What to do when your child steals

Bhing asks: I am a working separated mom. I’m worried about my son’s behavior. Whenever he sees money he cannot be honest with it. He is into computer games and because I do not want him to focus his attention to it I kept my valuable things where he couldn’t find them. But the next thing I knew, he still found them (I do not know how he does it). I worry that if I can not do something about this, it will affect his future (and I do not want my son to be embarrassed in front of other people, or at worst go to jail if this gets worse. I love my son and I just want the best for him. I have tried so many strategies, including spanking, just for this behavior not to get worse. Please help me. I do not know what to do.

Hi Bhing –

There’s a word for this, and it’s “Unacceptable.”  Kids misbehave in lots of ways that their parents have to deal with, but a few things go beyond the norm in that area. It’s like when I was a puppy – I might chew some things up, might make some messes, and Handsome just had to work with those.  But one time I nipped at him in anger, and he BLEW!  Jumped onto me, turned me onto my back, yelling in my face – exactly the right way to dominate a puppy, and teach it to never ever ever do that again.  Lesson learned, all fine.

For a human to rob is like a dog biting.  Eventual grounds for imprisonment!  Unacceptable.

The problem you’ve got is that he’s gotten away with it.  You’ve tried all these discipline strategies, but because he’s had this experience of stealing (and likely has done it way more times than you’ve caught him at), he still feels it’s something he can do.

Now your letter doesn’t tell me how old your son is, so if he’s six or seven, I’m not so worried.  But if he’s ten or more, I recommend coming down very strongly.  For example, if he is a TV fan, let him know that he’ll lose TV for a full month if he steals again.  Or if he likes video games, that if he steals again you will give his Xbox or Playstation away, and he’ll have to earn the money through chores to get a new one.

Now let me be stress a couple of things.  You want to make this a threat, not to do it now.  Start with a clean slate.  Whatever he’s done, you’ve punished as you saw fit before, and that’s fine.  We’re trying to create a New Mindset here.

Also, the goal is for you to set very clear boundaries.  As long as he’s not doing anything wrong, treat him like he’s the greatest kid in the world.  Then the second he steals again (and he’s likely to, just to test the boundaries out), put the consequence in fully and immediately.  You don’t need to shame him by telling him how bad he’s been, or to soften things by telling him you love him and it’s all for his own good.  Just do it.  Leave the “humanity” out of it.

Think of it like if you run a red light.  Does the cop talk with you about how bad a person you are?  Or about how he really cares about you and is doing this for your good?  Of course not – the cop just gives you the ticket and drives away.  Be that cop.  Let your son know that his world has changed, and there’s a very clear difference.

What I’m really saying, Bhing, is to be strong.  Not cruel, and not sweet.  Just strong.  Your son needs that now.  It’s your strength that’ll make you the best parent in the world.


Let me know how it goes,



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