Can stealing in childhood be normal, and when should parents worry?

Parents are often worried when they catch their children stealing, or worse, shoplifting.

When it occurs in toddlers, it’s often phrased as “a child who doesn’t want to share.” But, if the behavior continues, when should parents start to worry?

That’s the subject of a recent article by pediatrician Perri Klass. She talks with a variety of child experts, who all say that most children under the age of 6 will try to take things that’s not theirs. What’s important is that parents realize that it’s a “teachable moment”:

It’s your moment as a parent to talk about standards and ethical behavior, and to make those concepts real by requiring that a child apologize and make restitution. “That’s really a great opportunity,” [childhood behavior expert Dr. Martin Stein] said, “and it does give the message it’s not proper behavior and it’s not something we condone.”

Stealing becomes worrisome when it’s for motives other than acquiring possessions, such as the desire to destroy them, or when it continues into the later years.

And certainly, “a pattern of stealing without any remorse can mark a serious problem — and that child needs help right away.”

Interesting piece.


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