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 iPhone 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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Related content: Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know

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.

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.

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James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (27)
  • RR

    My 15 year old daughter was caught stealing lip glosses from a store and was caught by the police and detained. Thank god they only let her off with a warning and a 6 month ban from the store. She used to be such a good kid and such a smart girl and I can’t understand why she would do something like this. This last year, she has been doing so many stupid things but whenever I ask her why she does them, she never has an answer. I don’t know how to get through to her and give her a consequence that will remind her to think first.

    I found really appreciate any feedback, Thankyou.

    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Firstly, thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents, and I want to assure you that you're not alone in facing challenges with your teenager. It can be disheartening when a child, who once displayed exemplary behavior, makes choices that seem out of character.

      It's crucial to approach this situation with empathy and understanding. Adolescence is a complex phase where young individuals are navigating their identity and experimenting with boundaries. It's not uncommon for them to make impulsive decisions without fully grasping the consequences.

      To foster open communication, try having a non-judgmental conversation with your daughter. Create a safe space where she feels comfortable expressing herself. Rather than focusing solely on the misbehavior, inquire about her feelings and concerns. Sometimes, teens act out as a way of coping with underlying issues such as stress, peer pressure, or personal insecurities.

      Once you've established a dialogue, collaboratively explore alternative outlets for her emotions and discuss healthier decision-making strategies. Emphasize the importance of thinking before acting and how choices can impact her life.

      In terms of consequences, it's essential to strike a balance between accountability and guidance. A meaningful consequence should encourage reflection and personal growth. Perhaps involving her in community service or a relevant educational program could help her gain a broader perspective on her actions.

      Additionally, consider seeking the support of a family therapist or counselor who can facilitate communication and offer guidance for both you and your daughter. Professional intervention can be valuable in addressing any underlying issues and equipping your family with the tools to navigate these challenging moments.

      Remember, parenting is a journey filled with ups and downs, and mistakes are part of the learning process. Your commitment to understanding and supporting your daughter will contribute to her overall development and resilience.

      We appreciate you sharing your story and wish you all the best moving forward. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going.

  • SM

    My 15 1/2 year old girl was caught stealing with her bff. They both stole some beauty products. Police came and they won’t prosecute but god forbid this happens again - they will.

    My dilemma is she’s such a good kid. She’s open and honest. She’s never had any issues behaviorally - she’s never had to be punished because she’s just good… so I don’t know how to punish her? She was panic attack level hysterical. She was mortified with remorse and embarrassment. And just kept apologizing.

    The other side of this is I also stole and was caught. And was a very good kid. Good grades, never drank or did drugs or smoked. I just stole to stole. There wasn’t an explanation? Other than I didn’t want to buy it?

    So I have empathy here as well.

    I’m struggling with finding the balance between not being a hypocrite but also consequences? She’s banned from

    The store for 2 years and the entire mall the store was at so that’s major. And a very hard conversation to have or get through with friends when she can’t go.

    But other than crying and being disappointed and the severity of understanding this can never happen again or you’ll have a record and good luck with college! I just don’t know what kind of punishment to instill?

    Appreciate any feedback. Thank you. - Mom

    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out with what sounds like a tough situation. From what you've shared, there are already consequences for her behavior, so you don't have to give additional consequences on top of the natural consequences that have already occurred. It may be helpful to have a problem solving conversation with her focusing on what she could do differently the next time she's in a situation where she's tempted to take something that doesn't belong to her. For more information on problem solving conversations, you can check out these articles here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/search/problem+solving.

      We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  • Miss No Name
    I had sticky fingers as a teen. I just loved being a thrill seeker. It wasn't too cool when I got pinched for taking an ink pen from the drug store around the corner from where I lived at the time. What's worse is a girl from the same schoolMore I attended at the time just happened to be there. I moved away from the area the following year only to return five years later and lived in a different neighborhood where I had all new friends. I haven't stolen in 51 years and I know I must keep up the good work
  • Dew


    I have noticed in the last visits of my step daughter that she is stealing my makeup. She is 13 and lives with her mom in England and we live in wales, she comes for a week visit once in a month. I look after her like my own daughter as I don’t have daughter, I have given her jewellery, makeup even my clothes as she is pretty grown up. I make week food plan and cook her favourite meals. My husband also tries hard to look after her as he doesn’t live with them. I noticed that she has taken not just my clothes but also my makeup which I loved. I informed my husband and he spoke with her mom, her mom said that we have a face to face chat with her when she visits next time. In the last visit I spoke with her as I didn’t want her to feel embarrassed if her father would have spoken with her, I spoke in a friendly way to stop as it’s bad and will show her untrustworthy and if she wants something ask for permission but oppositely again she has stolen my makeup. How do we deal with her?

    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out. Stealing can be a troubling behavior to deal with. It can help to recognize that stealing is more of a poor problem solving skill than anything else. We have several articles that offer tips for managing this distressing behavior: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/stealing/.

      We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going.

  • StressMom
    My 9 year old stole 300.+ dollar from me and took it on the bus, he lost some of it on the bus and some of it made it to school. Now my money is tied with the counselor, because she wants me to tell her how much money itMore was. I don't know how much he lost and I am not sure how much made it to school with him. my Daughter told me she saw him with the money, because he told her I don't want all these dollars and she told him those are twenties. he has been stealing from me for a while now. I am looking for advice on how to deal with him. Help
  • Emma
    I am a single mum with 3 boys. Last night my oldest son, 15- nearly 16 was caught shop lifting. I had washing go to the oil statistics and be present while he was interviewed. I have a history myself; however I have been out of trouble and full additionMore for over a year. My son is so not like this usually, however he has new hanging out with these boys from school who seem to have had a really big, bad influence on him the last couple of months. I have caught him out lying to me of where he is etc; not coming home till late. I found wanted to push him away further, but I'm really not sure about how to make him actually cut these "friends " off. I know from experience that he is being used by these boys and his head teacher also has the same concerns. I am trying to be supportive; bus at the same time I need to be respected as his mum, and only parent. I don't want to handle it like my parents did will me; because I just rebelled even more. Can anyone please help me out with anything thoughts.
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      I hear you. It can be so challenging when kids start hanging out with a new crowd, and their behavior changes for the worse. As James Lehman outlines in Does Your Child Have “Toxic” Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd, it doesn’t typically workMore to try to make your child stop hanging out with certain kids. Instead, it tends to be more effective to provide opportunities for your son to spend time with this crowd in a structured, supervised fashion, and to hold him accountable for his own behavior. The truth is, we are all surrounded by numerous influences, both positive and negative, and we are all responsible for the choices we make. Despite the influence his friends might have, your son is responsible for the consequences of his choices to steal and to break other rules. I recognize how difficult it must be for you right now, and I hope you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • Angie Borregard
    Hi, 2 out of my 3 daughters got caught stealing from their favorite store in the mall. Found out theyve stolen before just didn't get caught. They were humiliated in front of several people at the store and kicked out of the mall for 6 months. Well, we let themMore keep their phones but grounded them from going anywhere with friends or friends coming over, etc for a month. Well, the 3rd sister who was not grounded was set to go to the movies last night with her boyfriend. I decided last minute to let the other two go see the movie as well, same place same movie and dropped off and picked up right before and right after. T hey have all been couped up in the house for 2 weeks. Well a few hours prior this day one of my grounded girls asked to hang out with a new friend she met at school, a couple others asked if she could skating, etc, she was recently transferred from another school due to being severely bullied, I told her no due to her groundation. Well because I made a dumb decision to let the two girls go to the movie with their sister, her new friends found out and they all now think sbe lied about being grounded and think she doesn't want to hangout with them at all. Well because of my stupid decision now she is terrified she will,lose them as friends when she has tried sooo hard to make friends at her new school, and try I,g everythi,g she can to meet the right ones. I'm new to groundation and this was my fault but what can or should I do from here. Please help.
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      Angie Borregard It can be so difficult when our kids are struggling to make appropriate choices, and find good friends.  You’re not alone in this situation.  At this point, it could be useful to talk with your daughter about what is going on, and to brainstorm about how she mightMore talk with her new friends about what happened.  You might find some additional techniques in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-cool-kids-how-to-help-your-child-or-teen-deal-with-peer-pressure-exclusion-and-cliques/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your daughters.  Take care.
  • smithcurse
    Hi, My daughter is 7 and a half. She's been caught stealing little things over the past couple of years which has always been addressed and dealt with accordingly (we reinforce how it is illegal - we even have an officer neighbour who has explained his job is to lock up thieves)More We explain how it hurts us and makes us not trust her. She continues to do it. Lately it has been worse. There are no changes in her life to warrant this (ie family dynamics, moves, etc). Last week I discovered she had taken 2 necklaces of mine (they were cheap dollar store ones but still). She was grounded to her room for the rest of the day, we talked it over with her yet again. She just kind of shrugs it off. No big deal. Then this week I caught her with a set of expensive markers which she had to have gone digging through my belongings for and she was drawing on windows. (she likes to draw on walls and anything she is not supposed to despite providing ample art supplies and different acceptable surfaces). She said she doesn't know why she did it after us again explaining things. That is her typical response. So we opted to ground her for 3 days (all school days). Again she shrugged it off like no big deal. Well her and my son have mutual friends coming tonight but she is to be in her room. Finally she got angry. I explained again the stealing issue to which she said "I did think about it". I gave her a chance to talk with me but she said "it's not stealing". I explained what stealing is...again...and how it is wrong...again. She still claimed it was not stealing. I asked her to tell me what it is then. She had no answer. I explained the difference between stealing and borrowing. She said she knows the difference (she does). Then she asks if she can be ungrounded. We never back down from consequences and never have but she always asks. Then after being told no she storms to her room and screams how we don't love her and don't care. The stealing has become such a habit that I truly don't trust her. I try. But it's hard. I work from home and she has stolen product from my craft business. Family keeps suggesting she needs more attention....but while I do work weekends at craft fairs my husband is home with them and they play. School holidays, pd days, before and after school, summer days...we do things together. I limit my work to if they are in class or when they sleep. The other times we go on nature walks, ride bikes, build snow forts, do crafts etc. We have family movie nights (she loves movies) once a week. She gets special her time daily to talk or read with us. (son gets the same but he usually doesn't want it). Every month she gets a "girls only date" with me. So I seriously doubt attention is the issue. She's been a very serious child all her life. She's always required that little extra which we've provided. But this stealing thing...we don't know what else to do. You'll laugh, but we think it's hereditary. Every single girl (except me) on my side of the family has gone through troubles of some sort (vandalism, attitude issues, massive disrespect, stealing, running away) And believe me when I say parenting styles are different across the board. My kids barely even see my side due to distance. So there is no influence that way, plus there is at least a ten yr difference in ages, mine being youngest. When I met my husband and we went to the different houses he even noticed. We actually have a joke in the family that it is the "smith family curse" (changed name for privacy) And we all know what it is. Could this be an actual thing? Could there be something in our genes? Or is there something we can do different to stop this behaviour????
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      smithcurse I hear you.  Stealing is a challenging issue which many parents face, so you are not alone.  Talking with your daughter about why stealing is wrong, and holding her accountable for her choices are both a part of addressing this with her.  For many kids, though, lectures and groundingMore are ineffective in changing behavior because they do not teach how to behave differently in the future.  You might consider having a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with your daughter, in which you discuss specific strategies she can use the next time she is tempted to take something which doesn’t belong to her.  You might also consider holding her accountable by having her https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-caught-my-child-lying-how-to-manage-sneaky-behavior-in-kids/, such as replacing items that she has taken, instead of grounding her.  I understand how difficult this behavior can be, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
  • Kimberly24
    Hello. My step-daughter is 13. I have been the sole mother figure in her life since she was 3 years old. She has been diagnosed with ADHD. For years we have had issues with behavior. Within the last several years she has been stealing from immediate family frequently and extendedMore family occasionally. She mostly steals from me and her two older step-sisters. I am just about at my wits end and feel this may cost me my marriage. We have tried several different consequences and I have even tried to think outside the box. She has totally lost the trust of everyone in the family. We have locks on each door in the house except hers. If ANYTHING is left unlocked, you can bet she will take it -- including clothes and panties that do not even fit her from the dryer. She has even stolen things and given the items to her friends. She has no respect or remorse. I will admit, I lose my temper every time and I cannot control my immediate anger towards her once I have caught her. I feel that she has learned to manipulate me and others. There have been several times that she has had the ability to make me think I'm crazy and whatever she took was not what she had. I have truly questioned my own sanity at times, as well as her step-sisters. She doesn't steal very often from her father. I believe there has maybe been 3 times total she took something from him; however, she has stolen from me and her step-sisters countless times. We have built up such resentment towards her because like so many others have said, each time it's dealt with in some form, she promises not to do it anymore and often times she does it the very next day. WE NEED HELP!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      Kimberly24 I hear you.  It can be so frustrating when you have been trying to address behaviors like this for years, yet nothing seems to work.  It’s understandable that you and her sisters might feel resentment, since she promises not to do it anymore, and then turns around and doesMore it again.  I want to point out that she is not necessarily making these statements to manipulate you, or to lie to you.  She may genuinely want to stop this behavior, yet https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/to figure out what needs to change.  Furthermore, while locking up items is an effective preventative measure, just doing this is not teaching her how to manage temptation, or what to do differently if she wants something that doesn’t belong to her.  At this point, it might be more effective to turn your focus toward helping her to build her skills, rather than trying to find additional consequences for her.  You might find our article series, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-1-how-to-coach-your-child-to-better-behavior/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-2-making-child-behavior-changes-that-last/, helpful as you continue to address your stepdaughter’s behavior.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
  • mummyof3gurls28
    Hello, my 7 yr old is always stealing. We have had many conversations on how stealing is wrong, and it just seems to go in one ear and out the other. She steals toys from kids at school; even though she had a billion toys and gets things often thatMore she picks out; so needless to say it's not like she doesn't have the things she wants and needs. She has stolen $ from my purse, and tried to steal a credit card to take to school. After another talk, she promises never to do it again. Later that week there was a new toy in her bag. She fabricates stories like a student gave it to her, or she won it as a prize. It seems like nothing is ever good enough for her. I get her favorite snack at the store, and the reaction is oh i wanted that AND this...awwww... and goes and cries. It's the same way with presents on bdays and xmas, always more then plentiful yet the reaction is "i wanted more"... always more. I feel like I've tried everything to get her to change her behavior, the school says she does what she wants and is failing almost every class of grade 1 because she wont even write on her spelling tests because she doesnt "feel" like it. It feels like my home is turning into a battle ground between her and our other younger kids. It was just my middle daughters bday and she was mad at all her presents (even though i got her the same giant coloring book and a pk of markers and a kinder egg too to open) and she destroyed all her sisters toys and hit the parts so her sister couldnt use her bday presents because she wanted them. She refuses to listen to anything, even "can u go get me ur dirty clothes" or "hang up your jacket and backpack" and it's always an ordeal.  I make large healthy meals full of choices and every time it's not something she delegated then it's labelled as gross without even trying it, her school lunches come home in whole unless its the pizza day or i sent chicken strips or the like. Toys are plentiful, food is plentiful, i work from home so i give 100% of my attention to the kids first, lots of hugs and snuggles and fun times and activities all the time. Please help!!!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      mummyof3gurls28 I hear you, and I recognize how frustrating it must be to continue to have the same conversations with your daughter over and over again.  It’s not uncommon for kids to promise to do better or to try harder, and then continue to do the same inappropriate behavior.  IMore want to point out that this doesn’t mean that your daughter is lying, or trying to manipulate you.  Rather, it might mean that your daughter doesn’t know what to do differently when she is in a tempting situation. At this point, it might be helpful to have a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with her about specific strategies she can use the next time which will still follow the rules.  Please be sure to let us know if you have any additional questions.  Take care.
  • KristeneK


    I have a nine year old daughter who is currently being treated with Lupron injections for Precocious Puberty. So my nine year old has the physical appearance of a 14 year old and an attitude to match!

    She has been under successful treatment now for two years. However, recently she is becoming more defiant. She has begun to physically attack me when displeased with me or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. For now, I can keep her at bay (until she calms down) with out hurting her or myself but I am really afraid for our future when the day comes that she can overpower me.

    My nine year old is 5'5 and 110 lbs and I am 5'7 and 180 lbs. The day will arrive soon when she will be able to overpower me.

    My husband although he lives in the same house is not at all supportive. In fact, he witnesses her attacking me with no reaction which I believe empowers her to  do even more harm to me.

    I feel very alone and ashamed that our family is in this situation.

    I have not reached out to our Pediatrician yet but I am quickly approaching a dangerous place. I want to help my daughter but I just don't know where to start. Would it be our Pediatrician, a Phsycaitrist, Psychologist or the Police?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I am at a loss and truly want to help and understand my daughter's behavior.

    Many Thanks,


    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      KristeneK I hear how concerned you are for your daughter her increasing aggression, and I’m glad that you are reaching out for support.  As Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner point out in their article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/stop-aggressive-behavior-in-kids-and-tweens-is-your-child-screaming-pushing-and-hitting/, talking with your daughter’s pediatrician could be a good next step.  This way, you canMore rule out any underlying issues which might be contributing to her aggression toward you.  I also encourage you to have a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with your daughter during a calm time about other strategies she can use in the future instead of attacking you.  I recognize how difficult this must be for you, and I wish you all the best moving forward.  Take care.
  • Robyn

    Hi. I have fOster child 14 who stole twenty dollars and a ph from a locked safe at boarding school. She is being sent home tomorrow for 3days. I asked school to ring police but they wont.I still think I should take her to local station. ?

    At a loss at what to do..She has multiple mental issues as well.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      Because the school does not want to involve the police in

      this matter, it might not be effective to take your child to the police

      station.  At this point, it might be more effective to https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ about what was going on right before she decided to get into the

      safe at school, and what she could have done differently.  If you are

      currently working with other professionals and treatment providers for your

      child, you might also consider working with them on a plan to address any future

      stealing in a way in which she will be held accountable for her actions. 

      Thank you for your question; take care.

  • SadGrandMa
    what should I do if 15 yo girl keeps stealing money for my purse, form my husband's pockets but hasn't been caught redhanded ? there was nobody in the house except the girl but $100 bill was missing while I took the younger sister to the pool. She took ourMore car keys and drove our cars to the park to smoke weed with her friends at 5 am a few times. She admits it's not good but she does anyway, it's cool and fun. I'm lost. Please advise!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It can be so

      challenging when you are in a situation where you suspect a child of breaking

      the rules, and the clues seem to point in that direction, yet you do not have

      any solid proof.  In this type of scenario, it tends to be most effective

      to focus on what you can control, which is limiting the opportunity she has to

      take money and other things without permission.  This might involve

      limiting the amount of cash that you have on hand, or securing the car keys

      before you go to bed at night.  While this might not seem “fair” that you

      have to do this, these are preventative steps you can take while she learns how

      to manage her impulses more effectively.  Carole Banks offers more tips on

      this subject in her article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/kids-stealing-from-parents-what-you-need-to-know-now/.  I recognize how

      troubling stealing can be, and I hope that you will write back and let us know

      how things are going.  Take care.

  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

    @at a loss 

    I hear you. 

    It’s so difficult when you are watching your child continue to make poor

    decisions, and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/throwing-it-all-away-when-good-kids-make-bad-choices/.  You are not alone.  Something I

    often recommend to parents in this situation is to focus on where you have

    control, which is how you respond to your son’s choices.  As noted in the

    article above, we encourage parents to allow their kids to experience the

    natural consequences of stealing, legal or otherwise.  James Lehman

    outlines how to respond when your child is using running away as a

    problem-solving technique in his article series, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/running-away-part-i-why-kids-do-it-and-how-to-stop-them/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/running-away-part-ii-mom-i-want-to-come-home-when-your-child-is-on-the-streets/. 

    I recognize how challenging this must be for you right now, and I wish you and

    your family all the best.  Take care.

  • mommacee

    What is an appropriate consequence for my 14 yr old bipolar daughter who just got caught by security for stealing 4 items of makeup?  

    the store will ask for retribution, which she will pay for and they have banned her from their location.  I have taken her phone and ipad away but I still feel like I havent done enough!

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It’s normal to feel upset when your child is caught

      shoplifting, so you are not alone.  It’s also quite common to try to find https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-discipline-your-child-effective-consequences-for-children-who-dont-listen/ for behaviors like this, in hopes that a

      child will remember how much it “hurt” and make a different choice next

      time.  The truth is, that doesn’t tend to work in the real world because

      consequences by themselves do not change behavior.  Your daughter is

      already experiencing natural, legal consequences for her actions, and adding on

      more is not likely to be more effective.  Instead, I recommend having a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with your daughter about what was going on right before she

      decided to steal the make-up, and what she could have done differently. 

      You might also limit times when she is allowed unsupervised in stores until she

      can demonstrate more appropriate behavior.  Please be sure to let us know

      if you have additional questions.  Take care.

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