughter. Spending time with your daughter, or demonstrating your interest in her, has more impact than simply telling her you are interested in her. Blending families always presents some challenges, but there is help out there to make the transition as smooth as possible. James Lehman wrote an article about blended families you might find useful: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page We appreciate your question and hope that you’ll keep in touch with us. Remember you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line for help in applying the techniques from the Total Transformation program to your specific situation.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have been with my husband for almost 12 years and married for almost 5 years.My husband's mother passed away almost 2 years ago since then we have had custody of his neice and his little brother who are both teenagers and we also have 2 daughters of our own. Since then his neice likes to take my stuff without permission and it started out with small stuff like my make-up and body spray but now she recently stole my digital camera and basically got caught red handed and still continued to lie about to mine and my husband's face. She refuses to except responsibility for her actions. My husband always defends her until I walked out the door now he wants to make them know me and him are a team. I want her to be punished and know that what she does with the lying and constant stealing from me is wrong, I don't believe she should get away with it.My Husband say's he is on board with me now and that he's not gonna let his brother or neice get in between us anymore, but I feel like he should have done that from the moment they moved in with us. She stole my camera and has the nerve to continue to lie and even blamed my 2 year old daughter for putting in her bag.So what can we do about her stealing and lying? I feel uncomfortable in my own home ,it's not right I have to hide all my stuff..

Comment By : elilmomma

* Dear elilmomma: I'm glad you and your husband are willing to work on this together. First, set aside time together to figure out how you will help her resist the temptation to steal, and to agree on consequences should she decide to steal. It helps to have everything clear between the two of you before you speak with her. Let your niece know that taking things that are not hers is unacceptable in your home, and that if she is found to have something that is not hers, she will lose access to some of her privileges until she can both make up for the time you spent looking for the item, and come up with a plan for how she is going to resist the temptation to steal the next time. Remember, kids need to know what they CAN do, not just what they can't do. For more help on this issue, check out Why is My Child Stealing? When you discuss the issue with your niece, do not get into power struggles with her about whether she is or is not lying - those kinds of arguments do not help the situation. You might check out How Dare You Lie to Me? for more ideas on how to approach this issue.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Today my 10 year daughter attempted do steal in the pocket of her grandmother jacket. But catched she has not done anything. Before, 8 - 9 year old she has stolen cash from the pocket and my purse. (2-3 dollars). I spoke to her and I remember she felt very sorry. Now what must I do?

Comment By : Dori

I have a 7 yr old that has been stealing from school repeatedly and from his father's house. Both houses have tried many of the suggestions with sucess the first time or two but not with the current items taken. He sees a counselor regularly but he even has had limited sucess getting to the root of why he is stealing in the first place. Do we just stay dilligent and hope for the best? What else can we do? Returning items with and apology and removal of priveleges no longer work.

Comment By : laura

* Dear ‘laura’: It’s important to continue to have your child return stolen items and to apologize so it’s completely clear to him that he cannot take things from other people. It is also teaching him the right thing to do—which is to make amends when you have caused harm. Try not to make him feel ashamed during this. Simply state that “We don’t take other people’s things and if we do, we have to return it to them and tell them we’re sorry.” Talk to him about other ways he might solve the problem of wanting something. Teach him how to ask permission to borrow something, how to share something of his, how to make a trade but also teach him how to accept it when he cannot have something he wants. There can be underlying emotional reasons that drive kids to repeatedly steal, so it is a good idea to continue to work with a counselor to get an understanding if emotional needs are triggering this behavior. Call us on the Support Line for more ideas on how to use the techniques in the Total Transformation program. Keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My two daughters got cought shoplifting and I have takin things away, grounded them. They just have very bad attidudes and smart mouths and I just am not sure what I should do. Any help would be great. Thankyou.

Comment By : carrielm32

* Hi Carrie. As James often says, grounding a child does not help them improve their behavior, or take responsibility for their actions. While it is tempting to punish them, that will not change the situation. Instead, you might look at ways they can make amends for their actions. For example, if the store has decided to press charges, do not protect your daughters from those consequences. You haven't mentioned how old they are, but you might also find a way to have them make it up, either to the store directly, or to the community, in some kind of public service or volunteer work - making up the time that the store employees spent dealing with the shoplifting, and the time you spent picking them up and meeting with store representatives. You might have your girls come up with things they can do to help themselves resist the temptation to steal when it arises. All of these are consequences that help your kids actually learn to behave differently. And remember, don't focus on their attitudes - stay focused on their behavior and what they need to do differently next time. You might check out Why Don't Consequences Work for My Teen for more on creating effective consequences.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is very interesting article, 11 year old granddaughter has been exhibiting stealing things from schoolmates (small things), and a couple times food from the family. We are getting concerned, she is technically not blood related but is the half sister of my daughters significant others daughter. They took custody of both girls after the mom lost custody.

Comment By : Gramma Lynn

I am a mother of four children, ages 6-8; two of the children are adopted. The 8yr. old has stolen repeatedly from stores and we just uncovered the items recently. We are making her work off the money it would cost to replace them (they cannot be returned because they have been used) and decided not to have her talk to the manager of each store, since we already went that route when she stole from our karate studio and it obviously had no impact on her. We realize now that she has RAD and needs a great deal of therapeutic input (she has been in therapy for four years already). I think it's great that James Lehrman supports our view that our daughter, despite other issues, needs to deal with very real consequences. Her school therapist is the opposite and only wants to "throw that bag of stolen stuff away and that will throw the problem away". You can only imagine what I told her. Thanks for all of your support and I know that I will be utilizing the support staff more and more. I am encouraged to hear that she can improve with therapy and parental consistency. Since she is only eight, we know that she still has a lifetime of learning ahead of her and we are actually trying to look at the bright side of things in that we learned about her issues early on.

Comment By : KathleenJoe

We adopted our daughter 8 years ago...she is 12 now. She has ADD and takes medication. She is a wonderful, sweet girl, but has a low self esteeem for some reason and has a problem with stealing. We have caught her several times now and are at our wits end as to what to do! We spank her, ground her, on and on. The manager at one store talked ugly to her and told her she could never comne back int there, but, did that stop her from stealing again from the Smithsonian gift shop a couple months later?? NO! Help!! Are we looking at military school or what?

Comment By : Jane

* Dear Jane: In his article, Low Self-esteem in Kids Part II: 3 Ways to Help Your Child Now (, James Lehman writes that kids increase their self-esteem by accomplishing things that are challenging for them. He says that dealing with adversity of any kind develops self-esteem. Helping your child learn how to solve problems will help her feel better about herself, such learning how to ask for what you need instead of simply taking things. We recommend consistent consequences and making amends for stealing, but don’t recommend using long-term grounding or spanking. If you feel her negative feelings about her self might be related to being an adopted teen or if you feel that you are dealing with repetitive, impulsive stealing, consider having her talk to a mental health counselor in your area. Don’t forget--you can call us here on the Support Line for encouragement and ideas. We’d love to hear from you.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 16-year-old son was caught stealing a $3,000 guitar yesterday from a local music shop that we had previously done business with. The owner had our address and came to our house when the guitar went missing and my son was seen on their video cameras leaving the store with a gig bag. When confronted, my son confessed and returned the guitar. It then turned out that he had stolen another guitar several weeks or months earlier, which he admitted when pressed and then produced and returned to the owner. He was very lucky that the man did not press felony charges. We are in shock over this. We has some suspicions of stealing money from the safe in our house about a year ago, but could never get him to admit it. He is currently seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist for anxiety and ADHD issues, but has always been considered by everyone to be a "good boy." Now, I feel I can never trust him again. I have taken away his driving privileges because he has now lied to me about where he has gone (he was not supposed to be at the music store yesterday). My husband is handling this better than I am. I do not even want to talk to my son. Do you have any suggestions on what we should do?

Comment By : Shocked mom

* Dear ‘Shocked Mom’: When you’re upset about your kid’s behavior, it’s important not to take their behavior personally. This can be hard. Many parents do feel personally betrayed or disrespected—“He’s not paying attention to my rules,” “He’s not doing what I tell him to do,” or “He lied right to my face.” As James Lehman says, “Kids lie to solve a problem.” It really isn’t an attempt to ‘get to you’ but an attempt to get what he wants. Read this Empowering Parents article, “Why Kids Lie and What to Do About It,” at: Tell your son’s psychologist about the repeated stealing. Find a way to talk to your son, even if you don’t feel like it. He needs you and his Dad to have problem solving discussions with him, to help him think about what he will do next time he feels like stealing. Call us here on the Support Line. We’d be glad to work with you on what techniques to apply from the Total Transformation Program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 17 year old son has been stealing from my wife and I. He says that we don't give him any money. I think he should earn money not just give it to him, however he does nothing but play Playstation and eat. I have told him that if he wants money he must work for it and it will come. When he stole my credit card. We went to file charges at the police station. We talked to the officer. We were informed that after he was arrested we would have to pick him up and pay his bail, provide him an attorney, pay any court costs, and pay the credit card charges. He says his friends tell him that if he ever goes to jail they have parties there. I tell him that is not the way it is, he tells me I've never been to jail and I don't know what I'm talking about.

Comment By : Desperate Dad

We noticed a drastic change in my 14 yr old son after a pet dog of 17 yrs died - stealing, grades dropped, disrespect. Could this be just a coincidence- the kid was pretty good up to that point.

Comment By : GoingCrazy

* Dear ‘GoingCrazy’: James Lehman, author of the Total Transformation Program, writes that any time your child’s behavior or personality changes drastically overnight, it’s important to have them evaluated by a professional to rule out any physical reasons for the change--whether it’s from substance abuse, trauma, or the onset of depression or anxiety. Drastic changes are also an opportunity to talk to your child about your observations and your concerns. As kids grow, they have to continually adjust their problem-solving skills and learn new ones. The parent’s role is to help their child identify problems and teach them how to come up with solutions. For more information on drastic behavior changes, read these articles by James Lehman: Sudden Behavior Changes in Kids, Part I: What Do They Mean? Sudden Behavior Changes in Children, Part II: 7 Things You Can Do Today We appreciate your question and hope this information was helpful. Keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is for Desparate Dad. I'm not a legal expert, but I think the police gave you a line to get rid of you. If you press charges against your son, you are not required (as the victim) to provide him a lawyer, bail him out, pay his fines or any of that. If you want to make an impact, you leave him in jail and let him face the consequences on his own. They would have to provide him a public defender. I took in a boy who was in domestic disputes with his abusive dad. The parents got a restraining order to keep him out of their house. A public defender was provided for the boy who was 17. I took him in and had few problems, but then I didn't beat on him. Bottom line is a victim doesn't have to bail out the criminal.

Comment By : Grandma

Boy I am sad but glad to hear I am not the olny parent that has children who steal. Both of my children are adipted foster children and have been with us scince the ages of 2 & 3, now 13 & 14. Both have had problems with stealing and lying and we have been very consisteant with consequences,our expectaions, and our beleifes that stealing is wrong. One of the fustrating issues is that sometimes it is a small item or some food that is not theirs so it is not as if we can press charges. It is jsut a matter of total lack of trust because it happens so often. Today I found a very nice jewlery box that my sister gave me in my daughters room. She had just been asking about that box a few weeks ago and i told her it was packed up and theire it was in her room anong with candy wrapers , 5 spoons and several butter knives.My son steals as well and has commented on how it feels good to him. He also damages everyones property and has no remorse for hurts our family or putting us in harms way. He has been diagnosed as bipolar and RAD but i think my daughter scares me more because she is better at hiding her problems and stealing. They are in therapy but it is not helping at all. I just feel like I am at the end of my rope with these kids. Ilove them but i am running out of pateints.

Comment By : Mom on the edge

My 10 Year Daughter is stealing she started off taking from her classmats she has lost priveleges and had to apologize to her classmates. She had stop doing that for 1 year and know she is stealing from her stepfather we have been married for 3 years now but he has been in her life since she was 5. I just dont understand what we can do. Since she has been stealing from Her stepfather we have taken other measurements to stop the behavior. I did not call the police but there where threats of it I haven taken all of her priveleges no computer, Ipod, DSI TV or friends. I have made her take on extra chores to pay her stepfather back, I advised she can not go in any room other than her own without permission. I am just so hurt what can i do

Comment By : hurtmother2010

* Dear "hurtmother2010": One of the real challenges in parenting is finding a way to manage our own emotional reactions in response to our kid’s behaviors. As you say, you were very hurt by your daughter stealing from her stepfather. It’s important that you not give consequences when you’re experiencing a strong, emotional reaction. Allow yourself plenty of time to calm down so you can think this through objectively and reduce the chance of giving out harsh punishments in anger. When you’re calm, your consequences will be more reasonable and more likely to be directly related to the behavior you’re concerned about. Use Lesson 6 of the Total Transformation to help you talk about your daughter’s behavior issues. This Lesson will walk you through the process of how to find out about your daughter’s faulty thinking and to challenge it. During the problem-solving conversation, you will let her know what consequence and amends would be appropriate for her behavior. In this case it makes sense to have her pay back her stepfather by doing extra chores, restricting access to other rooms for a short while until she demonstrates that she can successfully stay out of those rooms. She should also apologize to her stepfather. Excessive punishments, however, such as removing all her privileges, will not keep her attention focused on the issue of stealing. James Lehman reminds us that you can’t punish kids into good behavior. Since your daughter has a history of stealing, consider having her work with a professional counselor in your area. We appreciate the opportunity to answer your question and wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 15 year old stole from me this week. The police have been called on him twice for violence at the house. He has also broken out two very expensive windows and stolen cell phones from him father. Is it time to get the police involved and put him in the scared straight program? I'm afraid I'm going to "wring his neck" as they used to say if it continues and that's no help. What do I do?

Comment By : poisonsugar

* Dear ‘poisonsugar’: Although James Lehman says he personally would not hesitate to call the police if his child was violent or destroying property, he recognizes that this can be a difficult decision for parents and not everyone will choose to do this. The principle here is to hold your child accountable for their behaviors. If your son is gaining power in your home by being violent, the first thing that you have to do is take away that power by not tolerating violence. James says that violence and destructive behavior is a blatant sign that a child cannot solve his problems appropriately and is not responsive to parental authority. When this occurs, it’s necessary to use a more powerful authority to assist the family in maintaining appropriate behavioral limits, such as calling the police. For more information on handling violence in your home, refer to this article: When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse” We appreciate your question and invite you to keep in touch with us. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Now i very worry about my stepdaughter. i with my ex stay together almost 10 yrs but i been separated with my ex last 2 yrs and now she stay with her (new mother)and father. But what i worry now is she have the behavior of stealing money.i know this matter from a friend and i ask the father about this matter. i try to close with my stepdaughter but unfortunately her stepmother not allow or will investigate her what i talk to her or do with her.sometime she will stay with the maid when my ex and his wife go for holiday (almost the time). i feel sad (heart pain) and regret to let her go with the father.for your info i have 2 kids with my ex, and my 2 kids very close and miss they sister....they always asking me about her.i really don't know or no idea have to help my stepdaughter...i very care and love her...

Comment By : michelle

* Dear Michelle: We’re so sorry to hear this is occurring. It can be difficult for families to separate and then work out visitation arrangements with the step-children. It’s sad to not see each other as frequently as you used to. Be care that you are not appearing to ‘compete’ with the ‘new step-mother’. That will cause of lot of stress for the kids. Instead, try to work with both your ex-husband and his new wife to help things go smoothly. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 16 year old son ran away from home because he didn't like the rules at home. I'm tired of him coming home high, and I told him that if he came home high I would shave his head. He came home high and I shaved his head. He got kicked out of school for arsony and had to go to an alternative school. We dropped him to school on a Friday and he never came home. We called the cops and reported him missing. He robbed our house on Monday while we were at work and stole $4000 worth of stuff. We called the cops again. I caught him on the side of the rode one day and when I pulled over he ran. I did however ask him "why did you rob us?" and his answer was "to survive." I don't know where he is staying, I don't know what parent is harboring him. It has been a month. He is ruining his life and the cops won't do anything because of "budget cuts". They said if they caught him they will just tell me to pick him up. I cannot just take him home to rob us again. I have a 4 year old to think about as well. I don't want to wake up with a knife on my throat. He is out of control. I couldn't even get him treatment without the doctors telling me he needs to stay clean. He choses this lifestyle. I am a victim in my own home if the court tells me to take him. It's the sadest thing in the world to be abused by your own child.

Comment By : Erica

My 8 year old daughter has been stealing for the house for the last year. I recently caught her stealing from Wal-Mart and her teacher. We have grounded her, talked to her about how wrong stealing is and how it hurts people, and we have made her return stuff but she still continues to steal. We are afraid it will negatively affect her two younger siblings. What else can we do?

Comment By : Armywife82

* Dear ‘Armywife82’: You have done a good job in giving appropriate consequences for your daughter’s stealing behaviors. Because it appears to be ongoing, possibly a compulsive behavior, you should have her evaluated by a mental health professional in your area. In James Lehman’s article he states that some kids need to be assessed to see if there’s a therapeutic response to their behavior. It seems reasonable to look into an assessment for your daughter, given the type of stealing you have described. Start your assessment by talking to her pediatrician, who can look for any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to her behaviors. We wish your family the best as you continue to seek out resources to help your daughter.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Thanks for writing this. The internet is chock-a-block with garbage...this isn't garbage. Thanks.

Comment By : ConcernedFather

Help!! I have a 10 year old daughter that I recently found out was stealing. She came to us herself and revealed that she stole from her friends. We were in complete shock from this straight A student who is kind, compassionate and well-behaved. Ever since she came "clean", she has been telling us of multiple incidents over the past several years that she has kept to herself. We have had her apologize to her friends, return the items, make restitution when appropriate. Just when I think we have heard it all, she tells us about more things she has stolen in the past. But here's the scary part: she says she cannot guarantee that she will not do it again even though she is almost sure she won't!! What am I supposed to do with that? we have talked and talked with her until we are blue in the face... I have threatened her with boarding school, calling the police and everything. She cries but cannot say it won't happen again...

Comment By : Mom in FLA

* Dear Mom in Fla: It sounds like your daughter is asking you for help. Because she says she cannot guarantee that she will not steal again, she MIGHT be telling you her behavior is driven by an inability to control her impulses. Find out if this is the case. Ask her pediatrician for the name of a mental health professional. If an impulse is driving this behavior, she may need therapy to control this. We appreciate the opportunity to answer your question and wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 16 yr old son has been stealing from us for around a year i am really at the end of my teather with him to the point i have actually made an appointment with the police not only is he stealing out of his own home but more recently i have had reports of him stealing from his friends homes too i really just dont know what to do anymore ... i believe he is stealing to pay for a cannabis habit we have tried every punishment we can think off and nothing seems to workhe has been diagnosed with A.D.H.D and O.D.D its really hard to know where the disorder ends and the bad behaviour starts i just dont know how to help him stop making these bad choices before its too late for him :(

Comment By : i\'m worried sick

my child is 9 yrs old She steal money from her classmet what should i do to her so that she will not do this again before she also have steal money from the father my self have caught her i dont know what to do and verry worried please help me..

Comment By : marie

* Dear Marie, Thank you for your question. It sounds like your daughter’s behavior is very concerning to you. James Lehman felt that kids steal as a way to solve a problem. Only your daughter can tell you what that problem is. Next time you find out she has stolen something ask her, “What were you thinking right before you took that?” Her answer will tell you the problem she is trying to solve. Talk to her about what she can do differently next time instead of stealing, such as telling a parent or teacher what she is thinking about doing. Have her return whatever she stole and write an apology letter that says what she will do differently in the future. And remember, there is no magic trick to make your daughter stop stealing right away. It will take time, and lots of help from you to teach her different ways to solve problems. Please check out this article for more information on teaching kids to solve problems: Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 16 year old daughter has been stealing money and food from me for a couple of years now and I don't know what to do. I have confronted her several times and she can look me square in the eye and say it wasn't her. She also acts very indignant that I could even think she would do such a thing. I have two teenage boys as well, and I am sure they would never do this, however, unless I actually catch my daughter in the act, it is hard to accuse her outright even though I am sure it is her. How do I deal with this when she always says it wasn't her? If she won't even admit she is stealing? I am going to put a lock on my bedroom door, and I know there have to be consequences, but how do I give the consequences when she swears black and blue she hasn't done anything? Any advice is welcome.. please help.

Comment By : JeninOz

* To ‘JeninOz’: It sounds like you are very concerned about your daughter’s behavior. I want to emphasize a point James makes in this article: “If there’s a high frequency of theft, or stealing for no apparent reason or the hoarding of food, that can indicate deeper psychological forces at play.” I think we can take stealing of food and hoarding of food to be very similar here and I think the first step is to rule out these ‘deeper psychological forces’ James refers to. It would be best for you to seek some local support on this issue, either from your daughter’s physician or from a local counselor or therapist. You can locate a counselor or therapist by visiting and entering your zip code to find the website for your local 211 branch. 211 is an information and referral service run by the United Way in most of the U.S.. You can either search for local supports on their website or dial 211from your phone (a land line works best). We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have to share my story. My 16 year old beloved son has been stealing from me and other family members for years. We did all of the right things: Loss of privileges, extra chores and repayment, letters of apology, etc... (&prayed). When he was 14 the situation got critical. He began using drugs and started stealing to support his habit. (Yes - the stealing started first, possibly as young as 7 or so). He stole large amounts of money, tools, fishing equipment, our Wii, other electronics and video games and even my guns which were given to me by my father. I was desperate. He not only stole but lied, did drugs, had anger outbursts etc... I purchased the total transformation program and working the program gave me the strenth to finally call the police and have my son arrested for theft. It should be added that in Texas you have to provide your child with an attorney and pay all their probation fees even if you are the victim - approx $3,500. Since that time, he has been in juvenile detention on 3 seperate occasions for a total of 6 months. He has tried living back home and at his fathers and both have failed. He is currently living at a faith based boys ranch. He isn't stealing anymore that we know of but he's still lying, still explosive and still is attracted to a negative lifestyle. He is supposed to be at the ranch until he is 17 but his temper and fighting with other boys may end up getting him kicked out. What next? He has been diagnosed with adhd at 6, bi-polar at 8, depression added on at 13 and finally conduct disorder at 15. Maybe he will make some changes in the next 9 months before he is released but what if he doesn't? At what point does a parent literally leave their child to the streets? He's at this ranch with a whole team of people, with all their structure, counseling, consequences. If they can't handle him, how can I? No matter the outcome, I'm glad I had this program to help me realize how manipulative my son had become and begin to stop avoiding and start dealing with his issues and quit beating myself up for being a parental failure. I just don't know what's next....

Comment By : mchmom

* To ‘mchmom’: It sounds like you have been through a very difficult ordeal with your son. I can see why you would be very worried about his return home. Even so, it takes courage to do what you have done and we commend you for being an empowered parent. I would encourage to you consider whether or not this particular youth ranch program is meeting your son’s needs. You might work with the professionals at the program to get a clearer understanding of their interventions and your son’s needs, or maybe even reach out to his physician or other professionals you might have worked with in the past for guidance. It might just be that your son needs a little more, or something different, than what he is getting currently. It might be helpful for you to look for other programs or supports on your area that will be able to assist you when your son comes home. You can search for local supports by visiting This is the website for 211, the information and referral service run by the United Way. You can see if 211 is available in your area by entering your zip code. If the service is available, the website for your local 211 branch will be displayed. You can also call 211 by dialing 2-1-1 from a landline and a trained United Way representative will make recommendations on resources in your area that might help. We wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

my child is 10 and has been stealing for ages without actually getting caught, however i have read some comments about never letting your child benefit from stealing how can i do that when she is stealing money going to buy sweets at the local shop and eating them whilst she is out playing. i have grounded her to stop her doing this but as soon as she is allowed out she does it again its not as if she doesnt get any sweets. i really am at the end of my tether now and dont know what to do HELP

Comment By : jilly

* To Jilly: It sounds like you are quite fed up with your daughter’s stealing. It is impossible to control your daughter’s behavior while she is outside of the home. However, you definitely want to hold her accountable once you find out for certain that she has stolen from you. This is done by having a calm businesslike discussion about what she was thinking right before she took the money from you, briefly reiterating your rules about stealing, and talking about what your daughter will do differently next time she is in this situation. Restrict all electronics until she has 1) cooperated calmly with the discussion, 2) written a short summary of your discussion, and 3) paid you back or completed some simple, age appropriate chores around the home to pay back the cost to you that way—we call this an amends. Once these three things are done, she gets her privileges back and you move forward. Remember that while her behavior is completely unacceptable, big consequences will not work—the focus needs to be on teaching your daughter how not to steal. Here is another article on stealing that I think you will find helpful: Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now. We wish you luck as you continue to work on this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I am at my wits end...well, beyond! My 16 year old son started smoking pot when he was about 13 (middle school) The bus would drop him at home at about 2:45 and I didn't get home til 5:30. Too much free time! I didn't even suspect anything for quite some time, but, then I found some evidence. He had also been stealing a lot from grocery stores, gas stations and from many members of our family (jewelry, coins, money). On the advice of his counselor, we sent him to a Wilderness program. He graduated after a year and I had high hopes for him (he's very intelligent). Started school and within 4 weeks, he got caught at school with pot (and accused by a few kids of selling it). So, expelled from school, I lost my job (I'm a single Mom) and he was with me 24/7 because he was placed on house arrest. He continued to steal everywhere he went. He ended up in another wilderness program for 6 months. I don't think it did him any good because since he has come out, he is still stealing!! still getting high and taking pills. If you met him, you would love him, he is so great! BUT, 3 weeks ago, he had posted a sign to do some yard work. A nice older couple hired him...he stole about 50 xanax and Vicodin from them (I don't think they knew it was him because they let him come back 2 more times). Then he admitted it to me cuz I found some of the pills..I won't let him go back. Then, last week he stole my bank card, went to the bank and took out $60 (my cable bill money) It's no big deal to him. I just don't get it! How can he hurt me like this. Several times a week I know that he has gone through my room looking for stuff when I'm not home. I was told by his counselor that I should report it...but, after reading these stories about the other parents having to pay bail and for an attorney, I'm having second thoughts. Will this ever stop???????????????? I am going to read some more of the articles, but, if there is one in particular that you think would be helpful, please let me know.

Comment By : thinkivehadenough

* To ‘thinkivehadenough’: It’s very easy to see why you are feeling so overwhelmed. Your son is making some pretty risky choices, including taking drugs and stealing, both of which are illegal. Let’s think of it this way: what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked. He keeps going right back to stealing and it sounds like his behavior is even escalating a bit and getting riskier with time. It’s time to try something new. We agree with your counselor that you should call the police and report your son’s stealing, not just this time but every time. Discuss your concerns about the financial costs with your counselor so that you can try to come up with some solutions together, such as paying his bail with any money he might have in savings. And here’s another way to look at it: you’re losing money either way. If you do nothing, he steals the money from you. If you do something, you still might lose a bit of money but it might be what he needs to start to change. We wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this. This isn’t easy. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have a 7 yr old who has been taking very small items from school and friends at school, she is ADD and ADHD she is not on meds but recieves inhome supports which do wonders for us but since school started her taking things have gotten out of control, as i said small stuff like markers or paper but I finally reached the point done talking til i am blue in the face so I called the police on her and spoke to the school not sure what happened to schools and discipline but with a school that feels like kids are kids and they have massive rights makes it hard to get them on board with punishments. I strongly feel that public schools that are all about kids being kids and not teaching right from wrong and making them accountable key word accountable for there actions these issues will not be resolved and only get worse i have requested her to have detentions and they seem to thinking i am joking. But I am tired of it and so I called the cops on her and they came over and had a nice little chat with her will keep you all posted on how it turns out thank you for some ideas and ways to deal with it

Comment By : Maine mom

I have a 14 year old grandaughter, recently while shopping with me I noticed some particular unusual activity while I was standing in the check out line, she picked something up, I didn't see what and went to another isle and said "I just want to see if there is a different one of these over there" soon a s the cashier checked me out, I went over to the isle she was at, and she was gone, to a totally different section. I didn't say anything then, but so curious as to what she was doing. When we got home, I was putting some of her overnight clothes in her bag and noticed a small bottle of mouth wash. The next day I went over to the store and right where she had been taking the object was the same mouth wash spray......I haven't confronted her yet. What do I say and should I tell my son or handle it on my own? Worried.

Comment By : Sissy

* To Sissy: We suggest that you talk to your son about this. Give him the facts, show him this article, and see if he wants your help with following the steps suggested to address the behavior. It’s very important that he knows what is going on so that he can monitor her behavior when she is at home. Good for you for being so alert and aware! We wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My son is ADHD and ODD, he has recently started compulsively stealing. It started at my friends house, little toys of her sons that he wanted to have for himself, so after we caught him on numerous occasions we started to pat him down before leaving and would continue to catch him doing it. He would loose privileges and be grounded each time it occurred. On fir day we were at a convience store and he stole a pack of gum that i found later that day in his pocket, it was unopened, so I took him back to the store where i made him return it and apologize for taking it without paying, also there happened to be a few police officers in the store when he returned the item, and i had asked them to speak to him about his actions and explain the severity of the situation. Yes he seemed to understand, however later that day I had a Christmas party to go to at a friends home where we caught him trying to take some of her childs toys when we were leaving. I am beside myself in what to do I thought that he perhaps had gotten the hint that this behavior is unacceptable and that it will NOT be tolerated! With it being so close to christmas I have no clue what to do, should he still get Christmas presents or should I not give them to him, i am calling to get him back into therapy tomorrow which I hope will help to get this problem under control and get to the root of the issue. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated! He is 8 years old and will be 9 in February.

Comment By : Heartbrokemother11

* To Heartbrokemother11: It is frustrating and upsetting to watch your child continue to make the same poor decisions, especially after you recently talked about it! James Lehman talks about how children make ineffective choices because they don’t know a better way to solve their problems. Taking away Christmas presents is not going to teach him what to do differently the next time he wants to steal something. For this reason, we recommend focusing on the problem solving aspect when you talk with him about the stealing. This conversation should have three parts: 1) What was he thinking right before he took the item; 2) Why isn’t stealing OK; 3) What is he going to do differently next time. We also recommend that after you have this conversation, he should write an essay incorporating these three parts, and if appropriate, make amends to the person he stole from. From your comment, it sounds like you are doing well with not allowing him to benefit from stealing by getting to keep the item. I am attaching an article about problem solving that I think you might find helpful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems" Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

My nineteen year old son who has never given us a problem. Graduated high school, never went to parties, is against drugs, smoking, drinking has just stolen from us. He has never done anything like this before and has never given us a reason to doubt him. We found the ATM card missing, went to the bank and found there was $400.00 missing from our account. We came home and were very upset and figured someone stole our card and took the money. We went and filed a police report. To our surprise when the police showed us the ATM video it was our son standing there. He had been laid off from work and the insurance company tried to take the money out of his bank account which was not there. The bank paid it and sent a letter to my son saying if the money was not paid back he would be arrested for fraud. Instead of coming to us he stole the money. My husband has kicked him out of the house. I think this is to far to be honest as he has never given us an issue before and I think this is why it breaks his fathers heart so much to see he did this. My son has signed the title of his truck over to us to sell and get the money he took back along with giving us $100.00. My husband also wants him to tell his grandmother what he did. I do not agree with this as frankly since this is the first time I do not think this needs to be told outside the family. My son is extremely remorseful. He wants to talk to his father but his father does not want to speak to him. It has been one week. I told his father this child needs to know we love him no matter what but we will not except this behavior ever again. He has paid 100.00 back and signed the truck over to be sold for the remaining 300.00. The truck is worth a lot more then that. I think this is sufficient punishment. What are your thoughts about the punishment, if this is not enough what is? I also want my son back home where he belongs and so does my son want to be home. Please advise.

Comment By : Help please

* To ‘Help please’: It’s never easy when you feel betrayed by a loved one, let alone your own child. One important thing to remember is that your husband and you clearly have a different way of dealing with hurt, and your husband probably needs more time to cope and think. It’s important to try to keep this issue in perspective, too. Imagine being 19 years old and getting a letter like that. Your son had a problem he did not know how to solve. He might have had faulty expectations about what would happen if he came to you, so he tried to handle it on his own-- in the wrong way. This is a problem-solving issue, not a moral issue and it’s not something that was done with the intent of hurting anyone. His intent was to help himself. Your son seems to have taken responsibility and made amends that are more than adequate. When discussing his behavior with your husband, try to focus on what you agree on. Try to find a common goal. Is the goal for your son to take responsibility? He has. Is your goal to help him learn what else he could have done? Talk about that with your son and have him write it down. Is your goal to shame him? He is ashamed already. Telling his grandmother might add to that, but adding shame is not what will help him learn from this. From our perspective, this issue has been handled quite well and now it’s just a matter of giving dad the time he needs because he is still hurting. Here are a couple of articles I think you will find helpful: Fighting with Your Teen? What to Do After the Blowout & ”You’re making me crazy!” When You’re at the End of Your Parenting Rope. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

also have had to deal with a teenager that started stealing from drug use from relatives he lived with. They sent him home where he then continued to steal from me, I think he was 15. He is now 23 still living at home. Never had a full time job, can’t drive from a suspended license. Can’t get his license until he begins paying off fines and restitution he accrued from driving and a stealing spree he went on just after he turned 18. Was charged with 4 1st degree felonies. They were dropped all but one. His sentence was suspended and placed on bench probation so he didn’t have to see a probation officer. He still steals from me off and on. I just found out he stole from me again, a MSD ignition part that cost $200.This is the second time he sold this part. I got it back the first time. I don’t know what I am going to do. He has a drug problem which is why he is stealing. What a mess.

Comment By : Troubled Parent

My son is 25 and has been living at home all this time. He has a drug problem and refuses treatment. He is stealing from us, pawning our most valued family heirlooms which I can never replace, as well as things like musical instruments, lawnmower, electric heater, and jewelry. It amounts to a significant amount..probably $7,000 to $10,000. One time he took his sister's car and deliberately smashed it into a telephone pole. He claimed it was a suicide attempt..I'm not sure about that since it was at a low speed and he drove it into the passenger side. But I did make sure he got treatment then. He was hospitalized for awhile. BUT he thought I was terrible because I thought he should be accountable for the car. He said I care more about the car than him. No. I care about him understanding responsibility, trust, right from wrong, and self control. I have always been available to talk over problems with him. He is a very emotional person, gets very depressed, and I feel for him. But I am fed up, and outraged with the recent theft of my most precious things I inherited from my parents. He tells himself things are ok when they're not. The drugs he takes are pretty serious. My husband does not set limits or help provide any consequences. He is Mr. Nice Guy which makes me the bad guy. But he too is upset about the stealing. I am afraid that if I press charges he will be put in a federal penitentiary for a long time because some of the stolen stuff was sold across state lines. I don't want him in that much trouble. He has a little boy he loves dearly. They have a great relationship but I think my son's character problems will inevitably have an effect on his relationship with his son. We have paid his child support while he has stolen from us and spent it on drugs. I am aghast, and hurt. I don't want to live with him anymore and resent having to lock up everything even if he isn't here. He doesn't want anyone else in the family to know about his stealing. I told him to act like he wants to be known. In ways he is naive. I do think he has a lot of goodness in him and tenderness, but he has no sense of other people's boundaries. This started when he was pretty young and he took some books belonging to an uncle. He was required to give them back. But I am afraid he will end up in jail anyway or worse. I am requiring him to seek help and may make him leave home though he has no money and very little in the way of job skills. He has also been violent to his sister and a woman he was involved with. He has none of that kind of awful behaviour modelled for him by me or my husband. I am so disappointed sad, and angry.

Comment By : Very Discouraged

I have a 9 yearold son one of 5 children has ben diagnosed with bipolar and adhd steals on a regular basis at least twice a week and mostly from school and alot of the time it is stuff that cant be signifant to him like a piece of a toy he cant do any thing with it but contuniues to steal it is so bad they check him in and out each day and he still steals and gets caught it is like he knows he is going to get caught but dosent care hehas had to return the items he has gotten in school suspention so many times i cant count spankins privlidge removal he is the only child any reccomendations to nip this in the bud

Comment By : at a loss

* To 'at a loss': It is certainly frustrating when your child continues to act out and behave inappropriately, even after he has been caught and punished for it. The important part for you to focus on will be teaching him new skills to control himself and being consistent in consequences given, rather than his caring (or not) about the consequences. We advise talking with the school counselor and/or the teachers to come up with a plan for how to help your son control his impulses better at school. It might also be helpful to work with someone in your local area to help your son develop a plan to control his impulses. If you and your family are not currently working with anyone to get support in your local community, a good place to start is 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. We recommend having a problem solving conversation with your son and practicing new strategies with him at home as well. While we advise having him continue to face the natural consequences of his actions at school, keep in mind that spanking and removing privileges at home will not help him learn these new skills. I’m including a link to an article that I think you might find helpful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I just found some makeup (valued at about $60) in my daughters room that she stole from a local department store. My husband and I are stumped on what we should do about it. I want to turn her in because she has stolen money from her brother and has also stolen a large amount of money from me. She also has taken smaller item from friends and school. My thing is if we turn her in and she gets a fine we have to pay for it not her.

Comment By : meltingmom

My 14 year old daughter stole her grandmother's debit card and she and a friend went shopping with it. Luckily, her grandmother noticed it was missing and cancelled it before very much was charged to it but I am devastated that my daughter would do this. My daughter is adopted and her biological family (who are relatives by marriage)is all in trouble with the law. My mom says this proves that nature beats nurture. I have tried to teach her right from wrong, but it hasn't seemed to sink in. Obviously I have grounded her until the end of the schoolyear, but I honestly don't even know how to punish her for something like this. I told her she could go to jail for something like this and I was terribly worried about her, and she says it won't happen again but she doesn't really seem to appreciate the magnitude of what she's done. When her grandmother (my mother) talked to her she said that she and her biological family are all alike, which was totally inappropriate and now my daughter is so mad at her she won't even apologize for what she's done. She's done some minor stealing before (like my clothes and cosmetics, and even five dollars from my wallet) but nothing like this. I would approeciate any advice you can offer!

Comment By : Sara31973

* Dear 'Sara31973': I imagine you and her grandmother feel betrayed by your daughter. She went into her grandmother’s purse, stole her debit card and used it for a shopping trip to the mall. Her actions violated your trust. What an awful feeling that is! Though I understand the desire to punish her by grounding her for an extended period of time, it won’t teach her the skills she needs to respect others' boundaries in the future. As James Lehman would say, you can’t punish a child into better behavior. On the Parental Support Line, we advise parents to focus on helping their child develop better problem solving skills through having a problem-solving conversation. This does not mean there shouldn’t be any consequences for her behavior. Consequences, unlike punishment, help to establish a clear sense of right and wrong. It’s best to take care of yourself emotionally and calm down before addressing this issue. Once you feel calm enough to address it in a business-like way you can sit down and problem solve. Ask her what she was thinking when she went into her grandmother’s purse and stole her debit card. Talk about your rules around stealing and why it’s not okay—be careful not to lecture. And finally, talk about what she will do differently next time. You can restrict one of her privileges until you’ve had this discussion, she’s written a summary of the three points above, and she has made amends to her grandmother for taking the debit card by paying her grandmother back. If she does not have money, she can do a couple chores around your home to work off the cost. You could also have her write an amends letter to her grandmother. Here is another article about stealing for more information: Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now. We know this is frustrating and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I adopted 4 children 7 years ago. They were 4,5,7, and 9 when we got them. THe lying and stealing has never stopped. There are stages when it seems better, but maybe we just missed something. Large amounts of money from us, siblings, belongings, food, thigns from school (from candy to ipods), cell phones, i pods, anything goes. We have tried all of the consequences listed above, and nothing seems to work. My oldest has had charges brought against him several times (for theft and other things), to no avail. He has severe mental illnesses, which we see a psychiatrist and therapist and a whole crew of people for. My middle son, who is now 11, seems to have a very good head on his shoulders, and a very bright future, with no known mental diagnoses as of yet, but the lying and stealing does not stop. I feel there are no steps left to take. My youngest adopted child is 10, and she steals also, but much less. I also have a 5 yr old birth child in the home that i am trying to teach that these behaviors are not acceptable. Ufortunately, for my oldest, the stealing is his least problem. I really want to change the behavior of my 11 year old and teach him some morals before it is too late, as I feel it is for my 16 yr old. Any suggestions left?

Comment By : tryingtohelpchildren

* To “tryingtohelpchildren”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. You have been dealing with some difficult behaviors for a while. I am sorry you are facing these challenges. From our perspective, most “bad” behaviors are actually a reflection of poor problem-solving skills. A child sees something he wants and can’t think of any other way to get it, so he takes it. Or, a child gets caught doing something he’s not supposed to do and, because he doesn’t want to get in trouble, he lies about it. As James points out in his article Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now, children use faulty thinking to solve problems they don’t know how else to solve. For that reason, it may be helpful to have problem-solving conversations with your children in addition to consequencing their behavior. Consequences are an effective way of holding a child accountable for the choices he makes. However, consequences don’t usually lead to changes in behavior because they don’t teach the child how to make different choices. Here are a couple articles that review problem solving and how to have these types of conversations with your child: Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior & The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". I hope this information is helpful for you. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to address this challenging behavior. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Rate this article by clicking the stars below.

Rating: 3.0/5 (257 votes cast)

Related keywords:

Stealing, Shoplifting, Lying, Adolescent Behavior, aggressive behavior, antisocial behavior, family rules, Advice for Parents, James Lehman, Total Transformation, problem behavior, angry teenager

Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

We value your opinions and encourage you to add your comments to this discussion. We ask that you refrain from discussing topics of a political or religious nature. Unfortunately, it's not possible for us to respond to every question posted on our website.
If you like "Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting", you might like these related articles: