"I remember the first time I stole," Simran*, 30, tells me. "I was in KG when I came home with another child's colour pencils. I told my mum that I'd picked them up because we'd been discussing getting me a set-I'd simply found these!" Simran's parents gently told her that what she'd done was wrong, and phoned her teacher in front her presence. "My dad calmly said I'd picked up the box and was returning it. I was never judged, and my teachers never mentioned it. That was all it took."
Apart from being embarrassed about your child being the 'culprit', you are in shock and disbelief. 'This was not what you expected! How could this even be?' Calm down, get a grip, gather your thoughts.
Of course, if this is the first or second time your child has stolen, you don't really need to worry. As a responsible parent, you will put away your hurt and shame, and deal with this in a way that is best for your child. A gentle talking-to-sans guilt, anger, name-calling and the usual good-communication advice-is the best way to address the act and its causes, like Simran's parents did.
But if your child has been stealing regularly, before you start thinking of her as a 'criminal', you should consider that she may be suffering from kleptomania, a disorder characterised by an undeniable desire to steal things. A child could show symptoms as early as at age five! While researchers haven't yet figured out what causes it, studies suggest it is more common in women than men.
Do not label your child: Even before you seek counseling, and whether or not kleptomania is the definite diagnosis, stay away from the name-calling. Naming and shaming has a deep impact on a child's psyche, so don't scare her by threatening to share the information with her friends. She will neither lose all friends nor be punished by God/end up in jail...you get the drift!
We shall overcome!
Your support should always be a foregone conclusion. You're not going to love your child any less-and make that crystal clear. The child's self-image and pillars of support are important, so handle ther issue with care.
Understand the urge
The urge to steal, whether compulsive or one-off, comes with stress and adrenalin. The kid feels 'good' after stealing the object of their desire-but it's a pleasure mixed with the stress of getting caught. Poor little kid, ya! (Just hold on to that thought, okay?)
Is something you will definitely wonder...Why does only your child have the urge to steal? It could be anything from an inferiority complex, stress, not being able to get what they want/what their friends have or for lack of money. Try finding out the reason. The answer lies only with the child, so prod gently, but don't turn it into an interrogation. Instead of asking pointed questions, just get them to talk about their day...what happened, how they felt about what happened, etc. Chances are, in an unguarded moment, the reason will become clear to you. Once you know the reason…
If your child is a repeat offender, seek professional help as early as possible. There's no shame-a psychologist will simply put your child through behavioral therapies. Also remember: if your doctor advises medication, then medicate!
Just remember, this isn't the end of the world! There are lots of parents like you...and plenty of success stories, like yours will undoubtedly be. So let's swap stories. Have a question? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll try our best to connect you with parents and experts that can help you. Here's to a happy ending!