What to do when a child can’t stop stealing?

Ladies, one of our own needs our help! I received a note from a regular MOMania contributor who has a big problem with her child. Her child is an older elementary student.

Here is what she wrote: “What do you do when your perfect angel gets caught taking (i.e. stealing) other people’s things at school? This child is not deprived, is an A – B student and genuinely liked by most people. The child has a kind heart, and believes in God. However, whether it is a gem clip or toy this child cannot keep her hands off other people’s things. I am at wits end and afraid if I don’t scare the crap out of her soon a very bad and rough road lies of ahead of her.”

Have any of you guys had a child that couldn’t stop taking things? How did you handle it? Do you think it’s a maturity/self control issue that she will grow out of? Do you think she’s looking for attention for another reason? What is an appropriate punishment for stealing? Should this mom “scare” the child straight or is there something deeper going on?

Let’s give this mom a lot of ideas. She sounds like she’s not sure what to do next.

25 comments Add your comment


March 11th, 2009
7:29 am

I am afraid something deeper is going on. Maybe kleptomania? It is a genuine psychological disorder. I highly recomend going to a child therapist.


March 11th, 2009
7:37 am

I am just glad that the parent believes the that child has an issue. So far, four times in my career, I have personally seen a child steal from another (twice from me). On all occasions, when i called home, the parent denied, denied and denied again. unfortunately, i just saw two days ago that one of those four has been arrested for, among other things, grand theft. I wish that the parents had taken a stand earlier. “Kleptomania” from what I understand is rarely if ever about the item itself. It can be a lack of attention, the rush of the act itself or any other number of reasons. I believe that the situation needs to be taken seriously and not just left to work itself out. In the long run, if you scare it out of the child or go as far as taking the child to see some kind of professional to “talk it out” makes no difference. Different strokes for different folks. But something needs to be one before the consequences of the child’s behavior are out of your control.


March 11th, 2009
8:11 am

HHmmm…..good topic Theresa. Let me think about this one.

This is one of the reasons why I love this blog. We can post a topic and get feedback. I have gotten so much wonderful advice here. I love our little cyber-family.


March 11th, 2009
8:48 am

I am just curious if the child is in that “mine” stage, where he/she feels everything belongs to him/her. That is a pretty common childhood stage. However, if the child know they should not be stealing, (and recongizes their actions as such) but cannot stop themselves, that is a further issue.

Even if the child does believe in God, she may not realize that his/her actions are in fact stealing. She may be thinking they are “borrowing.” I would try to get those questions answered first, and then ask what compels him/her to take things.


March 11th, 2009
8:49 am

I had to deal with this with a couple of children in a youth group I worked with. Most kids steal at some point — it’s an impulse, and they usually do it because they are trying to “keep up” with other kids or just have undeveloped impulse control. But persistent steal is a little different. In some cases, it’s a case of thrill-seaking — “Can I get away with it?” An adult might see something and say, “Oh, I’d like that,” and walk on. A kid sees it and thinks, “Oh, I’d like that . . . ” and next thing they know, it’s in their pocket. Sometimes, it’s attention-seeking behavior, and other times, it’s just being lazy — it’s easier to take a short-cut and steal someone else’s pencil or money than it is to remember to bring your own.

The only thing I can recommend is that the consequences be much, much worse than the momentary rush they get from their acquisitions. Obviously, the item must be returned by the child. And not anonymously, which is the temptation (”oh, just slip it back in their desk and maybe they won’t realize it was stolen.”) Take it by their home, give it back and apologize. Perhaps the humiliation of having to confess their crime and confront their victim face-to-face will be a deterrent — most kids HATE being put in that position. And, of course, swift and sure consequences at home, such as loss of cell phone, computer, TV, going to bed early, not being allowed to go to a birthday party, etc. Try not to go ballistic. Stay calm and matter-of-fact about it — you don’t want to feed into the thrill-seeking behavior by providing your own personal fireworks!

One thing, though: Mom shouldn’t beat herself up for this. It’s not a lack of teaching of morality on your party. This is a learned behavior — the kid is getting a rush from stealing. Once you figure out the reason for the rush (attention? anger? laziness? bored? reaction to significant events at home?), it will be easier to devise a solution.


March 11th, 2009
9:40 am

I agree with everything DB said. Though it could be something as deep as kleptomania, she may also be doing it for the thrill of it.

My (adult) cousin would go in a store and buy a $100 in groceries but steal a pack of gum! Once she, my sister and my two year old nephew were shopping at Wal-Mart (were my sister was employed at the time) and my sister saw her pick up a little baseball cap, remove the tag, and put it on my nephew’s head. My sister immediately put it back and read my cousin the riot act about it. While they were still in the store my sister put a zipper and spool of thread in her cart but when she checked out they were gone. She said she just figured my nephew threw them out of the buggy while she was shopping and just paid for the rest of her stuff. When they got to the car, my cousin pulled the zipper and thread from her purse! It wasn’t until she was caught and had to pay a $150 fine that she finally learned her lesson and stopped shoplifting.


March 11th, 2009
10:35 am



March 11th, 2009
10:35 am

DB your last paragraph was EXCELLENT.

My daughter got into trouble a few years back at a high end department store over at the Mall. She and her friend were busted with about $500 worth of Coach merchandise. Luckily, a family member in law enforcement calmed me down before I got to her. The department store security called me. Not a call I wanted!!! So I go booking down to the mall, on the phone with my family member, and I’m just livid. I was so upset I couldn’t talk to my daughter. We got in the car, and she started to say something, and I just told her to be quiet that I was so upset I didn’t want to talk. When we got to a stop light, I made her look at me, and said “I am SO disappointed in you!”. That’s all I said to her. We got home, and she went straight to her room until I could talk to her without exploding. Eventually we got it all worked out. A very valuable lesson she learned that day.

Long story short, the dept. store didn’t press any charges, but she was banned from the store for a year and so was her “Friend”. She since has not had much contact with the friend. It taught her a very valuable lesson. But then again, she was about 15, not an elementary student. Scared the crap out of her, and to my knowledge, she has not stolen anything since.


March 11th, 2009
12:03 pm

My mother is old-school. My brother and I were warned against stealing early and often. She would put her fingers in front of her face, mimicking bars and would sternly tell us “If you steal, you will be locked up.” “If you steal, you will do anything.” It was her voice tone that did it. We were too darn scared to steal. We were afraid of the consequences at home, AND by the police. We didn’t doubt that we would be locked up. Some children today aren’t scared of anyone–their parents, OR the police.


March 11th, 2009
1:09 pm

I agree with many of the above comments.

I would definitely get this child into some type of therapy. Even the best of parents who do everything right can have a child who in inappropriate thrill seeking behavior. She should also have to apologize to children that she took items from. This will show her that there are consequences to poor actions. There may be some type of underlying behavior where you need to get to the route of the problem so others types of thrilling seeking behavior such a sexual acting out, breaking curfew and other acts of defiance.

My heart goes out to you. I had this problem with the step son. It has been a long hard road getting him to the end of this problem.

Please know that you are not a bad parent. Kids have a mind of there own and even with the best of examples, they still will do what they want to do.


March 11th, 2009
1:10 pm

Oh, Happy Birthday JG!


March 11th, 2009
3:48 pm

Our youngest (in 1st grade) went through a phase of taking…he wanted a pack of Pokemon cards and I told him if I bought them he would have to pay me back. He forgot to let me pay for them and walked out of the store with the cards. In the parking lot, I realized he had the cards and we turned around, took the cards back to the manager of the store and HE had to explain what happened. We walked out of the store and I drove to the police station. A female officer and I had a frank discussion with him about taking things that don’t belong to him. Problem solved.

Jesse's Girl

March 12th, 2009
6:17 am

Thanks you for all the sweet b-day wishes!!! The fam and my best buddies threw me a surprise party!!! It was awesome. I am blessed. Ok…stealing. Is your child considered gifted? Truly gifted kids will resort to things like this sometimes to feel “normal”. Particularly if the child is type A and puts more pressure on themselves than anyone else could. I have seen this on more than one occassion. It could also be poor impulse control or a case of trying to get the attention of one of the “cool” kids. The list of “WHY’S” is endless. Bottom line….go with your gut. Talk to your Pastor, a therapist, what have you. But you know your child better than anyone else does. If you think something deeper is going on…it probably is.


March 12th, 2009
2:17 pm

This is drastic but I laughed when I saw the picture.

This mom had her son stand in front of the store he stole from with a sign hanging around his neck that said something like “I steal”.


March 13th, 2009
1:59 am

This child is acting stealing things for one simple reason- BECAUSE SHE CAN!! She does not need a therapist, or a pastor or a “talking to”. She needs a good, strong authority figure (read parent) willing to be the “bad guy” to teach and enforce the basic rules of our society. The next time she steals, (and yes, call it stealing- not “taking things that don’t belong to her”) confine her to her bedroom that you have stripped of all toys and fun things. She will stay in her room for the rest of the day with an early bedtime. Make her go one week without stealing before you give back ONE toy, then another week before another toy. If there is a slip up and she steals again, take all the toys again and start over.

Stop making excuses for her bahavior and telling us what a “good” kid she is- in the end, it won’t matter if she believes in God or gets average grades in school or eats all her spinach. Be the parent, be willing to be the bad guy and teach her in your home before society steps in and teaches her the hard way- jail.


March 18th, 2009
2:13 pm

She believes in God and goes to church, eh?

Does anyone remember the thugs who murdered Sheriff-elect Brown saying that they prayed before they did it? I remember it to this day.


April 3rd, 2009
3:56 am

I’m a 20 years, I started stealing from my parents when I was about 17, till now I stole about $6,500…and when the face me and tell me did you take … !! I just said yes and have a fight with them, and it passes, then I do it again and again and again…..! I don’t know what I can do now, I just want to stop doing so….can any one help me with this situation I’m stuck in ?


June 3rd, 2009
11:25 am

Hello. I’m new to this site and not quite sure how it works, but I am at my witts end. My 13 y.o. daughter (really, grand-daughter, but we’ve had her since she was 15 mo. old and we consider her our daughter), has stolen from us, the church, school, friends, and families over and over. In Apr., she got my credit card and ordered stuff from the internet. She had been stealing money, etc. before this , but with this, I was irate. She is in counselling and has been since she was 4 with diagnosis of ADHD and ED (emotional disturbed). I called her counselor and after deliberation, she was sent to a detention center for two weeks. Other stealings happened when she got home and we had to “pat” her down before she left for school each morning. Somehow, on May 12, she managed to get out of the house with $140 that she had taken from “what” I thought was a good “hiding” place for our cash at home. The principal called me and said she was giving away $50 bills. On the way home from school, she cried and cried, and said she didn’t know why she took things or acted this way….she didn’t want to be like this anymore…and agreed she needed help. My heart was literally breaking in two for her. I don’t know what or how to help her. So, again, she was sent off to the detention center and has been there now 3 weeks, but the story is not over yet! I have missed her so very much and cried myself…actually sobbing and moaning over this. I was beginning to feel that I wanted to bring her home, and then yesterday……..I was cleaning the spare bedroom in prep for soon coming visitors, saw a straw purse that I had in my closet and decided since it was near summer, that I would start using it for the season. I had some books in there and when I got all of them out………..there was my engagement ring!!!!!!! I had removed my wedding band and engagement ring because they were starting to make my fingers swell from being too tight. Immediately, I started crying and searching desperately for my wedding band, just agonizing that she had stolen it and given it away. After a mad search throughout all our drawers, etc., I found my wedding band locked up inside a small safe-box I kept in the chest of that room. All my other “good” (gold) rings, etc. were there, so she had taken only this ring (at least that is all I have discovered missing) and I figure that she heard me coming and dropped the ring in the closest place from where she was, just she didn’t get “caught” with the goods on her. I was mad and crying and just devestated! I called her counselor at the detention center and told them about this and I was so upset that I told her counselor that I didn’t want to see my child til it was time to start school this fall. Am I wrong? Am I making too much of this? Please, someone, help me. I am having chest pains over this whole situation. My husband says it’s my fault because I wouldn’t let him spank her. Please, e-mail me at billie3322@yahoo.com because I don’t know if I can find this site again. thanks, broken-hearted

Edie Brogden

June 13th, 2009
4:00 pm

I enjoyed this article. Have a smilar situaqtion in my family and it is tearing me apart but nothing I can do as her parents don’t believe it.

Edie Brogden

June 13th, 2009
4:01 pm

Enter your comments here


January 21st, 2010
1:59 pm

What if the child is almost 6 years old and spent the first 2 1/2 years of her life in an orphange? My daughter takes things; last time it was a pair of Winter boots that I had just purchased and hid them in her closet.


March 31st, 2010
3:40 pm

In my experience, there aren’t any children (unless severely emotionally or mentally handicapped) that don’t respond to boundaries and consequences. You may have heard the old saying that a company is only as strong as its weakest employee…well your child is only as good as the worst thing they do. That sounds horrible I’m sure, but in the end that is all anyone will remember of your child…that they were a thief. Take there most important or favorite thing away first and get more and more severe. Even if you feel like you were too hard on them DO NOT EVER BACK DOWN! Kids smell weakness and if you change their punishment that is exactly what they’ll sense. Be the bad guy…I promise they will thank you later!


June 16th, 2010
7:43 pm

Our son came back home to go to college, he is 33 years old. When he came home the first time he signed our names to a loan and they gave him $4400.00 for college when we find out about on our credit report and I called them and they said we had signed I said No, they said are you saying he committed fraud If you are we will put him in jail. I did not want to put him in jail so my husband and I paid off the loan. Now he has come back home again going to college this time on grants but I catch him sometimes trying to get out of the house with stuff to sell. I had a garage sale and could not find my guitar and I asked him where is my guitar he said it is in the trunk of my car and I said why is it in your trunk he said I was going to have it fixed I said there is nothing wrong with it. I made him give me my guitar he was going to take it and sell it he thought since i had not used it in years that I would never miss it. He is constantly taking things I don’t know how much he takes when we are gone to church. We are at the end of our ropes if you say anything much to him he gets mad and throws a fit. My husband is a heart patient and he does not want to get upset but he is getting so depressed. Please help me what can I do to get my son to stop stealing from us we are both unemployed right now and my husband is retired. I talked to my son about this once but its like he doesn’t care. Thanks for any help or advice.


June 30th, 2010
2:27 pm

spank the —- out of them !!

Elisabeth - A coastal girl.

August 2nd, 2010
5:38 pm

Age: 6 months – Father gets full custody of child after drug-using mother is found living in a car burning the child with cigarettes.
Age 6: Father marries woman.
Age 8: Stole 400 dollars from her great grandmother to buy a Nintendo DS
Age 9: Forged Father’s name on school note.
Age 9-11: Locked up in her room most of the time, or sent to Great Grandma’s by Step-Mom who periodically beat her with spatula for lying, stealing, etc.
Age 11: Dad divorces woman.
Age 12: Dad marries new woman.
Age 12: Steals all of new woman’s jewelry and gives it away at school, including engagement rings, Sweet 16 gifts, her dead grandfather’s locket…
Age 13: Stole money, jewelry, food (I know, right!?), toys, pencils, erasers, etc. Stole a cell phone last day of school (brand new, 300 dollars), broke into a person’s car and stole a pair of shoes, shoplifted from a shoe store some stupid 3 dollar rubber bands while we were there buying her shoes!

She tells stories that are so believable. We can’t punish her. Every time we do anything that makes her feel ‘unloved’ she comes up with some crazy story, sneaks out of her room at night, runs to the neighbor, gets CPS involved on a monthly basis, and of course, as soon as they put her on the spot, she tells the truth, but she got a hell of a laugh out of it until then. She has no remorse. She tried to kill the dog. We’ve done counselling, and the stupid counselor says she has an eating disorder, pay here, and come back next time and pay again. An eating disorder is making her do this!??? She’s 13, and 90 pounds. She’s not thin, she’s not overweight, she’s not malnutritioned. We can’t afford this!