Stealing Childhood

Dear Mr. Dad: We just got back from shopping and I noticed that my 7-year-old son had a small toy in his pocket. When I asked where he got it, he said he “took” it from the store. I can’t believe my child shoplifts—that is not how we raised him. What should I do?

A: Children steal for a variety of reasons. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t know they’re “stealing.” In their minds they’re just taking something that they really want to have. They haven’t yet developed enough self-control or a strong sense of right and wrong—let alone the difference between legal and illegal—to make them keep their hands in their pockets. They don’t understand that it’s not okay to take other people’s stuff without paying for it. Fortunately, they’re pretty compliant and a word or two from a parent about why stealing is wrong is usually enough to keep it from happening again. At least for a while.

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