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Help For Parents of Children Prone to Stealing

Stealing is an addictive behavior, much like other kinds of addictions.  It is an external behavior to calm oneself that is ignited, if you will, by internal stress.  The behavior is of course aberrant, but just as soothing as alcohol, drugs, even sugar and caffeine.  And of course, the rush that it gives is momentary and then the guilt and shame set in.

A parent wrote to me at:  The problem behavior presented by the parent is a 12 year old who is stealing and it appears that this is not a new problem.  The way to help this young girl is to understand that when she is stressed, she is apt to move into a mode of  calming herself even if it is inappropriate and wrong.  She has to be taught to calm herself.  As you can imagine, no amount of consequenting in the traditional sense will cause long term behavior change.  Instead, it is up to parents and supervising adults to be sure that in such a stressful environment  such as the one the parent described the child is prepared for the chaos of the environment and it’s effect on this child. The parent should tell the child that she will be staying near because all of the stimuli plays havoc with this child’s sensory system.  And when she is caught up in sensory overload, she gets stressed and takes things that aren’t hers to make herself feel better.  Of course, the most logical thing to do is not to take the child into these kinds of sensory overload situations.  Many parents find that they cannot “trust” their children at super stores like Kmart, WalMart, Meiers, etc.  Actually, it is not that the child is untrustworthy, it is that they are put into a situation where they are unable to self-regulate.  At this point the responsibility is on the parent to provide containment for the child.  And no, containment does not mean embarrassing an older child by holding her hand, but rather leading her to a place within the larger environment where she can  have a choice of  one or two activities.  If this isn’t possible, let your child know that you won’t be going to this particular activity because it causes her too much stress.  This is done without shaming.  We don’t tell a child we can’t trust them because that does not address what is beneath the behavior which in this case is dysregulation.  Keep in mind this is behavior if left unchecked will become addictive and a pattern that will keep repeating itself.

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