Why do kids go through a ‘stealing phase’?

I wonder if most kids go through a phase when they stole. What made them start anyway? It’s not as if they saw anyone stole and followed. And how should parents stop this behavior before it becomes a habit?

I had my own stealing phase as well when I was 8 years old. My sister and I were being taken care for by our grandfather at that time. My parents would drop us off at my grandfather’s house in the morning and pick us up in the evening.

One day, I found out that my grandfather kept his spare change in his pants pocket. I took RM1 from the pocket. He didn’t realize it was missing and I took another ringgit the next day. I continued taking RM1 each day. Sometimes I even took RM2 at one time. I used the money to buy toys and junk food. When my mother asked me about the toys and junk food, I told her that my auntie bought it for me.

Soon, my grandfather realized that his small change kept getting lesser and lesser. He asked my sister and I about it but I just kept quiet. One day, I was brave enough to take RM10 when I saw it in his pocket. I even took the money to school to show it off to my classmates. RM10 was a lot of money to an 8-year-old at that time.

My luck ran out one night when my parents got really suspicious about the toys and junk food. They asked me to tell them the truth. I just kept quiet. They didn’t even scold me but being confronted made me scared enough to stop. I did not steal anymore from that day onwards.

Now, Ethan is 7 years old and he is in his stealing phase. He once took RM10 from his grandmother’s house and showed it to me when he got home. He said that grandma gave it to him. I doubted that my mom would give him so much money. I asked him again and he told me he found it it grandma’s room and put it in his  pocket. So I told him to return it the next day and apologize to grandma.

Sometimes, he also came home from school with junk food on days when I did not give him any allowance. He said he found some spare coins in his bag pockets. On other days, he said his friends gave him the junk food. Without suggesting that he might have stolen money, I just casually told him about what happens to people who steal. He insisted that he did not steal and I did not want to accuse him. But I did clear his bag pockets to make sure there were no more spare coins in his bag.

The other day, he came back home with a key chain. Daddy asked him where he got it and he said he bought it from school. I asked him how much it cost. He said RM0.50. Really? RM0.50 for a key chain? Daddy took a closer look at it and it doesn’t look new. We asked him again and he admitted that he took it from the daycare centre without permission. We made him return it the next day.

Why couldn’t it be as easy as when my parents confronted me about my ‘suspected stealing’? I just stopped. Why didn’t my son just stop like I did? Somehow, I don’t think that that would be the last time he took something without permission. I think I would need to reprimand him more seriously the next time he does it again.

Ethan’s classmates also have the habit of stealing. Once, Ethan left his RM1 allowance in his bag pocket. He saw a girl classmate going very close to his bag but he did not bother to look what she was going to do. The next thing he knew, his money was missing when he wanted to take it out during recess. He told me that he was sure the girl took it but without any proof, we couldn’t do anything about it. What if he was wrong and I accused a poor innocent girl? I told him to be more careful next time and not to put money in that bag pocket anymore.

And another time, he left his watch in the same bag pocket. It went missing too. I asked him if he had left it somewhere and forgotten about it but he insisted that he kept it in his bag. He was so sure about it that I didn’t want to question him about it anymore.

My colleague’s daughter’s playmate also has a habit of taking things home without permission whenever she went over to my colleague’s house for a play date. The girl’s father has already warned my colleague about his daughter’s habit. So when it’s time to go home, my colleague would always have to ask the girl if she has anything that doesn’t belong to her in her bag. And each time, my colleague would find a stash of hair bands, hair clips, etc, that do not belong to her. The girl would just hand it over without a word and without guilt or embarrassment.

So, did your child steal? If yes, how did you make them stop?

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