- Reiterate Family’s Values: At this point it may feel as though your child needs a lengthy lecture on the wrongs & potential lifelong consequences of stealing; it’s not. Your child knows what they have done is wrong. Rather, consider giving your child a refresher course on what your family’s values are, while reminding your child that this behavior does not fall in line with what your family stands for.
- Cause & Effect vs. Punishment: Let your child face the logical & appropriate consequences of their actions . If they have taken something from a friend or store, have them return the item. If they have stolen from you, let them know you are hurt. Also assure your child that although trust has been lost, it can be regained and give your child an outline of how they can earn your trust back.
Avoid becoming the “Punisher”. Instead look at this as an opportunity for your child to learn the art of self-control. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines discipline as training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; self-control. Admitting fault can prove to be difficult for most adults, let alone children. When we assume the role of the iron fisted punisher, most children will become defensive and perhaps angry at the parent. This in turn misdirects the emphasis that should be placed on the child’s poor behavior choice towards their parent.
- Assess: It is important to honestly assess what is happening with your child. Is this a pattern? First time, second time, on-going problem? Are there underlying issues that need to be addressed? Perhaps they are struggling at home or in school. Seeking outside help and family counseling can go a long way in helping children learn to navigate whatever inner turmoil is driving them to acting out.
- Draw Closer to Your Child: There’s a great quote by Cathy Rindner Tempelsman that goes: “The child who acts unlovable is the child who most needs to be loved.” Regardless of whether the theft is an isolated event or your child is a repeat offender, draw closer to your child. Hold them, hug them, let them know that no matter what they are loved and accepted. Feeling excluded or shunned in the home due to behavioral problems can lead a child down darker paths in search of the acceptance they do not feel within their family unit.
With four children of my own, the rubber really hits the road with parenting for me when in the midst of challenging circumstances. It’s amazing what time, awareness, patience, and a well of love can do. After all our jobs as parents is not to judge and punish, but rather to love and guide these little people into the accountable, well-rounded and loving adults we hope they will one day become.