If you suspect that your child is taking money from you without your permission, or bringing back stuff that does not belong to him from school, or even picking up things from shops without paying, it’s likely to come as a shock and lead to anger and disappointment. You may have explained to him the difference between right and wrong, or instilled the moral code by explaining why lying and stealing are wrong, but the child can still end up stealing. It may come as a nasty surprise for you, but this behaviour is common among young children. There are various reasons that can trigger such actions and it is important for you to identify these. Only then can you take corrective action without causing any damage and prevent the child from straying further.
1. Child’s age is important
Always keep in mind the child’s age before reacting or taking any step. Children below four or five years are incapable of differentiating between right and wrong, understanding the concept of ownership, or purchase and sale. Children between six and 13 years can grasp these concepts, but if they still do it, do not be alarmed. It could be a one-off incident or there could be a reason or motivation for the child to act in this manner. Children above 14 years may have deeper issues or complexes for doing so. While it is important to explain to the child that stealing is wrong and discipline him with a suitable punishment, it is vital to first know the reason.
2. Find out the reason
Very young children can be impulsive and can steal simply because they want something and do not consider it wrong to take it, even if it belongs to someone else. For children below 14 years, the reasons could be peer pressure, less pocket money to buy things they believe are indispensable for them, and inability to ask parents for money. If they are stealing money from parents, they could simply be emotionally insecure and demanding attention from them. They could also suffer from mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, insecurity, and inferiority complex, among others, which may require professional help such as therapy or counselling. If the child repeatedly steals despite warnings and without remorse, you may need psychiatric help for the child.
3. How you should react
The most important thing is not to overreact and fly into a rage or punish the child severely. Do not accuse or confront the child aggressively, especially if you have not caught him in the act. Remain calm, don’t immediately badger the child for explanations, and instead, gently talk to the child about why taking someone else’s property is wrong, how he could hurt the other person and lose a friend. Make sure that he returns the stolen item to the owner and apologises to him, with the promise not to repeat it. If he needs your presence or help with it, give it to him. Importantly, don’t stop trusting him and give him a chance to mend his ways. Continue to love and support him, but make sure you punish him adequately. He can either repay the amount from his monthly allowance or do extra work around the house.
4. Be on the alert
While you should show you continue to trust the child, be on the alert for a repeat incident. If he has stolen from you, do not offer temptation by keeping money in an accessible place. Keep a check on your credit cards and monitor the usage. Increase the child’s pocket money, if needed, and communicate more frequently with him.
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(Disclaimer: The advice in this column is not from a licensed healthcare professional and should not be construed as psychological counselling, therapy or medical advice. ET Wealth and the writer will not be responsible for the outcome of the suggestions made in the column.