When Children Steal Money at Home What’s Normal and when to Worry

Children are not born with a concept of money or monetary value. As they grow up, their surroundings will often teach them that money can be exchanged for certain desirable items. Because children are unaware of socially or morally acceptable methods of procuring luxury items or other goods, they will often resort to stealing from family members or friends. Although this is a completely normal and natural phase of development, both social and psychological, parents should address any instances of theft immediately. Ignoring this “behavior” or “bad habit” will only increase the probability that the child will eventually spiral out of control.

First and foremost, parents of thieving children should sit down and openly discuss the motivations their child may have had for stealing. Sometimes, children take money in order to fulfill self-centered desires. Remind your child that the money that you (and/or your partner) work hard to make is used for the benefit of the ENTIRE family rather than serving self-motivated needs. Learning that there are more important uses for money than purchasing goods will teach a child an important lesson that will benefit them for years to come.

If a child is of a certain age, there will inevitably be luxury items or toys which he or she “must” have for whatever reason. If your child wants to purchase these items for him or herself, then they also need to learn the value of working for their possessions. Once children begin to recognize the value of money and are aware that they occasionally have funds available to them at home, they may experiment with theft. Keep in mind that this is the perfect time to instill in them the value of a dollar. If they are old enough, get them involved with some part-time work after school or on the weekends, which will not only occupy their time, it will also decrease the likelihood that they will take part in destructive behaviors outside of safe environments such as the home, school, or any extra curricular activity locations.

Still, there are children who even after inherently “knowing” that something is wrong may choose to continue to test their boundaries with parents. Make it clear to your child, upon their first offense, that there will be consequences for any future behavior of this nature.

Parents should designate appropriate punishments for offenses on a situational basis. Stealing is at the core, a lack of respect for an institution or an individual and his or her property; therefore, an effective punishment is to strip a stealing child of his or her privacy or some other privilege that requires respect in order to maintain. If they want you to respect their rooms, then they have to respect your money and not steal. Simple as that!

However; if your child is older and has unstable patterns of behavior or a history of suspicious activity, take the appropriate measures immediately. If by the teen years your child has not fully learned to differentiate between wrong and right, you have a severe problem on your hands that may need professional intervention. Make an appointment for a psychological evaluation immediately and a doctor will undoubtedly assist both you and your child in identifying possibly contributing factors to this abnormal behavior.