Is This Normal?

What do you do when your child steals from a friend?

You Ask, Experts Answer!

Q: Two days ago, my neighbor told me that she suspected my 10-year-old daughter had stolen some items from her house. My daughter often goes there to play with her child. The items she took were a charm bracelet, a stuffed animal and a book. When I looked in my daughter’s room, these items were in a shoebox under her bed. When I asked her about it, my daughter said she didn’t know how these items got there and that she didn’t take them from the neighbor. We returned the items and I made her apologize and now she can no longer play at the other child’s house. I feel like I didn’t approach this situation right with my daughter. What advice can you give me moving forward?
— Kalamazoo Mom

A: Addressing sticky fingers can be a tricky situation. Teaching a child who is 10 years old that stealing has consequences is an important step in addressing the concern.

Some children have difficulty thinking through the options; they have to make a good choice before acting due to impulsivity. Also, children sometimes have difficulty understanding how it makes others feel to have something stolen from them. Teaching skills to address impulsivity, to help your child think first and act second, can help your child in many areas of her life. Teach her to slow down and think through different choices before making a decision on how to act rather than acting on impulse.

Building empathy can be done by helping your child imagine what it would feel like to have one of her own cherished items taken without permission. Then help your child think of what she would want to happen to help her feel better and use this to decide together how to make amends.
For a 10-year-old, being involved in discussing appropriate consequences for stealing can also be meaningful. For example, ask her what consequence she thinks would be fair for a child who took one of her items, and if appropriate, then apply it to her. If sticky fingers persist after conversation and consequences, seeking professional help may be of benefit.

Questions answered by Nichole Holliday, MA, LLPC, LLMFT, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Portage, and Alyssa Noonan, LLMSW, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Kalamazoo.

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