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What Can Be Done About a Child Who Steals?

I recently found an expensive toy in my 7-year-old daughter's backpack. I know she doesn't have enough money to buy something like this, and I'm afraid she stole it from the store. What should I do?
- Kate

The first thing you need to do is ask your child, in a non-confrontational way, where she got the toy. She may have a good explanation — or she might confess to taking the toy. Kids of different ages may shoplift for different reasons. At your daughter's age, most kids know that stealing is wrong but may not have the self-control needed to stop from taking something that they want.

If your child stole the toy, explain to her why what she did is wrong and accompany her to the store to return it. She may be so embarrassed that she won't steal again. If stealing becomes a problem, talk to your child and a professional counselor or therapist to find out what is prompting the stealing and to figure out how to correct it.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013