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My son has been stealing for several years and it is getting worse


Dear Life Coach,

My 12-year-old son constantly goes into my room and searches and sometimes takes my personal possessions, including money. He has been doing this for quite a few years and I did nothing because I thought that he would grow it out. Now I fear it may be getting worse and I blame myself for excusing him all this time because I was so embarrassed to get him the help he needed. He is almost a teenager, so it cannot be ignored any longer. How do I get him to stop?{{more}}

Negligent Mom (NM)

Dear NM,

You blame yourself for not seeking help to address your son’s stealing problem when he was younger. Now you want to do whatever you can to help him stop before he becomes a teenager.

Your Situation:

Here are some factors that have contributed to your present situation: kleptomania – definition, causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention. I will address these briefly.

Definition of Kleptomania

Kleptomania is the inability to resist the urge to steal items that are not needed or that have very little value to the individual. Young children who steal may not be suffering from kleptomania so much, but rather may be fascinated with objects which are off limits, with which they desire to play, and so sneak off with them.

Causes of Kleptomania

Kleptomania may be caused by brain injury, chemical imbalances in the brain, family history, and having another mental disorder. Females are also considered to be at a higher risk for this disorder than males.

What to Do:

Store Valuable Items

Children are naturally inquisitive and playful. Valuable items left lying around may be taken for exploration and fun by small children. It is, therefore, important to store them safely under lock and key to avoid theft and or destruction by your son, who is an older child.

Determine the Cause of Kleptomania

Talk with your son to determine his level of understanding concerning the social and moral implications of stealing. Find out from him the reason he is stealing. Very young children or children with developmental delays or cognitive deficits may not understand boundaries and may take items belonging to other individuals. Some children may also steal due to anger and a desire to take revenge for being wronged, as a way of seeking attention, or from observing the behaviour of other individuals.

Educate your Son about the Implications of Stealing

Teach your son about the dangers of stealing. Let him know that it is wrong to steal and that as he gets older there will be legal implications, such as imprisonment, if he continues. Let him know your expectations – to not steal. Let him know how much you love and care about him and that you are concerned because stealing could cause him to be in serious problems.

Reduce Stress

Trauma caused by exposure to incidences of domestic violence, sexual, physical and emotional child abuse, being bullied, and loss of loved ones can result in high levels of stress in children. Figure out the potential trauma creating the situation in your child’s life then seek to correct that situation. Do everything in your power to keep your son safe and calm in order to reduce his stress level.

Extracurricular Activities

Ensure that your son is involved in at least three extra-curricular activities of interest to him each week. Research has shown that children who are creatively occupied after school are healthier than those who are not.

Be Vigilant

Children who steal must be monitored at all times. This means that your son should be supervised by you or another responsible adult to ensure that he is creatively occupied and that all valuables are out of reach. Make a note of the type of items that are taken by your son. Also take a note of the triggers to his stealing, for example, what was happening just prior to, or a few hours before the theft. This information may be helpful when you seek professional help.

Seek Treatment

Kleptomania or stealing behaviour may be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medications (some types of antidepressants). You should, therefore, take your son for an assessment and treatment by a medical doctor and a therapist.

Increase your Knowledge

Read about kleptomania so that you are fully aware of all the issues involved in your son’s treatment.

Spend Quality Time with your Son

Spending time with your son is of utmost importance. Set aside at least one hour each week in which you do something enjoyable together, such as shopping, taking a walk, going to the beach, et cetera. This will confirm to your son that you truly care about him.

Importance of a Father Figure

Research has shown that the presence of a father or father figure is important in the lives of children. Ensure, therefore, that your son has a positive adult male role model with whom he can talk during this period of identity formation. This may be an uncle, cousin, pastor or even a neighbour.

NM, be positive and consistent in all you do and hopefully your son will receive a break-through.

Life Coach


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