Would you trust a friend who steals

"Help, my child steals".

There is no question that stealing has a negative connotation. Because whoever steals, abuses trust and harms others. For parents, a world rightly collapses when their child lets things go with them. At the same time, the question arises as to why, behind which a particularly wide variety of reasons can be hidden.

Dr. Josef Jung runs a practice for psychotherapy in Hitzkirch, Lucerne, where one of his main focuses is the psychotherapy of children and adolescents. “The reasons for stealing among children and young people are very diverse,” he explains. According to him, these can be the following:

  • The child has not learned to distinguish between "mine" and "yours".
  • The child cannot resist the desire for a certain object.
  • There is peer pressure: If necessary, a «test of courage» is required of peers to smuggle something unpaid out of a shop.
  • The child seeks more attention. Negative attention is better than none at all in this case.
  • Stealing is an act of revenge to harm a certain person.
  • The child "steals" an object in order to have with them a part of a person who wants to be close to them.
  • The child steals to give gifts to others and to gain social recognition.
  • The child steals because he or she has the feeling of being materially neglected or of being disadvantaged.

Even if thieving behavior in children primarily shock their parents, it can be seen that actions of this kind are not necessarily associated with malicious intentions. Likewise, for example, ignorance, the longing for popularity or the presence of a loved one can be decisive. In general, the age of the child concerned always plays an important role: Of course, the five-year-old son's taking along a chewing gum cannot be compared to the teenage daughter stealing an expensive perfume. Dr. Jung also warns: "Kleptomania, that is, pathological stealing, is extremely rare compared to ordinary shoplifting."

Kleptomania, or pathological stealing, is extremely rare compared to ordinary shoplifting.

Dr. Josef Jung
What to do if the child steals

The most important tip first: As a parent, never act out of affect and do not punish the child immediately. Remind yourself that children do not necessarily steal out of malice. Expert Dr. Jung advises: “If parents notice that their child has stolen something, the first thing to do is to remain calm and not to insult or punish the child out of horror. It is useful to help the child understand the meaning of their actions and encourage them to make amends. This also includes explaining to the child what effects his act has on an existing relationship with the person being stolen - usually disappointment and loss of trust. " So you could teach the daughter from the example above that she has disappointed you with her behavior and that she makes it difficult for you to trust her.

Do you know the reason?

But even before a conversation with your child, it is also worthwhile, as mother and father, to listen to yourself and to reflect on the current individual family situation. The point is to find out the cause of the stealing: Is the child in the shadow of the other siblings because they are more popular with you as parents in his eyes? Or do the siblings need more attention anyway, for example due to a disability? If necessary, you can identify the cause for yourself.

Does the child stand in the shadow of the other siblings because they are more popular with you as parents?

According to the expert, it is essential to be interested in the motives for stealing and to work out them together: "Then the child can be given the appropriate support to prevent the stealing." By being interested in them, you are also showing the child that they mean a lot to you. You show him that understanding his actions is more important to you than punishing them. It can also be helpful to think back to your own childhood: Did you also steal something - consciously or unconsciously, and how did your parents react back then? How did you experience the situation and would you and your children deal with the crime in the same way?

Take into account the age of the child

“Making amends - that is, bring them back, repay and apologize - is important. If a criminal complaint is made, for example in the case of shoplifting, the youth attorney has to deal with the case, ”explains Dr. Young further. "Depending on the severity of the offense and depending on the age, there is an oral or written reprimand, a fine or an obligation to perform personally." The psychotherapist also gives the following tips with regard to age: “In order to repair the damage, younger children need support at the beginning. Older children should learn to fix things on their own. Often, however, a check is needed here to see whether this has happened. "

What to do if the tips are of no use?

The challenge is always to evaluate only the child's behavior and not his whole person. Under no circumstances should he or she get the feeling that you equate him with a criminal as the child probably knows him from the media. Always keep in mind: there are so many more things that characterize your child; many positive qualities that can never be turned into by a theft. In most cases, minor missteps can be easily rectified and then become a thing of the past. But what do parents do when efforts to prevent theft are ineffective? "If parents have the feeling that they cannot influence the child's stealing, or if there are deeper reasons that cause the stealing, it can make sense to seek professional help," advises expert Dr. Young.

text Lars Gabriel Meier