Q: How can we stop our four-year-old from stealing? I have a feeling he’s just being irresponsible — that he puts things in his pocket and forgets about them. We’ve talked to him about why this behaviour is wrong, but he keeps doing it.
A: It’s important to tell your son that stealing is wrong. But it’s also crucial to remember that four-year-olds tend to respond more to actions than words. If you don’t back up your reproofs with consequences, children are unlikely to change their behaviour.
In your son’s case, he needs to know what it feels like when someone takes something from him that he values. Let him know that the next time he takes an item you will be taking something away from him. If it happens again, go into his room while he’s occupied elsewhere and remove one of his favourite toys. When he discovers it’s missing, tell him you took it and that he won’t get it back for a day. Each time the behaviour recurs, extend the penalty by an additional day.
In addition, when you discover your son has taken something that doesn’t belong to him, have him quickly return it and apologise to the person he took it from. That will cement the lesson in his mind in an immediate and practical way. If the behaviour occurs in a classroom setting, you might work with the teacher to set up a restitution plan. For example, your son might have to miss out on a fun activity or stay after class in order to help clean up the room. If you’re correct in thinking that your son doesn’t actually mean to steal, this plan should correct his behaviour rather quickly.
But if the problem persists, his actions may be a manifestation of deeper issues. Please give our Family Support Services a call at 03-7954 7920 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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