Child stealing toy

What to do when your child steals – Should you be worried?

So there I am at the store picking up a few items and I have my, then, 5 year old daughter with me. Now usually I am watching her like a hawk because of my innate fear of someone walking off with her or her picking something up and dropping it (I really don’t want to have to pay for something that I can’t use), but this particular moment I looked away from her for 5 seconds to put my items on the check out counter. That 5 seconds is all it took for her to help herself to a piece of candy and stick it in her pocket.

Have you been in this situation before? I bet you have or you wouldn’t be here right now.  I am going to give you a little secret on what to do when your child steals like this, a secret that worked beautifully for me and maybe it will help you as well.

What Was I Going To Do?

So I finish up paying for my items and go out to my car. At this point I still haven’t found that she has taken this candy yet.

I get her all buckled up and put my items in the back of the car and start to head home. I like to occasionally look back at my children through my rearview mirror and that is exactly what I had done as I am driving down the road and I notice that she is trying to pull something out of her pocket.

“Honey what do you have in your pocket” I ask her. “Nothing”, she replies.  I can see her messing with something, but I am driving so I can’t turn around and look.

We get home and I get out of the car and notice that she has a pack of gum in her hand and had not figured out how to open it yet. “Where did you get that?” I ask her and she replies back, “At the store, mommy”.Shocked face

OMG! She has stolen a pack of gum from the store we were just at because I know I did not buy her anything. What was I going to do? I mean your immediate thought is to punish your child and get angry because you know you have taught your child that stealing is wrong and yet your child still stole something.

The Wrong Reaction.

While I am staring at this item that she stole from the store I am getting angry, embarrassed, and completely confused and disappointed. I am pretty parent yelling at a childsure I had every emotion I could think of going through my mind as I am yelling at her asking her why she took that without asking and of course it didn’t help me keep my cool when she tells me because she really wanted it.

This is, of course, was the wrong reaction, in my opinion. I should have remained calm while asking her these questions and come up with a better solution to teaching her that what she did was wrong because now she is upset and isn’t hearing anything I am saying to her.

The Way I Stopped My Child From Stealing.

After calming down a bit and getting her to calm down I had come up with what I felt was the best solution to solve this problem. In my opinion it was THE best consequence I could give her without inserting anger because anger doesn’t solve a problem with a child and alot of times it just makes it worse (anger is the hardest thing for me when it comes to my children and is harder to control than most people think).

I told her to hold on to the candy and don’t open it and I closed the car door and got back into the driver’s seat.

Here is the best kept secret I found to solving any future thefts from my child……..

I drove her back to the store, got her out of the car and made her walk up to the cashier, hand her the pack of gum, and apologize for stealing it. Yep, I embarrassed my daughter the way that I felt embarrassed even though no one saw her do it. You see I have two children who are older than her and had learned awhile back that children don’t like to be embarrassed at all. I know I didn’t like it when my mom did certain things in front of my friends that was embarrassing so I thought maybe the same thing would work for this.

The cashier handled it so incredibly well and just looked at her and smiled and told her it was okay and thanked her for bringing it back. However, she did look a little shocked and confused at first. LOL!!!

Child covering face

Embarrassment was the key!

I can attest that my strategy may have sounded and looked horrible to others in the store, but unlike a lot of other parents I never had to worry about my child stealing again and I wish I had thought about that when my two oldest went through that phase.

It worked so well that the following year or two we had gone to the store and she had forgotten to put her drink up on the counter so that the cashier could ring it up and I, nor the cashier, had noticed. We walked out to the car and my daughter was crying as she climbed in and when I asked her what was wrong she started bawling that we didn’t pay for her drink.

Now don’t get me wrong I felt bad for my daughter because she was so upset that momma had forgot to pay for her drink, but at the same time I was so proud of what I had accomplished and knew that I would never have to worry about her stealing again.

I did comfort her and tell her that it was okay because she didn’t mean to steal it and that this time it was mommy’s and the cashier’s fault for not paying attention.

It doesn’t always work.

I tried this on my second child and he continued to steal for several years later (including from me) but I think that was because I tried it out on him at the wrong age (too late).  It is better to do this trick when they are very young because it sticks in their mind.

However, I still don’t think that just because a child steals when they are kids means that they will grow up to be thieves because he is now 16 years old and hasn’t stolen since he was about 12 years old. So I firmly believeSomeone being arrested with a big X in the middle that sometimes it is just a phase they go through to see how far they can go before getting caught and in trouble. In his case I proved to him that I knew it was him and how I knew it was him and he learned that there wasn’t a way to get around it and I made him pay it all back.

So please don’t completely blame yourself for not teaching your children correctly. Believe me I know that feeling.

As for my daughter, she stole that one time and that one time only because now that she is 13 years old, having to go back to the store would be an even bigger embarrassment for her and she remembers how it felt back then.

So the next time your little one decides that they want that candy or toy so bad that they decide it is okay to take it whether you say they can or not, take them back to the store and make them give it back and apologize for stealing. They have to do it, you can’t do it for them.

This may sound a bit harsh to some out there, but, what is harsher yelling and screaming at them and whooping their behind or showing them a little embarrassment?

What have you done to deter your children from stealing? Was it embarrassing them, scolding them, or scaring them in to submission?

Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Temi

    My mom used this technique with me when I was a kid. My local store sold candy by the pound and a few pieces went “missing’ in my pocket. After having to apologize in public, I never took candy again. I like how you are addressing tough issues. One of the other issues that parents deal with is how to handle the first time your kids tell you a lie. Any advice?

    • Kristena


      I love hearing how other mothers have used the same techniques as me and it has worked for them. In regards to catching your child in a lie, that one is a little harder and really depends on the age of the child on how to handle it because the younger ones don’t understand what a lie is, not really, but at the same time you have to teach them about what it is and why it is wrong or they become like one of my older children who tend to be pathological liars because of how I handled things when they were younger.

      The thing that I have found is most tell lies because of being afraid to get into trouble so it is best to make sure that your child knows they can come to you about anything without fear of being yelled at and the best time to teach them this is when they are younger. When they tell their first lie try to remain calm and talk to them without yelling at them and try to get them to come clean without accusing them. Reassure them that even though what they did was wrong and they will have to answer for the misbehavior (teaching them about consequences for their actions) that mommy still loves them. Like I said there are many different ways of handling children who lie. I will definitely be writing about this issue as well so please keep an eye out for it.

  • Ali

    What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You! For sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about what to do when a child steals something and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in details.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)


    • Kristena


      Thank you so much and I am happy to hear that you found my information helpful. I look forward to writing more for you.

  • carol

    What a teachable story! Gosh, I wish every parent could read this post. My friend was so surprised when she answered the door one evening and saw her 10 year old daughter with a police officer. Only to be told that her child was caught shoplifting.

    She did exactly what you did, and took her child back to the store to apologize. Surely, a lesson well learnt with double embarrassment.

    • Kristena


      Oh My! That had to be horrible but I have to say I have experienced the same thing with my oldest child which is what lead me to do things different because obviously what I was doing with my oldest 2 children wasn’t working. Third times a charm, right? LOL! So far my youngest who is 11 has not gone through that stage.

  • JidroneP

    What a great post! I have 4 years old grandson so, I need to ask my daughter was she in same situation like you did. I believe, not yet because she didn’t mention anything. Maybe it will come later,
    You did a good job returning item back to store. and explaining to your daughter what she did. By the way,here are so many tempting things around not only for kids but adults as well. Many parents just don’t pay attention ( or don’t want to) what kids doing at store ( or they don’t care ). If we will have same kind of situation I definitely will use your advice.

    • Kristena

      You are absolutely right! There are many outside influences that also make it hard to parent your children. There is a time to butt your nose in and times that you should talk to the parents before butting in because you may be compromising that parent’s raising of their children and I wish more people would realize that. Hopefully your daughter doesn’t have to experience the dreaded stealing.

  • Tim Perkins

    I can understand what you when though, and to keep calm i give you a thumbs up. My girl did that around age 6. i was a single dad and ex drill sgt. so lets say there was words, I regret my actions back there not i didnt hit her. i marched her right back to the store and made her tell the owner what she did.After seeing that she knew what she did wrong the owner gave it back to her, and thanked her for being honest. As far as i know she never did it again. I hope everyone who read this article gets something out of this. you write awesome.

    • Kristena

      Thank you so much and I think you did the best you could do at the time. Everyone has that anger moment and believe me she got the anger from me, but then I calmed down enough to figure out what to do to teach her that what she did was wrong. What most parents miss is that the fact that their child stole maybe because they were afraid to ask you to get it for them because most of us parents react with anger first. I do it quite often unfortunately but I am learning more techniques as I get older to not react with anger first.

  • anthony

    Hi, I absolutely love this article. It really resonates with me as my just turned 4 year old is going through the same phase.
    Sticks everything in his pockets and says nothing. I’ve caught him twice after we’ve done the weekly shop. Unlike you, I have not been able to contain my anger. It seems the more I tell him off the less impact it has.
    Without a doubt I’m going to try your embarrassment technique he gets sticky fingers.
    Thanks a lot, Anthony.

    • Kristena


      You are so very welcome! I am glad I was able to give you another way of handling the sticky fingers. When you get angry you have to remind yourself that he is only 4 years old and at this age they have no concept of paying for items no matter how many times you try to explain it to them. You also have to remind yourself that when you are yelling at them all they feel is fear right now and therefore don’t really hear what you are saying to them. Please feel free to come back and let us know how it works for you. It may take more than one time of doing this unlike with my daughter because well I hate to say it but sometimes boys are harder headed than boys. LOL!

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