Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now

by Carole Banks, MSW, PSL Advisor
Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now

Has your child been caught stealing from you or someone else? Have you found him using your credit card for online gaming, taking money from your wallet without asking, or even taking big ticket items from the house? The anger, disappointment, and lack of trust you feel can be destructive for your relationship. Carole Banks, MSW and Parental Support Line Advisor has some advice.

If your child has been caught stealing, you might have wondered, “Why would my child do this after everything we’ve taught him?” Many parents question their own abilities and wonder where they’ve gone wrong with their child when theft is involved. While it’s disappointing and frustrating for parents when their child steals, I firmly believe that in most cases, it’s a behavior that can be changed.

It’s not about you and your parenting—it’s about your child and the inappropriate ways he’s choosing to solve his problems at the moment.

Related: Change Your Child’s Behavior Today

I think it’s also important to understand that there is a big difference between children under the age of 6 taking something compared to older kids who steals. Really young kids don’t have a sense of right and wrong about this issue yet; their brains haven’t developed enough to think outside of themselves and about others. If your younger child has been taking things, focus on teaching him the skills of sharing, asking for what he would like to have, and taking turns. When your child gets to be a little older, you need to coach him to say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have taken that without asking.” But you don’t want to make him feel like he’s a bad person, and don’t label it as stealing. Instead, make it clear that taking something without asking is wrong.

Older Kids: Make Sure Crime Doesn’t Pay

If your child is nine or older and he’s taking things from you or others, you should treat the problem more seriously. As James Lehman says, “Understand that your child is using faulty thinking as a way to solve his problem.” The “problem” might be that your ten–year–old wants a new video game, but doesn’t have any money. He “solves” it by taking money from your wallet without asking. He’s probably thinking, “I need this money. Mom’s not even going to notice.” When you catch your child using this faulty thinking, you can say, “Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s okay to take it without asking.” And then ask, “What should you do next time?”

It’s important that you don’t allow your child to keep what he took; he should never benefit in any way from taking something from someone else. You don’t ever want stealing to pay off.

Many parents will call in to the Parental Support Line when their kids have taken something from a store. They’re worried their child will be prosecuted if he takes the shoplifted item back. They decide to give the child a consequence, such as no T.V., but they allow the child to keep the stolen item. It's really best to require your child to take the item back to the store. I understand this can be a complicated decision, depending on the age of your child and where you live. This has to be a choice you make after weighing all possible outcomes. But even if you decide against having your child take it back, make sure he doesn’t get off scot–free. Give him consequences at home—and do not let him keep the item. You ultimately want your child to learn that when you harm someone, even if it's the owner of a store, you should make amends directly to that person—which is why the best lesson is for your child to take the item back.

Related: Afraid you’re giving the wrong consequences?

When Your Child Uses Your Credit Card

I’ve talked with many parents whose kids have used their credit card to buy something online—often, they’ve used it for gaming. Even if the money is gone and cannot be retrieved, don’t let your child off the hook. He can make amends by doing something extra around the house to work it off. For example, he can clean out the basement, the garage, or do yard work. The bottom line is that you want to try to teach your child to make amends to the person he’s wronged—in this case, you. I also recommend that you call your credit card company and have them notify you if someone tries to use your card for online gaming—or whatever type of site your child was on—in the future. And of course, the game is deleted from the computer so your child doesn't benefit from stealing.

When Your Child Takes Big Ticket Items: Are Drugs Involved?

If your child is taking large amounts of money or big ticket items from your home, I think you need to question why. If you think drugs might be involved, there are probably other signs that are telling you that your child has a problem, like changes in mood or personality. You should definitely look into the possibility that he’s taking drugs and rule it out.

If you know your child has a problem but you haven’t been able to get him off drugs or into treatment, then consider reporting his thefts to the police to get him into the juvenile justice system. Many states now have drug court, where kids do not have to serve sentences in a juvenile detention center as long as they’re in treatment and clean. If you suspect drugs, reporting repetitive theft to the police can be a good course of action.

Here’s the truth: a child who is never made to be accountable will never learn from his mistakes. In your own home, have your kids make amends as directly to you or the injured party as possible. This drives home the meaning of what they’ve actually done, and lets them know that their actions have caused harm to someone.

Related: Teach your child to be accountable for his behavior

When Stealing Continues

If your child can’t stop stealing, you need to help level the playing field for him by finding out what’s causing this to happen over and over. You also might want to secure items in your home and keep your wallet in a safe place at all times until your child can learn how to solve his problems more appropriately.

I want to stress that even if you’re worried about your child’s character, don’t let him think that you feel he’s a bad, horrible person. Rather, you need to convey the opposite: that he needs to make amends and do the right thing. You want to say things like, “I know it’s hard, but I believe you can do it.” When you change your opinion of your child as a person and start thinking that he’s “bad” or that there’s something wrong with his character, there is great potential to harm the relationship. Your child will sense that you have a poor opinion of him and could start to lose hope in his ability to ever change.

If your child continues to take things from you, you will need to firmly address his faulty thinking. There may be an emotional need or impulsivity that drives his behavior. There are also many people who call the Support Line with adopted kids who steal from their families. Not all adopted kids steal of course, but sometimes kids with traumatic backgrounds may have trouble trusting other people to meet their needs, so they take food and other items and hoard them.

When Your Child Denies the Theft

I often tell parents, “If you know for sure that your child has stolen something, act with that knowledge. Just say, ‘I think that you used my credit card because you wanted to download some songs from iTunes. And I’m going to ask you to make amends for that.’” If you don’t know for certain and your child denies the theft, then I don’t think you can give him a consequence. You don’t want to accuse your child of something that he hasn’t done, because it can end up really backfiring on you. He may act out just because you believe he’s capable of it. Basically, unless you catch your child red–handed, I wouldn’t punish him.

I understand that parents feel hurt and betrayed after their child has stolen something. But try not to take the fact that he stole personally. It’s not about you and your parenting—it’s about your child and the inappropriate ways he’s choosing to solve his problems at the moment.


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Carole Banks, MSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. She has been with Legacy Publishing Company for four years working on the Parental Support Line and writing for Empowering Parents. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 10 years, and is the mother of 3 grown children and the grandmother of six.

READER'S COMMENTS

useful, realistic

Comment By : LP

My son took a piece of candy from a store when he was about 7 years old, after I told him he couldn't have candy. He hadn't completed his chores that morning. When he took the candy and opened and started to eat it in front of me. I took the candy from him, told him that was not an appropriate choice to make, asked the cashier to ring up the candy (she told me it was ok, because it was just a .20 piece of candy, that's when I told her that .20 piece of candy could be her car 7 years down the road). My husband and I then threw the candy away and took our son to talk with the security guard about what happens to children who steal from stores. This had a very long lasting effect on his behavior he didn't take with out asking and being give permission.

Comment By : momof8gr8kids

My oldest (adopted) son has been stealing anything and everything from us, other family members, the school, complete strangers, stores, etc for as long as we've had him. It isn't just money, or valuables though...it's often completely random stuff that he would have NO USE for whatsoever! My makeup, my jewelry, broken plastic, razor blades, valuable antique coins, nails, batteries, string, money (of course) and really the list goes on and on. He has been doing this (in our home anyway) since he was 6 years old. He is now 11 almost 12. It has gotten worse as he's become more clever and sneaky and we don't know what to do. Every counselor we have ever talked with has told us that this behavior may not change until he is either 40 years old or in jail. I don't want that to happen! And I will loose my mind WAY before he is 40. The suggestions here are fine for normal stealing behavior. My child has severe kleptomania and it is only getting worse...

Comment By : Granolagirl

I did not want to believe that my son had stolen my credit card information and charged a bunch on his PS3 game system. I was in total denial. He lost his Playstatation for that whole summer and I made it work off the amount. I was mortified. I don't leave my stuff out and I lock my room when I leave now. It is very sad when we can not trust the people or person living in our house.

Comment By : ociana

I applaud momof8grtkids, and empathize with granolagirl and ociana. Our adopted teen also began stealing and lying chronically at age 7. We've tried specialists, Dx, Rx, counselors, etc., but to no avail. At 15, he has been suspended twice, accepts dangerous dares, has falling grades - you know the story. Being developmentally disabled, with an alphabet soup of disorders - he is a passive-aggressive child. Sneaky. We lock our cars in the garage, instruct our other children (some adopted) to put their iPods and cords away. Our teen has been hoarding items since he was 12 - batteries, iPod cords, my clothing, his siblings' clothing, croutons, candy. Once he ate my entire stash of frozen Easter candy. He stole 18 donuts and cell phones from relatives. I've been researching how to help him since he came to us at 21 months. Try radkids.org, and other sites for attachment disorder kids. We almost lost our marriage over this child. He hides and moves others' belongings to drive us crazy. Yet he appears to be "such a sweet kid" to strangers. So...take heart. There are other parents like you out there. We will find each other and give support and exchange ideas.

Comment By : vitachick

Everyones son's sound just like our sons problem with stealing. He stole from two different stores when he was 9 yrs. old & I brought him back to both stores and made him give items back to the store owners. It worked for about two years and now it's starting over. He does hord things in he's room and I find them all the time. I even had the Police officer talk to him at one of the stores. I think it helped at the time. And he's. A bad lier also.

Comment By : ranrid

I have tried all the suggestions and none of them work contant stealing and lieing I ent as far as having the police talking to her and, still did no good my daughter gets what ever she wants for the most part she gets stright A's in school but she has real bad attitude like to steal and lie she is 13 but has done this since she was 4 I have done everything to make it all stop and I feel that its hopeless any other suggestions

Comment By : brandy

* Dear brandy: Whenever you feel like you have done everything that you can, and there is still no change, get other people involved. Start with a thorough medical evaluation. Her pediatrician may then recommend working with a professional therapist or psychiatrist. If it is determined that she needs mental health treatment, it will likely include talk therapy and possibly medications.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Unfortunately, I have battled this issue. I discovered my son was not only using drugs, but saling them also. I had other clues, my things coming up missing, my money stolen from my purse, grades were down, ditching from school, not completing work, etc. My son had an IEP so in LA County I used the AB3632 program to get placement. It was the hardest decision to make. However, this child was refusing therapy, refusing outpatient drug program, refusing AA/NA, and started not coming home (overnight) whereas I had to file a missing persons report. I actually warned him while I was working on getting the program. I finally convinced the school staff and the AB3632 Coordinator that this was the best step for him. Now, he is mad and its only been 45 days, but I am resting that my son is safe.

Comment By : LaLisa

I disagree with the direction not to call the theft "stealing" when children are young. Theft needs a label so children know how to catagorize it. Explain to the young child that, "Taking something that does not belong to you without the permission of the owner is called stealing. Stealing is wrong. Do not do this, ever."

Comment By : pmoran

My nine year old has been chronically stealing candy for a couple of years now. We have had to give away his Halloween candy every year because he will sneak downstairs and take it when he is supposed to be sleeping. This situation is not mentioned in the article above. Is this considered less serious because it isn't money or taking merchandise from stores? We think it's still just as serious because it is disobedience, plus we have had to pay money to have four of his baby molars pulled and spacers put in because his teeth were so badly decayed. He is now getting in permanent teeth and no matter what punishments we have used with him, including discussing the consequences of tooth decay on adult molars, the behavior continues.

Comment By : 4kidsandacat

I had similar experiences with my (adopted) daughter over 40 years ago - thefts of small amounts and hoarding of food under her bed. She eventually started staying away from home, asked a friend of mine if she could stay overnight, and stole money in the morning. the police were involved. She kept visiting with a boyfriend whose mother was not at all interested in my concerns, became pregnant, reconciled with us, then left with baby and boy friend,and son was taken away from them. We were still in contact and could visit our grandson .. What happened next? well daughter and boyfriend regained custody - with our continuing support, married, had a daughter, split up and divorced. We had a very rocky relationship with her and she had many issues over the next 20 years - However we had a great relationship with our ex-son-in-law, his second wife, their son and our two grandchildren. We were guests at their wedding - and they were guests at our youngest daughter's wedding.We helped by having our grandkids with us for weekends and holidays. About 10 years ago our oldest daughter settled down, stopped drinking, married a pleasant man, now lives two hours away from us. I visit when I can, we talk on the phone, they live in a small, pleasant apartment and she has a few good friends. So there has been light at the end of the tunnel. Her relationship with her now grown kids is rocky - but that may also change in time. I am still close to the grandkids, and also with our now three greatgrandkids :) Keep the contact open - as you would do with your easy kids, too.

Comment By : momsneedpatience

I found this article supportive, accurate by my experience and values. I especially appreciate the comment that the kid needs to be caught "red-handed" before being accused.

Comment By : Nana

* Dear 4kidsandacat: Candy in a house can be a real temptation for kids. There may be some practical solutions that could help with your problem. One could be to use a locking box to keep Halloween candy in so you can pass it out slowly rather then throwing the candy away. Sometimes parents keep treats for just themselves and kids come to resent this and get into and take from the parents stash. Perhaps a remedy for your family would be to not have candy or soda in your house at all because of tooth decay problems. But if that’s not a workable option, it’s best to have dessert as a planned part of the meal.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Dear granolagirl, We have the exact situation going on in our house. Everything you wrote my husband and I are living it. Our son is almost eleven and we got him at the age of five. We don't know what to do about it either. We've seen many different counselors with absolutely no help. We have no idea what to do about it either. We don't see a light at the end of the tunnel but we keep praying for one.

Comment By : ladybug

Dear granolagirl, We have the exact situation going on in our house. Everything you wrote my husband and I are living it. Our son is almost eleven and we got him at the age of five. We don't know what to do about it either. We've seen many different counselors with absolutely no help. We have no idea what to do about it either. We don't see a light at the end of the tunnel but we keep praying for one.

Comment By : ladybug

To all the adoptive parents: I had a recent incident with my 12 year old daughter stealing mariguana from a family member...I had told a collegue and she had given me this article. Not only did I read the article, and the comments. Stealing usually is a one timed event for a child that has normal thought process, but to a child who does not, discipline and bringing the item back does not work. What i have read are mainly adopted children stealing, hoarding and etc... with these, I would stongly suggest your adopted child to be assessed for FASD, Fetal Alcohol Disorder, when adopting childern, you do not know what the prenatal history has been for your child, and with FASD, one of the things they do is take food, and hoard items, it would be wise to research this disorder, because if your child is diagnosed with the disorder, there are ways to help them, and to help you as the parent to feel not so hopeless.

Comment By : gitzygirl

My son is almost 17, and he does steals from me all the time, I don't even remamber how it started. I m single mother, and he is the youngest. I had bad abusive relationship with his father, who doesn't get involved in kids life, because father doesn't feel being responsible. I cried many nights and now is many years. Problem doesn't get better, now he takes drugs and alcohol, and he tells me he makes up stories, if I m not gona give him at least one or two dollars hr sas he will start steal in a street and sell drugs. He had 2 times head injuries, has ADHD, plus I was bitten by his father when I was pregnant. He gets aggressive and uncontrolled. Few years ago he stabbed his older brother with knife, and I took the oldest one to emergency to get stitches. I can't take this anymore. But I can't call the cops, and I feel that it's the last call I have to do something and be strong before so Something worse would happened. I feel ashamed that I have to always lock my door, and hide my wallet and other stuff, because he steals from me. My heart is broken in a million peaces, and I always blame myself that I m a bad mother, I didn't discipline my kids, and got married super young. So, it's not only adopted kids, I think this behavior comes from attention suckers they need love some special love and attention, and they feel pain and hurt that's why they project on us. It's so painful to be useless. By the way, I couldn't get remarried because I have troubled kids, and don't want to fight over. I had boyfriend who was substitute as a father/role but didn't work too. Now I gave up, and want some rest from my boys.

Comment By : SingleMom

* Dear SingleMom: It sounds like you are feeling extremely overwhelmed. In situations likes yours, we recommend that you seek some support in your local area. Al-Anon would be a great place for you to start. They can help you by connecting you with others who are coping with a loved one’s substance abuse and its resulting behavior challenges. Please visit the Al-Anon website to locate meetings in your area: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/english.html AL-ANON. We wish your family the best.

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

I just found out that my son has been lying to me for almost 2 months now. He told me a story of some kid at school who dad works for Apple and can get my son a Ipad for cheap. He got the Ipad and I thought that he paid the kid for it in cash. And then all of my sons friends wanted one for cheap and told my son to get this kid to get them a Ipad too. So he began ordering Ipads for them too. And this snowballed into a big mess. The truth was that my son took my credit cards to buy all of this stuff online. He said that he got scared and could not tell the truth so he kept on doing it to hide his lying stories. But what really gets me upset was that he then bought a Imac at a much greater price for himself. Did not he realize that I was going to evenually get the bills and this would blow up in his face? He is 14 years old. He literally spent thousands on each card. And two of them were debit cards where the money comes out of my checking accounts and I had just mailed the mortgage payment and other bills and then needed to add funds to cover the checks from bouncing. I am totally floored that my son would do this to me. It is bad enough to steal for his Ipad, but to continue the stealing and lying I just can not comprehend it. I had even called the police in on this mystery kid from my sons lying story. My son finally told the truth after the police officer had spoke with this other kid and told my son that that a IP address specialist would come to our house to see which computer the online orders where ordered from. At this point I am still grasping the magnitude of the situation and wondering what other charges am I going to find.

Comment By : Totally floored

I have two step-daughters that have recently come to live with us. I have been a part of these girls' lives since they were toddlers. Last year I noticed the oldest one was always wearing new clothes and when I asked her where she got this or that she would tell me she "borrowed" it from a friend and decided to keep it. Since she has been here she has "borrowed" several things from me but never returns them and when I look for them or ask her where they are she says she lost them. My concern is that her younger sister has now started "borrowing" from me but instead of losing things she destroys them "accidentally". The youngest ( they are 15 and 16)actually blames ME for leaving my things where she can get to them. She has told me that if I do not want her to "borrow" my things that I need to lock them up in my room. These kids have always been well behaved as far as my interactions with them. I love them like my own children and never do anything for one without doing the same for all. When I discuss these events with their father they lie extremely convincingly ( even to me) about what happened to make it seem like it was pure coincidence or a misunderstanding on their part. I.E. that I gave them the impression that they were allowed to have anything that was "left" for them in the spare bathroom ( which is where my make-up, jewelry,beauty products are stored) or that my clothes somehow found their way into their closets so they assumed they were theirs to do what they wanted with them . They lie so convincingly that sometimes I begin to doubt myself, wondering if I am the one at fault for not setting clearer boundaries yet when I come out and give them a definitive boundary suddenly anything that is precious to me walks off or is accidentally broken. I am at a loss here. My mom says that is what all girls do to their parents and that I should be proud they want to take my stuff, but frankly it has grown old really fast. These girls don't want for anything. They have the latest in everything and both sets of grandparents take them shopping on a weekly basis. Is this considered stealing or just teenage behavior?

Comment By : Confused

* To ‘Confused’: Thank you for your question. While many kids take things from family members without permission, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay or that it should be brushed off as a phase. If the behavior is hurting someone, and clearly it is in your case, then it should absolutely be addressed no matter what name you give it. Here is an article where James Lehman talks about stealing within the family: Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

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

I have a son who started stealing small amounts of money from myself and siblings about 4 years ago. I have never caught him "red handed", but he at the time was the only person in the house. My husband said "oh I will talk with him." Well that has not worked and now he is 16 and caddying (making some money) and the money missing from my house and also his friends house. It is becoming bigger amounts and also more frequent. I have not caught him red handed and can NOT prove this but the pattern is cont and gaining ground quickly. His father does not know about the incidents of the last three weeks and I am pretty sure this has also gone to sholifting while on vacation. I am sick and do not knwo what to do ? Any suggestions?

Comment By : LKR

* To LKR: This sounds like an incredibly frustrating situation to be in. It is best not to accuse your son of stealing something from anybody without concrete proof. The fact that he was the only person in the house at the time doesn’t necessarily mean he took it, or that it was taken at that time. When something comes up missing, ask all of the children if they have seen it, if they could help you and keep an eye out for it. You can also talk with your son about the facts that you do know for sure, and your concerns about them. Be careful not to single your son out, though. If he does not admit it even after facing the facts, then you’ve done all you can do without proof. As heartbreaking as it might be to think about, the natural consequence in this situation is that eventually your son will be “caught red-handed.” At that point you can use the techniques discussed here or allow the police and legal system to handle this behavior if it comes to that. I am including a link to another blog about accusations for more information and ideas. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care. Ask PSL: “Is It OK to Accuse Your Child of Something without Concrete Proof?”

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

My son is 20 and no longer lives with us (due to severe behavioral problems). I recently discovered that he stole a credit card from our home and has been using it for 5 months. This was a duplicate card on an active account. His initial theft purchases went under the radar till recently when he started make larger purchases and he got caught. Initially he denied stealing the card till I advised the stores were pulling video. He admitted and said he would pay back. The issue is he is refusing to pay anything now. I really think I should press charges as that is my ONLY way to force a consequence on him as he no longer lives in the home and I provide him no support that I can withdraw. I do not want him to have a criminal record, but I also do not want him to get off scott free. What is a parent to do???

Comment By : c1nicolei

* To ‘c1nicolei’: I can see why you are feeling so torn about this. Let’s look at the facts here: 1) Your son broke the law. He stole your credit card and made fraudulent purchases with it which you are paying for, 2) He promised to pay you back but he isn’t, and 3) you have no other way to hold him accountable than reporting him to the police because he does not live with you. You might not want him to have a criminal record, but clearly it’s not important to him to avoid a criminal record as illustrated by his behavior. This is the path he has chosen for himself. Think about what message you want your son to learn here. Do you want him to learn that it’s okay to steal from others? Do you want him to learn that he can continue to mistreat you, and that you will let him? Do you want him to learn that there are no consequences to his behavior (in which case he might only keep stealing and eventually get caught anyway)? Or, do you want to teach him that he can’t treat you this way and that his actions do have consequences? What you do here is up to you. Think about your answers to these questions and trust your instincts.

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

Update: the plot thickens.... I filed a police report concerning the credit card theft. I was hoping to get support from my parents. Much to my shock they have alienated me and will not speak to me!! I am now being treated as if I am the one who commited the crime. They have always enabled my son but this is unfathonable to me!!!

Comment By : c1nicolei

my son has been stealing for over a year now and we cant stop him what to do a older boy sold him a gun then he steals it from his dad its a air gun he is not of age for it then he sold it to my friends little guy younger then him after we try to do things with him he does this my friends took him to the Santa paraded and came home happy then found out that the next day he made more money by selling something that he didnt own so we have tried everything help im trying and nothing is working im ready to give up it stop for a day then he is back doing the same thing and im scared i have told him ill take him to the cops my self but that didnt scare him one bit

Comment By : katherine

we have ask him why and he said because his friends have better stuff then him and that stealing is fun but being caught in the act with camera its no fun now but he is still doing it i have caught him and he dont care about us or the when he punish him for the things he does

Comment By : katherine

* Hi Katherine. It sounds like you have tried a lot of things to get your son to stop stealing and it’s frustrating for you that nothing is working so far. We recommend keeping your conversations about stealing focused on a specific incident and on three specific points only: 1) what was he thinking before he took the object, 2) who stealing hurts, and 3) what he will do differently next time instead of stealing. It is very important to restrict your son’s electronics until you have this discussion, he writes a summary of the discussion for you, and he either returns the stolen object, returns the money he made by selling the object, or makes amends in some other way. Of course you do have the option of calling the police, too, if you’d like. You could call their non-emergency number and discuss how they might handle it ahead of time so that you can make an informed decision. Here is another article on stealing which you might find helpful: Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting. We know this isn’t easy and we wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

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

My 13 year old grandaughter came to live with me 3years ago. Before that she lived with her maternal grandmother in a household where stealing was commonplace and covered up. Every 3 months or so she steals something - always from somebody who trusts her and makes sure that she ingratiates herself with them first. in the beginning she just thought we were silly to leave things about - to trust her. so it was our fault. When she first stole at school I made sure it was not covered up and she had to take appropriate consequences for it. She used to be very revengeful towards me for punishing her for instance she took my inhaler to make me suffer. This revengfulness has stopped and now she does understand that she is reponsible for what she chooses to do but she still steals - in a lone preplanned organised way that does not involve peers. I have recently mentioned talking to the police but she seemed to feed off that idea - to enjoy the potential dramatics of it. She has made great strides since she came to us - she is a good student - loves school -talented musician plays two instruments - attended dance classes which she adored but I have had to terminate the dance classes because she stole from the teacher whom she loves and respects!! What else can I do? Will she ever stop stealing? It is turning family members against her

Comment By : Trisha

* Hi Trisha: It can be very frustrating and confusing to have a child who consistently steals items from you and others. As discussed in the article, it is helpful to see stealing as a problem solving issue. We recommend having a problem solving conversation with your granddaughter when she steals which includes the following questions: What was she thinking before she decided to take the item? Why is it wrong to steal? What is she going to do differently next time she wants to steal something? It sounds like you are doing good work in giving her consequences consistently for her stealing. It might be helpful to look into local resources in your area to help you in addressing this. A good place to start might be www.211.org, which is an information and referral service. You can also reach them at (800) 273-6222. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I am a step mother of two daughters. One is 11 and the other is 13. In the last 6 months, we have had many issues with the 13 year old. Her mother lets the girls get away with almost everything and acts as if certain things are not that big of a deal. She has bought her daughter a padded bra and just recently bought her a thong. VERY INNAPROPRIATE for her age. She is extremely disrespectful in our home. We are not the type of parents that put up with attitude or outside drama. If things happen in our home, we discipline. We had an issue with her about 3 weeks ago regarding her attitude and behaivor towards her dad. She lost her glasses and tried to blame our son. We looked everywhere for them and she sat on her bed. My husband grabbed a bag that she brings from house to house and she flipped out. Yelled at him and said he had no right to go through her things and he needs to respect her privacy. Well of course we were thinking she was hiding something so we made her pull everything out of her bag which is when we found out about the thong. Naturally it wasn't so much the thong that we were angry about but how she handled the situation. When we were children, our parents would have smacked our butts or something a bit more harsh without hesitation. We do not believe in physical discipline so this is not an option. Two days ago, we found my thongs in her t-shirt drawer hidden between several shirts. 1. She had to have gone through our things and disrespected our privacy. 2. She stole something that didn't belong to her. I need some advice on how to handle the situation. We have the girls 3-4 days a week and we wait to discipline until they are in our home because their mother is no help at all.

Comment By : JBrown

* To ‘JBrown’: I imagine you feel doubly violated by your stepdaughter. She searched through your personal belongings and she took some of them for her own. What an awful feeling that is. You are right to steer clear of physical discipline—it won’t teach her the skills she needs to respect your boundaries in the future. 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 your room and took those things. Talk about your rules about 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 purchased new undergarments for you to replace the ones she stole. If she does not have money, she can do a couple chores around your home to work off the cost of the replacements. Here is another article about stealing for more information: Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting. We know this is frustrating and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

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

I discovered that my step daughter, now 17 steals big time from our home. She hates me and always has. So for her, this is no big deal. I've been suspecting her for months but her dad did not believe me or wanted to believe it. Finally he caught her red handed when he asked her to open a bag she carries from home to home. She had inside detergents and other stuff. I have a big stockpile for my home and family and she has been taking all kids of products every week to bring to her mom's home. I suspect her mother knows about it and encourages because otherwise how could she not wonder where the stuff is coming from? Mother is a bum and lives from welfare and defrauding goverment but that is another story on its own. My husband does not want to tell her mom alleging that there is no point. Stepdaughter has taken a big of a deal on things over the course of many months. I started noticing when my stockpile started getting lower and lower but again my husband would get very defensive if I insinuated any theft from his kids. When he caught her she said she does it to help her mom and I think he just want to forgive her and move on. A couple of years ago I took her to CVS and she was almost caught shoplifting there. Cashiers told me later on that she put the stuff back when she was caught and because I was such a good customer they did not proceed with calling police. At the time she promised her dad to never do that again. I am very hurt, mad and dissapointed and don't trust this girl at all. Wonder how can I trust her again, what her punishment should be (personally, I think she should pay us back $20 every 2 weeks for a while to cover for all the merchandise she has taken to her mom's. As far as her mother goes, I seriously hope she did not know about it...

Comment By : CheatedbySD

* To 'CheatedbySD': It is understandable that you feel betrayed and angry to discover that your stepdaughter has been stealing items from your home to bring to her mother’s home. It is hard to know if you can ever trust her again. We recommend talking with your husband first to make sure that you are on the same page when it comes to handling this situation. We find it is more effective when the biological parent takes the lead in disciplining their child, and the stepparent takes on more of a supportive role. Once you do that, we advise having a conversation with her which has three parts: What was she thinking when she decided to take these items? Why was it wrong to steal these things? What is she going to do differently next time she feels like taking something from your house to her mom’s without permission? We also recommend having her make amends, such as paying you back or replacing the items she took. I am including links to some articles I think you might find helpful as you work through this: Blended Family? The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting & Risky Teen Behavior: Can You Trust Your Child Again? Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 15 year old stepdaughter who does not live with us but visits us occasionally. She is very close to he half brother and sister and is very good with them. She has a history of stealing and hoarding but up until now she has not taken anything from us. However I recently discovered that 2 sets of gold earings were missing ( both valuable and full of memories)and i am 99% sure she ahs taken them. When I discovered her wearing them she said she got them from a charity shop. She is visiting soon and i still feel very upset about the earings and don't know how to approach her calmly. i want my earings back!

Comment By : Fif62

* To ‘Fif62’: I can understand why you’re upset. It’s easy to feel hurt and violated when someone takes something that belongs to you, especially when it’s a family member. What’s most difficult here is that there is no easy way to prove beyond a doubt that she took your earrings. What’s going to be most helpful now is to focus on what you can control. You can’t make her confess to stealing your earrings and give them back. You can, however, secure your valuables during her visit to protect them. You can also find some ways to deal with your feelings of loss and anger. While you might not be able to get the earrings back, you will always have the memories—nobody can take those. You might decide to write down the good memories associated with the earrings, talk to a friend or loved one about how you’re feeling, or find some other way to cope with your difficult feelings. Here is an article I believe will be very helpful for you if you and your husband do want to talk to her about the missing earrings: Ask PSL: “Is It OK to Accuse Your Child of Something without Concrete Proof?” Furthermore, if you and dad feel like it might be helpful, you could also involve the biological mother in this discussion as well. We know this is hard and we wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

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

My 15 year old son has started stealing from me. He took my debit card and took $100 and put the card back before I noticed it was missing. This is the second time he has taken my debit card and stolen money. I am beyond frustrated and am considering calling the police. His attitude and behavior have deteriorated since I lost my job and had to move us into a motel.I have met with his school counselors and tried mentoring programs to get him help and additional guidance but as most of these programs are voluntary he has to volunteer for them and he won't. I'm looking for boot camp programs because I don't want him to continue to falter. It's such a helpless feeling.

Comment By : sweetmec2

My daughter is 14yrs old. I did not catch her red handed stealing but I suspected it happened before. This unusual behaviour started about 6 months ago. Recently, I had $2900.00 and when her father checked within one week $1600.00 was missing. We asked her directly for the money, she denied having knowledge that we the money, after pressing her she admitted to taking $100.00 but not the other $1500.00.I begged her to return the remainder of the money but she is still saying she didn't touch it. Her father gave her a few stroke because he hates lies, but in the end she is still saying she only took $100.00. What can I do.I'm torn between her and her father with this situation. Help me.

Comment By : Confused

* To “Confused”: Thank you for taking time to reach out for support with this issue. I can understand feeling caught between your husband and daughter. What a challenging position to be in. I can hear you don’t agree with your husband’s approach. We don’t recommend physical forms of punishment because they’re not effective and it sounds like you recognize this. As James Lehman says, “You can’t punish a child into better behavior.” Because it’s difficult to know for certain whether or not your daughter took the remainder of the money, it will be difficult to hold her directly accountable. Have you considered calling the police and submitting a police report? In his article Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting , James Lehman does advise calling the police when stealing involves large sums of money. The police may be a good local support as you pursue answers to this dilemma. Though it may not have an obvious effect on your daughter, you will be sending the message that this behavior not only won’t be tolerated but is illegal as well. Here is another article you may find helpful Ask PSL: “Is It OK to Accuse Your Child of Something without Concrete Proof?” I wish you luck as you and your family work through this issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Dear Granolagirl, ladybug, et al., I am an adult adoptee who stole when I was a child. I can remember taking change from my mom's purse as early as age 6 or 7 to buy candy at the local five & dime store. Before I quit stealing (and I did eventually quit), I was taking as much as $20 at a time from my mom's purse. I also took clothes and scarves from my mom's wardrobe and even took shirts from my dad and brothers. (and wore them!) I do not remember ever being reprimanded by either of my parents--except one time when my mom expressed her disappointment in me when I took a blouse from her closet that had been given to her as a gift and that she planned to wear that evening at a family event. Otherwise, there were no consequences for my behavior. (Both of my parents worked and I was left to my own devices most of the time.) It wasn't until I was an adult and after many years of therapy that I learned my misbehavior as a child was directly related to adoption issues. As difficult as it may be to hear, and as frustrating as it must be to like your troubled adopted child sometimes, the stealing and other acting-out behaviors are really cries for help! You have both mentioned seeing a number of different counselors... have any of them specialized in attachment disorders or adoption issues in general? I highly recommend doing the research to find a therapist who specializes in adoption issues. The book that literally helped change my life and began to open my eyes to my core issues is titled "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew" by adoptee Sherrie Eldridge. I spent most of my life thinking I was defective in some way b/c of many of my acting-out behaviors that go all the way back to childhood. What Sherrie showed me is that they were really symptoms of a deep, primal pain I had never allowed myself to experience. I have done a lot of subsequent work and healing since then, and cannot recommend Sherrie's book enough--especially for the parents of adoptees (or adoptees themselves, if they're old enough) who are struggling with their child's/ children's behavioral issues. "The Primal Wound" is another book that has helped me (and was a core source for my senior thesis in college). Adoptees with behavioral problems (statistics show that the majority of adoptees do NOT have mental health/ behavioral health issues, but of those people who DO, a disproportionate number of them are adoptees) are not necessarily bad people, we're sick people who need help. Please know you and your children are not alone. There is help. And I am a living, breathing example of an adoptee with a troubled past who has overcome a lot of my own struggles--with a lot of help. I put my parents through a lot of grief and have nothing but compassion for you as you go through your own struggles as adoptive parents. My parents are both deceased but I am grateful to report that in their final years I was finally able to step up and be a real daughter to them when they needed me most, sort of a living amends for all the years of heartache. God bless and thank you.

Comment By : PhoebeK10

My son is 15. We are middle class family and can afford only regular clothes. Since middle school he is obsessed with brand name clothing and shoes. recently, we went and bought few shirts and shorts from his favorite shorts. Last week I saw that he had used the money in the drawers to buy a shirt from a store and my credit card to buy online. I just don't know what he was thinking. I am an absolute fanatic about truth and honesty and has been practicing 100% honesty so far and has been teaching him the same. My husband is that way too. I am shocked, appalled, dismayed. So, I returned the store bought shirt, going to return the online shirt and also took away all the shirts, shorts and shoes we had already bought for him and told him he won't get it until October. He has been saying small lies here and there since 5 but everytime has been punished very well. When ever he violated computer usage rule, we grounded the computer usage for an extended period. I have followed up on all my punishments. We both come from generations of honest families and have not desired for anything materialistic and donated a lot. This behavior is mind boggling.

Comment By : honest

My son is 16 and for the last few years his behavior has gone from a little trouble to now facing 2nd Degree Burglary. His father has never been much a part of his life and his step father who raised him his entire life he hates. He is ADHD, has a problem with authority, is stealing constantly from us.. big items, all of my jewelry is gone and he denies it. I have no cold hard proof but I KNOW he did it. He says it is because I didn't spend enough time with him. That's a bunch of crock. I have four children but I ALWAYS spent time with them. I have always been the best mother I could be. Two of my children turned out fine.. the two that have my personality. The other two.. that has their absent fathers personality are the ones in trouble. My 17 year old girl is pregnant and my son is a drug abuser, a thief, a liar, a cheat and is angry at the world. I have tried therapy, putting him in a hospital.. he quit school.. I quit my job to homeschool him.. he doesn't want my help.. he asks for money daily even though we are broke now that I quit my job. He is lazy.. I am at my end. Tough love is coming in to play now. I will not get him an attorney.. nor pay his fines. If he goes to jail.. he will stay there until they let him out. He is not adopted and I don't drink or smoke.. I don't do drugs so this fetal alcohol thing is not relevant to my son. I am tired. I pray for him.. raised him in the church. What more can I do? I talk to him.. I am supportive and he plays me. He is so very good at manipulation. He can look you in the eye and lie without flinching. I have been up all night tonight after picking him up from the police station. Our state doesn't have very many resources to help him. I have called the cops many times to no avail. They talk.. and leave. What is a mom to do?

Comment By : meg444

* To “meg44”: It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. I am sorry you have been dealing with so many challenges. It’s understandable you feel at the end of your rope. Any parent would in your situation. It can be heartbreaking to have your child steal from you. From what you have written, it sounds like you are ready to allow the natural consequences of his choices to come into play, as difficult as that may be. It doesn’t sound as if having the police talk to your son has been much of a deterrent for your son. One thing James Lehman suggests in his article Why is My Child Stealing and What Can I Do? Advice for Parents on Kids, Stealing and Shoplifting is for the parents to consider pressing charges when the police are called. Something else you might consider is speaking with someone in the police department to find out if there is anything they might be able to do to help you out other than having a talk with your son. We would suggest calling the non-emergency number and asking to speak with someone either by phone or possibly in person. Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner have a great worksheet that can help you work out the most effective way to do this. You can find that by clicking this link: Police Intervention Worksheet. We do wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this challenging issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My 17 year old daughter began stealing and lying when she was 12 years old. She quit for a while after I refused to allow her to hang out with a particular friend outside of home and school any longer. As a matter-of-fact, a lot of the lying, stealing, and manipulation stopped at that time. My daughter has consequences for her actions, but I feel I am running out of things I can do. My 17 year old began lying, stealing, and manipulating again 2 years ago. Continuously stealing my mother's vehicle as we do not have one (broke down last summer). Her father has only been there when it suited him, will not take her and told her he couldn't when she asked to go live with him, he has been in and out of jail for non-payment of child-support and was never really there anyway. She had been admitted to treatment at a behavioral health clinic after she stole the car, wrecked it, left while grounded, and when I attempted to take her phone she kicked me knocking me to the floor. I was so angry I had to step outside and avoid her for almost an hour! That day I talked her into agreeing to go to the hospital. She begged and pleaded after 2 days for me to come get her, but I didn't. The hospital let her out after 7 days, without even having a family counseling session with us! Two days later she took the car again. She seems to act out worse when a boy is involved and lately there have been several boys calling. We have to hide everything, cigarettes, keys, wallets, credit cards, cell phones, etc... Anytime I talk to her anymore it seems like we end up arguing because I won't give in to her unreasonable requests (the most recent being that I need to let her have a sex-life). We used to talk all the time, I miss her. She has dropped out of school and I have pushed her to get her GED and a job ever since. She has begun to use these things to get what she wants. She will steal the car, sneak out at night, and steal other things, then come home and ask me to take her to apply for jobs or talk about going to college. She just got her GED and I felt that I couldn't do anything to celebrate it because she snuck out the night before and the night after! We are completely broke because 2 of the times she took the car it was wrecked and I have had to help my mother pay for repairs, not to mention when she took it out once and fled from the police, so I had to pay to get it out of impound. She has been arrested once for shoplifting and I made her deal with that, which was little to no consequence; the fleeing incident still has not gone to court, but she will have to face those consequences with little help from me. I attempt to support her for the positive things she does, but the negative outweighs the positive to no end. She has been smoking marijuana mostly, smokes spice occasionally, and has tried other things, though she won't come completely clean as to what those were. When she was put in the hospital she had marijuana and percocet in her system. I really do not know what to do and as has been said by another, there really isn't much help around here for kids that are out of control either. My other daughter, age 14, suffers because I have had to spend so much time chasing, lecturing, talking to, and dealing with consequences of my 17 year old. My 14 year old also has to hide her possessions so they will not be stolen, even her clothes. I am at the point where I feel completely powerless and am becoming seriously depressed, but I don't know what to do to stop it.

Comment By : mrizer

* To “mrizer”: Thank you for writing in. You have been dealing with some very challenging behaviors for a while. It’s understandable you would feel powerless; many parents would in your situation. No one should have to go through this. Even though it may feel like things will never change, it’s not too late to start making some adjustments in how you respond. As Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner point out in their article My ODD Child is Physically Abusive to Siblings and Parents—Help!, it’s never too late to start setting limits and boundaries. It is concerning that your daughter has resorted to physical assault in response to consequences. When your daughter becomes physically abusive towards you or any other member of the family, we would advise calling the police. As difficult as it may be to even consider this, it’s important for your daughter to understand this behavior is not ok and it won’t be tolerated. This is also something you could keep in mind in regards to your daughter stealing from you and other family members. Stealing is illegal; stealing from family members doesn’t make it any less illegal. A question you might consider asking yourself is, if it were someone else who stole your mother’s car or kicked you, how would you have responded? One of the things that Kim and Marney suggest in the article is being proactive with the police and calling them before another incident occurs to find out how they may be able to help you. They have also included a downloadable form you can look over to get some ideas about how to talk with the police. You might also consider looking into other supports in your area, such as CHINS/PINS (Children in Need of Services/Persons in Need of Services) through the juvenile or family division of your county court. We know this is hard and we wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Thank you for your response. Since I posted this my daughter's behavior has escalated. As I said previously, she is grounded. However, Friday she left the house with friends and was not seen again until Sunday, when I found her walking with friends through a parking lot. I reported her missing during the time that she was gone; the officer said there are no consequences and that I could not complete an out-of-control complaint through the police department. He did however tell me where to go. I explained to my daughter the plans I had to complete the complaint and she asked me to make a deal with her. I told her there would be no more "deals." I spoke to the court designated worker today and completed a complaint charging my daughter with running away. The worker told me that the charge would provide for more provisions and a wider span of consequences for her actions. I hate the fact that our private family issues have to become public, but the things I heard my daughter had done while she was away from my home scared me to death! My daughter will also be seeing a new counselor as I had apparently been taking her to see the wrong one.

Comment By : mrizer

aweek ago my 11yr old son discovered 7 bucks missing from his special hiding place and my 15 yr old daughter had 2 dollars missing. i ghave a adult 20 yr old daughter who came over to wash clothes she was the only person who had access to my mom ,she is married with a 3 yr old girland is 23 weeks pregnant well i decidedto go go through the house to see if anythingelse was missing i discovered my diamont necklace worth 200 bucks a braclet matching ring was missing those items were not worth as much as my neclace but worth alot to me sentimental value these went missing friday night nov 16 i went to localjewlry store on ondayand identified my necklace it hada broke chain so it was easy to identify and it was still fresh on jewelers mind it was sold that sat. for 20 bucks i calledpolice and they made report the investigator did her job there was enogh evidence to prove she indeed stole my necklace i had to buy it backfor 20 bucks. i go monday to local courthouse to sign the warrant. am i doing the right thing i want to teach hera lesson that im serious and i did not raise her that way and my other 2 kids looked up to her luckily they havemore sense than she does they are good kids. i dont wont people to think im a bad parent by having my adult daughter prosecuted. to me i think im doing the right thing

Comment By : camcfry40

* To “camcfry40”: Wow, what a tough situation to be in as a parent. It’s understandable you would question if you’re making the right decision. Most parents would be questioning whether or not pressing charges against their child is the right thing to do. Even though it may be a difficult decision to make, this is a natural consequence for the choice your daughter made to steal. It can be helpful sometimes to look at it this way: if it were a stranger who came into your house and stole your things, how would you respond to that? Just because it’s your daughter, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still stealing. I am really sorry you and your family are going through this and wish you all the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I'm in a relationship with a man and his 2 sons live with us. They are 19 and 20, old enough to be on their own, but depend on their dad for everything. I had been missing a bunch of things from my room and my kitchen. I know that they have them and has asked and they tend to lie. I have searched their rooms and found them. It makes me even more angry. But I don't want to be accused of going into their personal things even though they've done it with mine. They don't respect other people's things and feel that they can take without asking. How do I confront them? It's too much stress on their dad to keep after them for this. I wish they would move out, but they refuse to grow up. HELP!!

Comment By : eba

* To “eba”: Thank you for writing in to Empowering Parents. I imagine you feel doubly violated by your stepsons. They searched through your personal belongings and took some of them. What an awful feeling that is. It’s best to take care of yourself emotionally and calm down before addressing this issue. When you feel calm enough to address it in a business-like way you can sit down with your partner and discuss with him what the two of you will have for expectations around personal space and belongings. Try to have this conversation at a time when his sons aren’t present. That way the two of you can focus on getting on the same page as far as what is and isn’t OK within your household. Once you’re both on the same page, the two of you can sit down and discuss the situation with his sons. You want to be careful not to lecture and instead focus on setting clear limits and firm boundaries around expected behavior within your household. Here are a couple articles focused on adult children living at home you and your partner may find informative: Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy & Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity. We know this is frustrating and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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