By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Stealing is a common behavior in young children. Almost all children take things that don't belong to them at one time or another. Stealing, however, is a behavior that can be quite upsetting to parents. They worry about what caused their child to steal, and they wonder whether their son or daughter is a "juvenile delinquent."

Children steal for many reasons. And kids of different ages - preschoolers, 6- or 7-year-olds, and teens - can be tempted to steal for different reasons:

  • A child might steal an object on an impulse. He might have seen an object that has caught his attention and has just picked it up and kept it in his pocket without giving it a second thought. His action might be impulsive, but he knows it is not right and hides the object.
  • Often children steal to gain attention. Even negative attention is attention, and some children will go to any lengths to get noticed.
  • Preteens and teens know they're not supposed to steal, but they may steal for the thrill of it or because their friends are shoplifting.
  • Children, especially boys steal things so that they can exaggerate or show bravado in front of girls.
  • Stealing a favorite toy might be a child's way to get even with a friend who has upset him.
  • Teenagers often steal to show that they have control over themselves and want to rebel.
  • Children learn by watching their parents. If a parent or parents brings office supplies home or boast about a mistake at the supermarket checkout counter, it will be hard for the children to believe the lessons in honesty taught by parents.
  • In some cases, kids and teens may steal to get popular name-brand items or to support drug habits.

Parents should consider whether the child has stolen out of a need for more attention. If parents take the proper measures, in most cases the stealing stops as the child grows older. They should make sure that their children know why stealing is wrong. You're your children that you strongly disapprove this behavior. Parents can point out that stealing means taking something that rightfully belongs to someone else. Explain to your children using real-life examples that people have a right to their own property, and that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else. Ask your child how he would feel if someone steals his favorite stuffed animal. Teach your child appropriate ways to get what one wants for example, by saving pocket money or by asking for it. Set good example for your children and do not indulge in petty behavior yourself.

Praise and reward your child for good behavior. The more parents praise their children's honesty, the more likely they will continue to be honest in the future. Do not punish your child too harshly, be calm and impart suitable punishment. Do not over react or dwell on the issue after you have dealt with it. If stealing becomes a chronic or significant problem, parents should contact a mental health professional for assistance.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,