Child therapist discussing solutions for children stealing and lying with concerned parents.

Ask a Child Therapist: Children Stealing and Lying

Introduction

Children stealing money from family members, lying about things to friends, or making hurtful comments can be very difficult for parents and carers to navigate. These behaviours usually indicate an underlying issue that the child is dealing with. They are often signs of someone who feels they are not getting something they need and are being treated unfairly. This perspective is supported by renowned experts in child development, John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott, who both agree that stealing is most often an attempt to rectify a deprivation, whether it is time, emotional commitment, or attention.

Understanding the Root Causes of Stealing and Lying in Children

Especially in younger children, but it can also happen with teenagers, the child may not realize that they are experiencing deprivation. One way to talk to your child about the issue is to ask them what they want to change about your family. For example, “If you had one wish, what would it be?” or move more slowly and use the story of Aladdin to ask what their three wishes would be. If their wishes focus on material things like a Playstation, expensive shoes, or a Barbie house, try to steer them towards a more emotional side by asking for their three wishes about the people in their life.

Communicating Effectively with Your Child

This activity will give you an idea of what your child is trying to communicate with their behaviour—that is, what they feel they are being deprived of. Be prepared that you might not like the answer. However, it’s crucial to remember that the aim is to listen to your child communicate their feelings. It’s not about blame or responsibility at this stage. Being able to voice and name how they feel can make a big difference to how a child feels.

Seeking Outside Perspectives

If these talks between the two of you don’t work, it may be helpful to get an outside perspective, either from a friend who you both feel can be impartial or from a professional who can help you understand the dynamics more clearly. If your child cannot be clear about her wishes, a trained child psychotherapist can help to interpret her communication.

The Key Takeaway

If your child is regularly stealing, lying or lashing out, there’s usually an underlying issue that they need help with.

Recognizing Signs of Deprivation in Children

Children often express their unmet needs through behaviour rather than words. Recognizing these signs early can help parents address the root causes effectively. Look for patterns in behaviour, such as frequent lying about seemingly trivial matters or consistent stealing of specific items. These actions can indicate deeper emotional or psychological needs that are not being met.

Building Trust and Open Communication

Creating a safe space for your child to express their feelings without fear of punishment is essential. Trust and open communication are the foundations of understanding and addressing the underlying issues. Encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings regularly. Use positive reinforcement to acknowledge their honesty and efforts to communicate.

Practical Steps to Address Stealing and Lying

  • Identify Triggers: Pay attention to the situations or events that precede the behaviour. Identifying triggers can help in understanding what prompts your child to steal or lie.
  • Set Clear Boundaries: While understanding the underlying issues is important, setting clear and consistent boundaries is equally crucial. Explain why stealing and lying are unacceptable and the consequences of such actions.
  • Empathy and Support: Show empathy towards your child’s feelings and offer support. Let them know that you are there to help them through their challenges.
  • Problem-Solving Together: Involve your child in finding solutions to their issues. This can empower them and make them feel valued and heard.
 

The Role of Professional Help

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your child may continue to struggle with these behaviours. Seeking the help of a professional child therapist can provide additional support and strategies. A therapist can work with both the child and the family to address the underlying issues and improve family dynamics.

  • Building a Strong Emotional Connection: A strong emotional connection between parents and children can mitigate many behavioural issues. Spend quality time with your child, engage in activities they enjoy, and show interest in their daily lives. This connection can provide the emotional security they need and reduce the likelihood of negative behaviours.
  • Understanding Developmental Stages: Children’s understanding of right and wrong evolves with age. Younger children may not fully grasp the concept of ownership or the impact of lying, while older children and teenagers may be testing boundaries or seeking independence. Understanding these developmental stages can help parents respond appropriately to their child’s behaviour.
  • Implementing Consistent Discipline: Consistency in discipline is key to addressing stealing and lying. Ensure that consequences for these behaviours are clear, predictable, and consistently applied. This helps children understand the importance of honesty and respect for others’ property.
  • Encouraging Positive Behaviour: Positive reinforcement can be more effective than punishment in encouraging desirable behaviour. Praise and reward your child for honesty, even in small matters. This reinforces the value of integrity and helps build a positive self-image.
  • Monitoring and Adjusting Strategies: Addressing stealing and lying is an ongoing process that may require adjustments over time. Regularly review the effectiveness of your strategies and be flexible in modifying them as needed. Involve your child in this process to ensure that the solutions are working for them as well.
  • Fostering a Supportive Environment: Create an environment where your child feels supported and valued. This includes providing opportunities for them to succeed and acknowledging their achievements. A supportive environment can reduce feelings of deprivation and the need for negative behaviours.
  • Building Resilience and Coping Skills: Help your child develop resilience and coping skills to handle life’s challenges. Teach them problem-solving techniques, stress management strategies, and ways to express their emotions healthily. These skills can reduce the likelihood of resorting to stealing or lying as a coping mechanism.
  • The Importance of Role Models: Children learn a lot from observing the adults in their lives. Be a positive role model by demonstrating honesty, integrity, and respect for others. Your behaviour sets a powerful example for your child to follow.
  • Addressing Peer Influence: Peer pressure can significantly impact children’s behaviour. Talk to your child about the influence of friends and how to make independent, ethical choices. Encourage them to choose friends who share positive values.
  • Using Stories and Books: Stories and books can be effective tools in teaching children about honesty and integrity. Select age-appropriate literature that addresses these themes and discuss the lessons with your child.
  • Engaging in Community Activities: Involvement in community activities can provide children with a sense of belonging and purpose. It can also expose them to positive role models and reduce the likelihood of engaging in negative behaviours.
  • Regular Family Meetings: Hold regular family meetings to discuss any concerns and celebrate successes. This practice promotes open communication, mutual understanding, and collective problem-solving.
  • Educational Resources: Utilize educational resources such as workshops, seminars, and books on child development and parenting. Continuous learning can equip you with new strategies and insights to address behavioural issues effectively.

Navigating the challenges of children stealing and lying requires patience, understanding, and proactive strategies. By addressing the underlying causes, building trust and communication, and seeking professional help when needed, parents can support their children in developing honesty and integrity. Remember, the goal is to help your child feel understood, valued, and supported in their growth.

FAQs

Why do children steal and lie?
Children often steal and lie to express unmet needs or feelings of deprivation. These behaviours can signal deeper emotional or psychological issues that need to be addressed.

How can I talk to my child about their behaviour?
Create a safe space for open communication. Ask questions that help your child express their feelings and needs. Use stories or hypothetical scenarios to facilitate the conversation.

What should I do if my child continues to steal and lie?
If the behaviour persists, consider seeking help from a child therapist. Professional guidance can provide additional strategies and support for both the child and the family.

How can I build trust with my child?
Build trust by listening to your child’s feelings without judgment, spending quality time together, and demonstrating consistent, supportive behaviour.

What role do peers play in my child’s behaviour?
Peers can significantly influence children’s behaviour. Encourage your child to choose friends with positive values and discuss the impact of peer pressure.

Are there any resources to help with parenting challenges?
Yes, numerous books, workshops, and seminars are available on child development and parenting. These resources can provide valuable insights and strategies for addressing behavioural issues.

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