Family

When children start stealing

Diane Levy joins us to provide expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [email protected]. Diane can't answer individual queries, but we will endeavour to publish a representative

Dear Diane

My child is five and has started stealing from children at school.

I’ve tried explaining why his actions are wrong, taking the toys back to their rightful owners and getting him to apologise. But it seems to only stop him for a while, then he just takes something else. I’m not sure what I can do and I’m worried it might never stop.

Jenny, Kaitaia

Dear Jenny,

When our children steal, most of us worry that we are dealing with a moral issue.

It’s more useful to think of it as lack of self-restraint – “I see it – I want it – I take it”. You need to get very good at catching him.

Every day after school, frisk him, his jacket and his school bag. If he’s clear, congratulate him on his self-restraint (his ability to see something that he might like to bring home, but hasn’t) and tell him how proud you are.

If you discover anything that isn’t his, express your annoyance – “You know that you’re not supposed to take other people’s things” – and make him stay

in his room for 30 minutes. The next morning he must return the things to their rightful owners and apologise.

Set up a self-restraint chart with 21 boxes to be ticked – on the basis that it takes 21 days to break a habit. When he reaches the tenth tick, give him a small treat to celebrate his developing self-restraint. When he reaches 21 days of self-restraint, celebrate again. Note, they don’t have to be 21 consecutive days.

Should you get a relapse, start the 21-day chart again until he completes it.

Diane Levy joins us to provide expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [email protected]. Diane can’t answer individual queries, but we will endeavour to publish a representative sample on this page. Diane’s parenting books are available in bookshops.

Related stories


Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.