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djbar
djbar asks:
Q:

What do I do about my 6 year old stealing repeatedly?

My son keeps stealing from school, rather it be a toy from a classmate which he has not done for a while but now he is stealing from the classroom!! He has gotten all of his toys taken away, he's been grounded, we had a police officer talk to him, etc and yet nothing has worked. He always says he forgot, or doesn't know how it got there, or someone gave it to him. What do I do?
In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Hand in Hand
May 7, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Dear Djbar:

I can understand how shocked and dismayed you must be! This kind of behavior is hard for parents to understand, and it's hard for your son to understand, too. He literally doesn't know why he does it! He makes up reasons, but he doesn't know why.

Please try to remember that he's a good boy. He's trying hard. And he wants your love more than anything else in the world.

When children steal or lie, it's a sign that there's something they need that they're not getting, even though you're working hard to give him everything he needs. Sometimes, parents love hard, but it doesn't quite get across to the child in just the way the child needs it.

The best thing to do is to power down your worries, and work on strengthening his sense of closeness with you. It may be that he's feeling scared, or inadequate, or left out, or alone at school. When children don't feel good, their judgment shuts down, and they do impulsive things that are "not them." What you want is for him to feel close to you, secure in your love, so that his mind works well at school. Children don't talk about their troubles much, or they do, but we don't know to take those troubles seriously. Their behavior offers clues that things are "off," and stealing is a clue. Treat it as the symptom that it is--not as a sign that you have a "bad" child or that you haven't parented well.

What will help is for you and the significant others in your child's life to offer regular "Special Time," in which you set aside 10 to 30 minutes for him, when you do whatever he wants to do (with a limit on whether money can be spent or not). Let him have fun in Special Time, and offer your delight. Don't tell him what to do or how to do it. Don't try to teach him anything. Just let him have fun with you right there, paying close attention. Laughter, if he can get to it, is great! When it's over, give him a big hug, and tell him when the next Special Time will be.

Often, after Special Time, a child's inner feelings, the ones that have been causing trouble at school or elsewhere, will bubble up in the form of having a cry or a tantrum because Special Time is over, or shortly thereafter, beginning to cry about some very small thing. Welcome this. It's a sign that your child is trying to get out from under emotional tension that's been troubling his behavior. Stop. Get close. Don't correct him or judge him or try to make him "grow up." Listen. Let him cry. Don't change anything, don't fix it. Let him have a big cry over that small thing. We call this Staylistening. It works wonders for a child.

Crying and tantrums are the way children offload feelings that cause their behavior to go off track. If you listen, he's going to feel supported by you (even if he is begging you to take the jam off his toast and replace it with another jam, or is mad at you because you won't give him a second cookie!). He needs to "be irrational" in order to release the pressures that drive him to take things that aren't his.

Give him you. During Special Time, and during the times he is crying or having a tantrum. Give him your warmth and your approval. His behavior will straighten out as soon as he feels more of your support tucked under his wing as he goes off to school.

Here's more about Parenting by Connection.

Your attention and warmth has the power to change things around entirely for your son!

Yours,

Patty Wipfler
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