What should I do in response to my nine-year-old’s stealing?

My nine-year-old son has been having a problem with stealing. He stole $80.00 from me, I caught him and made him give it back. He tried to steal some post-it notes a store, I caught him before we got to checkout. I was reading your article about not labeling and calling him a “thief” or “liar”. I was using scare tactics about how he would end up in jail. You also suggest not doing that. What type of punishment should he have? How do I get through to him?

The reason I don’t favour name calling or distant threats is that they don’t work . If our kids think they are liars or thieves, they will live up to that reputation. Scaring him about something that could happen years away such as jail is unlikely to work. It may even promote stealing.

Spend most of your time noticing good behaviour. Notice every instance of honesty.

And it is important to catch him when he steals and use punishment immediately. The best punishment for stealing is restitution. Restitution includes making things better and apologizing for the stealing.

He should give whatever he steals back with an extra restitution charge and make a formal apology. The restitution charge could be 50%. So let him know that the next time he steals, he has to return anything, apologize and pay an extra 50%.

Catching him is important. So you may have to check his room and watch his spending carefully to find out if he has stolen anything. It is OK to have him justify every new thing he has.

In summary, lots of praise for honesty, catch his stealing and punish him for his thefts every time.

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