5 yo old steals: what would you do?

Katherine - posted on 11/25/2010 ( 40 moms have responded )

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Ok came across this thread:

A 5 year old is stealing money, markers from school, things from her friends etc...mom is grounding her, refuses to spank.


What do you do?

I said go to your police station, have a cop come over and scare the crap out of her.

what do you think?

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Charlie - posted on 11/25/2010

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I cannot agree with scaring the crap out of a 5 year old , I think in order to set their child straight they need to get to the core of WHY their child has turned to stealing , usually a need for attention however children that young can take things merely because it interests them , mostly they are yet to learn about property rights and consideration of others , now is a good time to teach her child a few life lessons .
Child and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that when parents find out their child has stolen, they:

•tell the child that stealing is wrong
•help the youngster to pay for or return the stolen object
•make sure that the child does not benefit from the theft in any way
•avoid lecturing, predicting future bad behavior, or saying that they now consider the child to be a thief or a bad person
•make clear that this behavior is totally unacceptable within the family tradition and the community


Perhaps she should also watch herself , Is the parent bringing home pens from work ? Do they take without asking in front of their child ? It can be a learned behaviour .

Jenny - posted on 11/26/2010

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I don't like the idea of the police officer because I want to teach my child not to steal because it's wrong, not because it's illegal.

Charlie - posted on 11/26/2010

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I think that is extreme to have a police officer come and talk to a 5 year old , of course she needs to understand but this just needs good communication between parent and child and none of that is going to matter if the real issues aren't dealt with .

It's not the polices job to raise our kids they have far more important things to do IMO , I believe Dr phil weighed in on a case of a mother getting police to intervene for this very reason on a very young child just like this one and he too was appauled , the ability for an older child to understand personal property is much different to a 5 year olds abilities IMO police are under a lot of pressure already without having to deal with problems parents are having with their small children , on the other side i think it is just plain wrong to scare a child that young who most likely is having other deeper issues that need resolving , it's a type of bullying tactic that solves nothing and IF the child is having attention issues ( most likely lack of ) or depression it can only exsasperate it by using such a drastic measure .

Jodi - posted on 11/26/2010

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I agree with Loureen, that you need to find out WHY this is happening before you consider getting to extreme, because there is usually a reason.

We had this recently in my daughter's class. One of the girls was stealing toys the children took in for their "news" from their bags. My daughter had something taken one day, and when it was addressed in class, it was miraculously "found" by this young girl. The next week, my daughter's friends mother mentioned to me that this girl had stolen her daughter's toys. There was then a third report. We figured out that it was because this girl's mother was having another baby (and due anytime).

So I guess how I would deal with it would depend on why it was happening.

[deleted account]

Children that age have a fairly poor understanding of private property, they see, they want, they take.

The amount of things I used to find in my son's pockets from school. I used to tell him they weren't his and we took them back to the teacher the next day. I never made a big song and dance about it.

At that age all you really can do is tell them that it's not nice and make them return things. They do learn and grow out of it!

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Doreen - posted on 11/29/2010

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I have read some books on this topic and the overall understanding is "she is trying to add to her small self..." looking for things she can't have to make her feel better. From what I gathered she isn't with her biological mom - which is probably a huge contributing factor to any psychological problem that she might be experiencing. Acting harshly will just make her feel even smaller and more isolated. I agree she needs to learn accountability - but at 5 it is important that it is understand she is still just learning. Every child is different - some need a serious talk and other a soft voice. It depends on the little persons personality and position.

[deleted account]

Katherine, I totally agree with you. I think I would have to have my policeman friend come in and pretend like he's going to lock the kid up. But if that didn't work, then there's a possibility that it's a psychological problem, like kleptomania.

I think it's a bit silly that all the mom is doing is grounding the girl. That's obviously not working...

Doreen - posted on 11/29/2010

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Ok so I am a little late for this chat but I really wanted to just add.... instead of such drastic measures like call the cops?!! She is 5 only. We should rather ask the question "why does she need those "things" so badly"? Attention maybe? I don't know of a single person who didn't snatch something as a kid so it isn't a "o my word situation". The point is we all done it at at least once but it is the lesson we learn that makes the difference and the cause that needs the attention it deserves. My personal opinion is someone should sit with her and explain on "her" level why it hurts other people when you take things from them, why the thing that you took will never belong to you, and why does she think it will add to her. Something has already bruised her - denial isn't a option - if this isn't dealt with sencerity and love then I think it could become a long term problem for her and the people she deals with. Then I think after the chat, she should be made responsible by returning the "stolen" thing to it's rightful owner and apologize. If she doesn't want to and throws a tanturm. Take something of hers that is valuable and even repeat stealing from her - and then in good time, call her one side (please no one needs to know and don't single her out) and ask her how that made her feel. Children don't just understand always by nature understand our social why and why not's - we have the opportunity to guide them through these hic-ups so they can understand the fuller meaning and make a difference positively. Ask someone to assist that is more calm and patient.

[deleted account]

You still have to teach children that its not right. She needs guidance on coping with this but also needs to understand that this behavior is not acceptable. I work very closely with my daughters counselor and we have found a good balance for helping her with coping but making her accountable for her actions.

Melanie - posted on 11/28/2010

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knowing there was another side to this would have been helpful! get this girl into councelling!!!! there is obviously reasons why she is stealing...find them, resolve them & hopefully she will stop

Stifler's - posted on 11/28/2010

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Getting a policeman involved is wasting police time also. Parents should be the ones teaching kids that stealing is wrong, not the cops.

Jodi - posted on 11/28/2010

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Yeah, that could be the trigger for her behaviour. She is acting out. Getting a policeman involved is not going to solve the basis for the behaviour. I think the parents need to discuss the issue with a counsellor and address the issue of the birth mother coming back into the picture. Obviously this has had an impact on the child. Her behaviour is simply a manifestation of that.

Petra - posted on 11/28/2010

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Like a lot of other ladies are saying, using fear as a motivator might work to stop the behaviour, but it is not addressing the real problem. Negative reinforcement can curb bad behaviour but it won't fix whatever the problem actually is. 5 is old enough to understand that stealing is wrong - she's stealing for a reason and until that is addressed, fear tactics might suppress the impulse to steal, but won't solve it.

Melanie - posted on 11/28/2010

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My son (age 9 at the time & 1 wk before xmas!!) stole a toy car from the supermarket (i busted him with it in the parking lot) i marched him straight back into the store where he explained what he had done, appologised & promised never to steal again.
he got no gifts from us or santa & we left it to the rest of our families discretion as to gifts from them (most waited til new years eve) he was also told by us, that if he ever stole again he would be taken to the police station to explain to them what he'd done & see the cells where he would be put if he continued to steal as an adult! 1yr later he is still swearing to never steal anything in his life & we (& him) always point out security cameras in every place we find them (big deterent)

Stifler's - posted on 11/27/2010

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You're not stealing from them... you're taking away their privileges (having a thing they like) because they stole.

[deleted account]

Playing devil's advocate here cuz a thought just occured to me.... How is 'stealing' from your child (by making them give something of their's away) to teach them that stealing is wrong somehow ok, but spanking them to teach them that hitting is wrong... not ok? hehehehe ;) One is violating the body, one is violating their belongings.... correct?

Not that I'm disagreeing w/ doing that. Like I said, it was just a thought that popped in my head.

Stifler's - posted on 11/27/2010

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I agree with Jenny and Liz. You don't not steal because it's illegal, you don't steal because someone else has worked hard for what they have and to steal it would be disrespectful and undeserving and people only figure out that it's wrong/feels horrible once they start earning and someone else takes something from them.

[deleted account]

At 5 I would say find her favorite toy and give it away. One of my girls went through that and I took her favorite things, not just put them away but made her put them in the donation box at the thrift store and she never got it back. She hasn't stole anything for about a year now.

[deleted account]

That would be why the police officer is a last resort though. A 5 year old should be fully capable of understanding that stealing is wrong. If you've tried all other options and they still don't care.... maybe knowing it's illegal would stop the behavior so you COULD deal w/ the issue of them not caring....

I don't know though..... just speculating.

Isobel - posted on 11/26/2010

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One day my son took a balloon from one store (not blown up) and a tag from a webkinz animal (they were all the rage at the time and you need the tag to get more games and webkinz money...all virtual stuff) anyhoo...I took him back to the store, and the woman at the store with the webkinz thing was a grandmother and followed along beautifully and very seriously told him she was disappointed but would give him another chance to prove himself...but the guy from the balloon place kept saying "that's OK...keep it, who cares!"

My head nearly exploded...who cares is just fine to you so long as it's a balloon, what happens next week when it's something expensive?

A. Lorraine - posted on 11/26/2010

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The first offense I would explain that stealing is wrong, have child return the $ or property to the owner with an apology. The second offense I would spank and do the same as the first offense. If it continues do all the above and bring the child to the police station for a lecture and to see what happens to thieves.

Katherine - posted on 11/26/2010

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I think it's a great idea to have a police officer come and talk to her about the seriousness of it. Underlying problem or not, when you get older the police don't care, they will arrest you.
I understand the age, and the not really getting it, but she does need to understand.

Bree - posted on 11/26/2010

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Therapy. Plain and simple. Talk to the school counselor about it if there isn't another outlet. But as has been mentioned, there is definitely an underlying problem.

[deleted account]

If she's already having to return the items to the offended, apologize in person, and work to 'pay back' for everything stolen.... I'd speak to the guidance counselor at the school for advice/someone to talk to the child to find out WHY she is stealing. If that didn't help... then I'd have a police officer speak to her about the seriousness of her actions and what can happen legally if she continues this behavior.

At least I 'think' that's how I'd handle it. So far I haven't ever had to deal w/ the stealing issue personally.....

Charlie - posted on 11/26/2010

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But how does that solve the underlying issue Lacey ? its just dealing with a symptom and not the cause .

Lacye - posted on 11/26/2010

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I agree with Shannen. I would make my child return all of the stuff herself and make her apologize for the things. Then I would have a police officer come and talk to her. Not really to scare her, but to let her know what could happen if she did it again and got caught.

[deleted account]

Yup, what Loureen said - she stole the words right out of my mouth. I'm bein lazy today. Thanks Loureen!

Desiree - posted on 11/26/2010

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Great Idea and the other would be to force her to take it back and appologise

Katherine - posted on 11/26/2010

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Ah, Loureen I was trying to find something like that. The mom has made her pay these people back, she's done everything.
Not sure she's sat down with her though.

[deleted account]

Rhys had his dinner money taken from his school bag. The girl who took it (she's a habit of it), handed it into the office as lost.
Some kids want the attention that comes with it, be it anger from the parents (any attention is better than being ignored) or for the glory of being the one who "found" it.

[deleted account]

I'd make them return and apologize for everything they stole.
If they stole sweets/candy then I would use money that would be spent on my child for similar to replace what they took and let tell them as such... you take, you pay.

JuLeah - posted on 11/25/2010

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I don't think it is the role of the police to 'scare the crap' out of kids. It doesn't work anyway.
And, the mom is correct, spanking won't help.
You want to stop the behavior, you need to figure out why she is doing it. There is a reason. All behaviors are there to meet a need. There is some need she is getting met. Find a way to help her meet that need without breaking the law and your onto something

[deleted account]

Make her do chores...lots of them. The money she "earns" from the chores goes to pay back everything that was stolen.

Stifler's - posted on 11/25/2010

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I would take something she really likes, forever. To show her what stealing from others feels like for them.

Sharon - posted on 11/25/2010

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As a kid I was never scared of the police but I was scared of doing something wrong and being taken away by them.

I think the scare tactic is a good idea. Shame is excellent too. I'd try the shame thing before the cop scare and cop scare is last. But then I spank so .... that would have been the second thing. shame, spank, scare.

Katherine - posted on 11/25/2010

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True. But if she has no other recourse....what else can she do? Her daughter won't stop.

[deleted account]

Firstly i'd make the kid take return the items to the people she stole from and make her apologise.
If that didn't help then maybe i'd think about other ways. I'm not sure the police is a good thing. I have though about this so much because i'm trying to teach my daughter that police are good people and there to help and that if she ever gets into trouble to go to them and ask for help. She also knows though that they take away the bad people.

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