Question: My five-year-old son has been taking scotch tape and other things from school, small money around the house, and things from his sibling’s drawers. How should I deal with this?
Answer: I am going to reply assuming that the child has a normal relationship with both parents and this is the only unusual behavior he exhibits.
If this is the case, there are two common causes for a child’s stealing. 1. He is not getting enough love, affection, and positive attention, so is replacing them with things— which he can take without needing to depend on someone else to give him. 2. He isn’t sure that his parents will provide him with whatever he needs. This fear causes him to seek ways of acquiring things for himself using any means possible.
This being the case, a two-pronged approach is necessary.
Firstly, however many kisses and hugs you are giving him a day, you need to up the dosage. You should kiss him and hug him randomly, for no reason, at least five times a day.
Secondly, sit down with him and tell him that you are there to give him whatever he needs, and if he ever needs something he can come ask you.
Tell him you are going to take him to the store one day this week and he can choose something that he wants. (If money is an issue you can take him to a cheap store in town, the dollar store or such.) Do this for four weeks, and then tell him that whenever he needs something he should tell you, and you will make sure he gets it. If there is something he asks for that he can’t have for whatever reason, he should receive empathy and perhaps, once in a while, compensation in the form of something else that he can have.
This does not mean that you have to give him everything he will ever want. When he is secure that you will take care of him, he will be able to accept a no.
However, there are some children who do need more or different things than others, and you should keep this in mind when deciding in the future whether to acquiesce to something bigger or more expensive that he wants or not. Just because,for example, his brothers didn’t care to have something new to start the school year with, does not mean that he doesn’t need anything new either. You don’t want to make the mistake of not acknowledging his needs or strong desires and have him lose trust once again.
I want to make clear that you can show that you care without saying yes to everything. It is not good for a child to get everything he wants. What he really needs is not the things; it is the security of knowing that his parents are out for his best interests, and that they want him to be happy.