How to Handle a 7-Year-Old Who Steals

For a 7-year-old, stealing should be apparently wrong. However, sometimes they haven’t quite mastered the concept. I have some experience with teaching 7-year-olds not to steal and wanted to share what I’ve learned with you.

How should you handle a 7-year-old who steals? Help them understand that it is wrong. Have them return what they’ve stolen- if they can- and make reparation for what they’ve done.  Be clear and blunt when explaining this. Don’t beat around the bush or pass the blame onto someone else- that will only make it worse. 

7-year-olds are at the point where stealing has been thought through beforehand. There are different reasons they choose to steal, and understanding some of these reasons may help you parent them.  

Taken Something? Give it Back!

As a parent, it is easy to become embarrassed when your child does something wrong. It can be tempting to shield your child from the shame of stealing. You may even feel ashamed yourself so you want to make the return as quietly as possible. 

While it’s okay to be quiet about the return at the store, you should not protect your child from the shame. You can’t, and you shouldn’t shield your 7-year-old from everything- especially when they’ve done something wrong. Feeling ashamed for doing something wrong is healthy and should be allowed to happen. 

Let them feel that shame. The only way they will begin to see the negative effects of stealing is by letting them feel it and see it. They need to be the ones to give back what they stole. 

Your 7-year-old is the one who stole, not you. They are learning, but they still did something wrong so they need to be held accountable for it. Now, obviously you shouldn’t shame them or put them down, but their natural reaction of feeling shame shouldn’t be buried. 

They will likely be unwilling to give back what they’ve taken because they are embarrassed.

Don’t worry, embarrassment is part of the process. Let them know that you still love them, but are disappointed with their choice. Once that has been established, they need to give it back if they can. 

In an instance where they can’t give back what they’ve taken, they need to still go and apologize for stealing. There will probably need to be some kind of reparations made in behalf of the person it was stolen from.

What kind of reparations that will be made depends on those involved.

If it can be given back, your 7-year-old needs to have whatever was stolen in their own hand when they give it back. You cannot do it for them. It is very important that they do it.

You might not see the significance in this, but having a visual representation of returning the stolen item helps them understand what’s happening better.

Plus, giving them the experience is good for their learning. There are some things that are best taught by experience. While experience isn’t always a compassionate teacher, it is usually effective.

And sometimes, it is honestly unavoidable for someone to be taught by experience.

Note: Some kids just don’t listen to words and need to see and feel for themselves the hard things in life. Experience is sometimes the only teacher that is successful.

After they’ve returned what they’ve stolen, they will feel better. Don’t expect them to be happy that they’ve returned what they stole. They may even be angry with you for it. They will not always feel better right after returning what they’ve stolen.

When you’re teaching a child not to steal, their present happiness is not what is important. It’s their future happiness that you should be worried about.

Oftentimes, allowing them to be unhappy for a little while in the present benefits them in the future. (However painful it might be to watch as a parent.)

What Does My Child Need To Understand About Stealing?

A lot of the time little children steal without the knowledge of the effects their actions have on others. Whether it’s after or before they’ve stolen something, they need to understand how stealing that item will affect everyone around them. 

When I was little, I remember stealing a pack of bubble gum from the store. I had asked my mom to buy it for me, but she said no. I was very upset because we didn’t get treats as often as I wanted to get them.

Because I was angry, I lashed out by ignoring what my mom said.

With such a large family, it was near impossible for my mom to always have her eye on us. When her back was turned to pay for the groceries, I took the pack and put it in my overalls. 

I was so impressed with my skills and proud that I’d gotten away with it. Later that day, my cousins came over and I passed out ‘the goods’. Now everyone had a piece. I remember my cousins asking me where I’d gotten the gum. 

I responded, of course, with a lie. I told them that my mom had bought it for me. My sister, who knew I was lying, kept her mouth shut and enjoyed the gum. (Even though she came over and told me I was lying.)

Later, my cousins and sister mentioned to my mom that I had shared some bubble gum with them. She asked me where I got it. I lied again and said that someone had given it to me.

After she asked me who, I responded in stuttering tones but managed to blubber out something.

She stated quite frankly, “I sure hope you didn’t steal that bubble gum. That would be wrong and I would be very disappointed in you.”

I was a very guilt driven child, so I immediately responded with my head hung low. “I did steal it.” 

My mother held out her hand at that moment. Now, the ideal thing for her to do would be to drive me all the way back to the store right then and there.

However, since we lived far away from town, I don’t think we did. I do recall going back and my mom giving me money to pay for it, but it’s a little fuzzy. 

Instead, she made me give her what was left and I was given a consequence. All my cousins got to go somewhere and I wasn’t allowed to join them.

My cousins didn’t get into trouble, but I do remember realizing that by stealing the gum I had made them do something wrong as well. My mom pointed this out to me.

I want to point out the key components of this story.

(1) My mom didn’t just pat me on the head and tell me not to do it again. She explained to me why it was wrong and how it affected others.

(2) We drove all the way back to the store (the next day) and she had me apologize to the store clerk.I had to hand him the money and admit that I’d taken the gum. (He gave me a sucker and said he was glad that I’d done the right thing.)

(3) I was given a consequence along with the shame of having to go all the way back into town. 

I don’t know what you’re used to when it comes to teaching and disciplining children, but there is something very important that my mother did. It may have seemed excessive, but the truth is, what if she hadn’t? If I had gotten away with it, I’d have done it again. 

The stolen items would have gotten bigger and bigger. So, these 3 important ideas need to be addressed when teaching a child not to steal. 

(1) Stealing effects not only you, but it affects others.

(2) When you take responsibility for your actions you feel better afterward, even if it’s hard.

(3) There are natural consequences to stealing (and lying) that get more severe as you get older. 

All of these things were difficult to learn but were important for me to understand. Your 7-year-old also needs to understand these three things about stealing. It may take some time to teach them, but they need to understand this.

How Can I Teach Them Not To Steal?

Here is a list of suggestions of things you might say to a 7-year-old to help them understand or help teach them that stealing is wrong. These are only a few suggestions to give you an idea of what you could say. 

  • “If your friend offers you a toy to keep, make sure you talk to their mom about keeping it first.”
  • “It isn’t right to take things that don’t belong to us, even if we want them. If we take them away from others, then they won’t have them.” 
  • “If you want something, try asking me first. If I say no, I have a very good reason for saying it. Mommy/Daddy has a small amount of money to buy food and clothes with. (take out your wallet to show child) Once it’s gone, I can’t get anything else, even if I wanted to. But, maybe next time we can come back and get it.” (Show your child you’re serious by writing it down on the grocery list.)
  • Don’t take anything from a store unless you’ve asked Mommy or Daddy if it’s okay.” (Mommy or Daddy can be substituted with Grandma or Grandpa.)

Note: Don’t say grown-up! To a child, everyone is a grown-up and not every “grown-up” has your child’s well-being in mind. 

Seven-year-olds need to be reminded that stealing is wrong. You may feel like a broken record every time you have to repeat yourself, but it is necessary. Even if you can’t see instant results from your teaching efforts, it’s inside their brain somewhere, you just have to access it. 

One of the best ways is to just let them get caught by someone who isn’t you. Honestly, sometimes kids know that their parents will always love them so they take advantage of that. If they are stealing, instead of coming to their rescue, let them get caught. 

You may think that that is cruel, but one of the best ways to show a child that you care and love them is by allowing them to experience life. Getting caught by someone who isn’t you will show them a piece of what real life is like.

(I’m not suggesting that you throw your 7-year-old to the wolves. I’m merely suggesting that you not always be there to rescue him/her.)

Why Are They Stealing?

There are many reasons a 7-year-old might steal. It could be the trickling away of the 5-6 year old curiosity with keeping secrets and trying to get away with things- or, it could be that they have something emotional going on. 

From experience, stealing can sometimes mean that a child lacks attention somewhere in their life. They may be stealing because parents are overly busy or getting divorced, or they feel like they don’t have enough. Poverty can also be a cause for stealing.

 With regard to attention, 7-year-olds that steal compulsively may be suffering from lack of attention- or feeling like they are being neglected. In which case, they need to be reminded that they have not been forgotten.

It is crucial that they understand that what happens around them is no reflection of their worth.

When parents get divorced, it can be especially hard for little children. Because 7-year-olds can understand that divorce is a big change which calls their parents attention, stealing can be a side-effect of divorce. 

I knew a little girl, about 7 actually, who started to steal all the time. She would just take things and keep them in her drawers. She would store them and never really use it.

She was asked where she got it and her reply was always that it was given to her. 

The fact that she did it so often and said that it was given to her reflects her desire to be remembered. This little girl is the oldest of three children who are very small. She is four years older than her closest sibling (who has a lot of medical issues) so most of the attention goes to her younger two siblings. 

She was stealing before her parents got divorced, but the divorce caused her to steal more often. Eventually, she calmed down and she doesn’t steal as much anymore.

However, for a while there, the unstable environment of divorce was apparent in her stealing habit. 

I Get So Angry When He/She Steals, How Can I Avoid That?

Of course, you’re going to be upset when your child does something wrong like stealing. However, the more you understand that your reaction influences, they easier it will become to stay calm. 

It’s not going to be immediately easy for you to stay calm, but it can be done. All you have to do is remember that they are learning. Yes, they’ve done something wrong, but they are at an impressionable age.

What you teach them and how you teach them will shape their future. 

Imagine your child has stolen something. For what feels like the hundredth time, you teach them all over again not to steal. You are frustrated and don’t know how to react.

Well, you have a few ways in which you can react. I’m going to mention only the 2 most common reactions. 

Number 1: You can get really angry, shout, and then put them in their room for the rest of the night. 

Number 2: You can sit them down calmly and ask them to wait a bit before you respond. When you are ready, you return to your child and calmly discuss the problem with them. 

Obviously, number two is the preferred option. If you are really frustrated and upset by your child’s stealing problem, you are allowed to take a moment to calm yourself. There’s no rule that says you have to respond right then and there. 

Besides, having your 7-year-old sit and wait for you to calm down gives them an opportunity to think about what they’ve done wrong. Allowing yourself to calm down makes it so you can respond the way you really want to. 

Something you can also do is to let them know that you are disappointed. Explain to them how sad and frustrated it makes you feel when they steal.

Let them know that you know how good they are. You are proud and happy when they do good, but sad when they do wrong. 

Depending on the child, this can be a golden tactic. Kids care about how you feel towards them. As mentioned earlier, they are impressionable.

When you are happy and sad, it affects them still. When they are a teenager, everything changes, but at 7-years-old you generally still have a solid pull. 

Related Questions…

What should I do if my child is lying all the time? If your child is lying, the same methods mentioned in this post will still apply. Click here for a great article that will give you even more ideas to help your 7-year-old’s lying habits. 

If my child is stealing a lot do they need to see a therapist? Some kids may steal more than others. Sometimes it’s just a phase, sometimes it isn’t. If you feel like there’s something to worry about because it happens more than usual, it doesn’t hurt to see a therapist.

A good sign they need therapy is if they’re taking things but not using them. If they collect a lot of items in one spot that they’ve stolen, that might be a sign they need a therapist. 

HM Rose

I'm from a very small town in Utah, United States. I come from a family of ten children. I can fluently speak Portuguese and lived in Brazil for about one and a half years. I'm currently studying to become a more educated human being. Hopefully, I can make a career choice that will one day be of some great use to me. For now, I'm happy being a Creator.

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