Your school age child is stealing: what can you do?

Put your hand up if you remember stealing something when you were a kid. I bet there are lots of hands raised right now!

It’s not unusual for kids to take something that doesn’t belong to them, without asking permission, especially between the ages of five and eight. But by this age, they know it’s wrong and a parent’s response is very important. If we ignore the behaviour, it encourages your child to keep trying to get away with it.Mom talking sternly to daughter, daughter looking down

Knowing why kids steal will help you respond calmly to their behaviour. They may:

  • have trouble controlling emotions (sometimes referred to as self-regulation)
  • want to steal for the “thrill” of getting away with it.
  • steal for attention from peers or due to peer pressure
  • have low self-esteem

Other reasons include: mental health issues, stress at home, at school or with friends, lack of money and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Whatever the case, parents need to get to the root of the behaviour and provide consequences. I’ll share some quick tips for what to do, and how to prevent it.

What can you do?

  • Show compassion but be firm. Explain that it is not okay to steal and it is against the law. Let them know it is not to happen again. Ask your child calmly why they felt they needed to steal, but don’t debate or argue the point. Let them know you are disappointed in their behaviour.Two males in their late teens stealing in a grocery store.
  • Work together on a plan to replace or return the item. If your child stole money from you, or no longer has the item, offer options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores. You can use your own judgement based on the age of the child and the severity of the behaviour as to whether you feel an additional suitable consequence is needed.
  • If your child doesn’t understand why it was wrong, seek help from a mental health professional right away.

Tips to help prevent stealing:

  • Reinforce the basic rules with young children e.g. asking permission before taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
  • Continue to build a positive relationship with your child. Spend time together and look for and give praise and attention for their strengths.
  • Continue to take an interest in your kid’s friends. Encourage involvement in music, sports, hobbies, etc.
  • Check in with your kids frequently whether at home or from work and continue to take an interest in their school work.
  • Let your child earn pocket money by doing chores.

What if stealing continues to be a problem or you’re worried about your child’s mental health?

Consider getting professional help such as:

  • Talking to your Healthcare Provider who can refer you to a therapist or counselor.
  • Calling Reach Out Centre for Kids(ROCK).
  • Meeting with the school social worker, mental health and addictions nurse, or child and youth worker.
  • Speaking with a public health nurse: call 311 for information and resources.
  • Visiting our Halton webpages to learn about emotional well-being and mental health.

Parenting is never easy and never done. Stay interested, stay involved and you will build a positive relationship that will benefit your children for a lifetime.

Connect with us. We would love to hear from you:

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000

About Tamara Kraszewski, RN

I’m passionate about connecting with parents and supporting them in their parenting journey! My nursing career began with caring for infants at the Hospital for Sick Children followed by working as a Public Health Nurse supporting parents with children of all ages. I’m the mother of two grown boys and when not at work, I enjoy cycling, swimming and time with family.
This entry was posted in Children & Tweens, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Teens and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Your school age child is stealing: what can you do?

  1. Harrison says:

    It seems like being proactive about this is important. Thanks for tips.

  2. Todd says:

    This is helpful!

  3. Candace says:

    I like this article.

  4. Keith says:

    “Parenting is never done.” Ain’t that the truth. Great article.

  5. Sherri says:

    Helpful. Thanks

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