General Question

KateTheGreat's avatar

How do you effectively punish a child for stealing money?

Asked by KateTheGreat (13610 points ) May 27th, 2011

First of all, my father asked me to ask you guys.

My step-sister is 10 years old. They just found out that she was stealing money from everyone in the family. Recently, there was a thing going on at school where they could buy books and other toys in the library. She stole $50 from her mom and used it all. She also lies about it as well.

Aside from hiding the money, what can they do that will effectively teach her not to touch anyone’s money ever again?

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42 Answers

Poser's avatar

If she were my kid, whatever she bought with the money would immediately belong to whomever she stole it from. Additionally, she would have to work out a deal with that person (or persons) to work off the money in a sufficiently unpleasant way.

Finally, I would go into her room and remove approximately $50 worth of her favorite toys, and she would get to watch them being given away to children who aren’t as fortunate as herself.

jrpowell's avatar

I think Poser nailed it.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@Poser That is a phenomenal idea. I’ll be sure to pass it along.

meiosis's avatar

Does she get pocket money? If so, she should still get it but then be expected to hand back a good proportion of it (75% at least). Far better to give her the full amount and have her hand it back, as she will notice this far more than deductions at source (so to speak). If not, then a list of chores should be drawn up, with a monetary value placed different tasks. The goods she’s bought with the illicit money should be confiscated.

A personal, one-on-one apology to every person she stole from is also a must.

Poser's avatar

@KatetheGreat: Thanks. My son once had about $40 stolen from him by a neighborhood kid. Taught him two great lessons: 1. Don’t leave your money lying around (i.e. Wallets are for pockets). 2. Don’t steal.

Maybe that’s another option. Have the neighborhood kids come over and tell them to take whatever toys of hers they want.

Bagardbilla's avatar

I wouldn’t!
Instead, I’d talk to them and explain how stealing will lead to loss of trust, suspicious looks from loved ones and friends… Etc.

blueiiznh's avatar

You first have to find out why and for what purpose the money was taken.
Punishing is one thing, but it is more effective to understand what motivated it in the first place.
In the case you state the school toys and book sale. I know of those scholastic reader displays are so tempting to kids and I do not like their approach. However the child did wrong.
They need a bit of their own earned money in order to respect anothers in this case.
If they have any savings, it is taken from that. Its hard to teach a money issue by taking toys. They simply need to earn the funds back.
The lie part is a different aspect and needs to be dealt with swiftly and always because trust is lost in that.
Kids will always be tempted by things and work needs to be done on values, open communication and feelings.

janbb's avatar

When my son was 7, he did some stealing. We took him to a counselor for a few sessions. I agree with @blueiiznh – in addition to any punishment, you should look at what is causing her behavior. Is it part of a larger pattern of duplicity or anger that needs addressing?

john65pennington's avatar

Wife and I were raising our grandaughter. She had her own room with just about anything she wanted inside.

One Friday night, she and three of her female friends were going to the mall. I gave her $20 and my wife gave her $10 more. I asked if this would be enough and she said yes.

The next afternoon, I realized that some money was missing from my billfold. My wife knew nothing about it,so my grandaughter had to be the guilty party. I confronted her and she confessed, stating she needed $20 more for a hairstyle. All she had to do was ask me. Instead, she became and a thief and it was time for her punishment.

For each dollar she stole, she would be spending the next 20 days in her room with no entertainment, whatsoever. No tv, no cellphone, no computer, no music. Nothing but homework and eating for 20 days.

She did her time and has thanked me many times for teaching her the difference between stealing and asking for something.

It worked.

_zen_'s avatar

I used to steal quarters from my father’s poker money jar. I used them to play pinball. I got caught, and beaten badly. I didn’t steal after that. I do not, however, recommend this if you want the child to have a normal relationship with their father.

It’s a good question. I don’t know what I’d do – but I have a very open relationship with my children and they know that I would give them anything and everything I could.I don’t think they would ever steal from me or anyone else – out of love and respect.

When, as teens, they did cross certain behavioural lines, I think my disappointment was punishment enough for them. All in all, they turned out absolutely fantastic and I could not be more proud of them.

Hibernate's avatar

When she wants different stuff she can’t get them because she stole.

As time goes by she’ll understand that it’s wrong to take another poesion without asking first.

Taking away some of her stuff won’t help because in time she’ll get over the “toys”.

The thing is to find out why she steals and where did she learn that.

marinelife's avatar

Your father and her mother need to understand what is going with her that she is stealing and lying. This level of acting out is about something deeper.

I suggest working with a family counselor. She needs therapy.

She can still be punished for the stealing, and she should be. Paying back the money is important as is a face-to-face apology. But figuring out why she is behaving this way at the tender age of 10 is the most important thing.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I like Poser’s answer. I also agree with the idea of having a long talk with her about what was going through her mind. She is at the age where, if she doesn’t get any spending money, it might be embarrassing to her if her friends are buying things from the book fair in the library, and she can’t. Setting up a list of chores that she can do to earn her own money might be good. It will also teach her the value of a buck, and how to budget money.

For the stealing that she has already done, taking the amount from her in toys, clothes, or electronic gadgets is a great idea. Make her do chores to earn them back.

When my kids were in elementary school and I was a single parent, I remember how important it was to them to get stuff from the book fair. It is a big social foopa to not have any money for it. I made sure they were able to participate, no matter how broke we were.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

If my daughter stole money from me to buy something, I would take whatever she bought. Then I would walk into her room and steal something that was important to HER, like her MP3 player or her cell phone, or her favorite purse… I hate to say it, but a lot of kids learn best with the “tit for tat” punishments.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with what everyone has said. Making her accountable to pay back, and/or lose some of her own stuff.

I would also say though, to be careful about heaping massive amounts of guilt and shame on the kid.
Let her know that it is her BEHAVIOR, not her BEING that is wrong!

I’d also say that she might be feeling neglected in some way and maybe some family therapy would be a good idea.

tedd's avatar

Make her do some kind of hard manual labor for X hours of “pay” to make up for the stolen money… so she learns the value of that money and why its wrong to steal it.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’d go with @Poser‘s first response with a serious talk about how she will have to bear suspicious looks, maybe even some talking down by those she stole from until they are comfortable around her again. I’d explain the people she stole from and disappointed are under no obligation to trust her ever again even if she wants them to, that’s the gamble she took when she made the choice to steal. She’ll have to accept she might need to make a new circle of friends and to not betray them.

6rant6's avatar

I don’t really have a better solution, but I’m always troubled by this scenario:

A kid is so into getting things that they sacrifice love and respect of their family to get it.

To punish them, we take away things (reinforcing that things are to be prized) and give them to deserving people (reinforcing that getting things proves you are worthwhile and that they are unworthy.)

Seems that the empty bottle is the one where they enjoy doing rather than having. Not sure how to fill it.

flutherother's avatar

As far as I know my kids never stole. If they had I would have told them it was wrong and they would have to pay it back. I think I would have been surprised and disappointed rather than angry and I would have wanted them to know how their behaviour made me feel. I always got on quite well with my kids and I still do.

KateTheGreat's avatar

Thank you guys so much for your responses. Such great ideas!

They are using a few of these punishments in addition to what else they are doing tonight.

They are going to carry her to the police station so they can talk to her about what happens to people who steal in the real world. Is that ethical?

6rant6's avatar

@KatetheGreat In the name of “helping” the police will probably misrepresent the likelihood of criminal punishment which she will figure out sooner or later. Add “Mistrust of Authority” to the unintended consequences.

Jellie's avatar

I really think the first and foremost step should be talking to her, telling her why what she did was wrong. She is still 10 and kids that age operate on logic (hence all the questions of why, what, where). So explain to her how it’s wrong to steal and ask her how she would feel if she has something of hers stolen. Also explain to her the value of personal belongings and hard earned things.

A second step would be for her to try to work off the money stolen with chores, forfeiting TV or a possession or a trip somewhere with her friends so she remembers what you have explained to her and it hits home that such actions have negative consequences.

I don’t necessarily agree that therapy should be considered right away. If you think she feels no remorse or doesn’t understand why stealing is wrong then yes there may be trouble at a deeper level. Otherwise remember kids will do all sorts of odd stuff at this age for no reason other than they don’t know any better.

Good luck.

Jellie's avatar

Oh and I may have answered the question assuming that you have recently found out about this and it will be a first time (and not the 10th or so time) that you will have an intervention sort of a thing…

BarnacleBill's avatar

It’s helpful to establish a way for her to earn money so she doesn’t feel like she has to steal to get something for herself. I have paid for grades. I paid for weeks without sucking a thumb at age 10, clearing the table, pulling weeds, whatever. They didn’t get paid in real money but credits that were entered into a check register. We would agree how many FamilyBucks it took to earn something that is coveted. I also made a point to control purchases, like when the book order came home from school, they could always get one thing, and I gave them a dollar amount.

The one that had sticky fingers was told that because she took things, she would not be able to go on any sleepovers because I could not trust her to not steal from her friends and parents. The way she had to earn things back was that she had to return things found, and money would be left lying out and it had to stay where it was put. Her sister moved the money to get back at her, and she was falsely accused, at which time her sister came forward and told her she wanted her to know what it felt like to have money disappear when you were expecting it to stay put.

KateTheGreat's avatar

I’ll go ahead and add more information.

My little sister was adopted at birth. She has had many problems in the past and is regularly seeing a therapist. She’s been seeing one for 5 years now. Also, the girl is desperate for attention all of the time and she’ll do things just for attention. Our family gives her a lot of attention and they love her to death. I don’t understand why this is happening at all.

We asked her why she did it and she said that she was “jealous” because we “only” gave her $10 for the book display. I just don’t get why she is being so difficult. We’ve tried everything in our power to raise her in a nice family, but she is having so many problems it’s unreal. Is there any way to teach her a lesson at this point that will have a lasting effect?

KateTheGreat's avatar

@sarahhhhh Well, she has done this numerous times. She has also been doing other bad things.

creative1's avatar

@KatetheGreat I like the approach of her having to earn the money back so she can learn the value of the dollar an learn to respect it. The earliest job I had was picking beans for a local farm but that was so I could earn money on my own, we earned $2.50 a bushel we learned so much about working hard for money from it. Maybe if she had to go around and find work and earn the money back, that would teach her what it really means to your parents to pay for things and when they give her $10 to spend she will understand why and what it took for your parents to earn that money. It was only when I was earning my own money and looking for ways to earn it was when I understood how hard it was to come by and that you should value it when you had it.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@creative1 Well here’s what they’ve decided. When I get back home, I will take her to my farm to work with the other day laborers. They’ve also taken away her entertainment, all of the things she bought with that money, and they’re making her eat peanut butter and jelly for a few days (because that was grocery money she stole).

If she wants to buy back her things, she has to pay back the amount she stole first AND then pay for what she bought as if she was using her own money again.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

If she’s done these things before then she isn’t concerned about losing respect from the people she’s hurting. Find something that is important to her, something she wants to impress or be well esteemed by.

Do you think she’d be open to a mentor for some sort of study or recreation? For some reason, there are kids who respond really well to appears firm, strict, tough, hard to impress, etc. Once the kids are hooked to get a positive response from that person then a few words of encouragement, reprimand and guidance goes a long way.

I didn’t do bad things but I was very dismissive of my parents when young, even as a kid under 10yrs old. The only people who mattered to me were very serious and quite a bit older, I don’t know why but it worked for my parents to keep me distracted with mentors.

Good luck.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@Neizvestnaya She’s already in lots of recreational activities. I just don’t know what else to suggest. Thank you.

6rant6's avatar

I’m no social psychologist, but isn’t it pretty generally accepted that punishment doesn’t change people, only makes them more devious? And particularly in child rearing, punishment does not lead to “better children”?

So if you want to find a punishment that makes the punisher feel justified, that’s fine. But as far as thinking it will resolve the problem, that’s soft headed. But I guess that’s the way society rolls: “In an ideal world THIS punishment would beget THIS change. To hell with reality.”

BarnacleBill's avatar

Is she seeing a therapist?

blueiiznh's avatar

You need to find whatever it is that she regards highest in life right now. Utilize it somehow to motivate her.
Sounds like tough love is in order and she has to ear respect back seeing she has none for others.
There is a movie titled “The Ultimate Gift”. Try to have her watch it. Your reference of the farm labor reminded me of it and it may be a way to start to break her bad habits down.

Hibernate's avatar

I she desperate for attention .. well that changes everything.
This make the stealing YOUR fault [ the entire family ].

If one neglects a kid [ even without problems ] will see that the kid will eventually end up with problems.
So if she already had problems why not spend MORE time with her so she can become healthier.

Anyway hope the situation will go away soon and your sister will end up with no problems.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@Hibernate I’m sorry, but she gets a lot of attention. Our lives pretty much revolve around her. She has soccer, basketball, cheerleading, and all of these other activities that we all go to, we all hang out with her after school, we help her all of the time, and we give her A LOT of attention. I find it rather insulting that you would make a blind accusation of saying it is our fault.

Hibernate's avatar

Kate you do not get my point. She does not need a lot of activities but attention [ when she plays to look over to a bench and see someone looking at the way she plays ] and moments to share with the rest of the family.

For instance ... what’s the point of going to a cookout every week if she does only a few things with the family [ except talking , eating etc ]
Oh and there’s always the issue with TOO MUCH attention.

Sorry that you feel my words insulting but the issue here is not who’s to blame or who’s fault is it but what’s to be done ... after 5 years of counseling and seeing that the problems persist makes one wonder…

Sorry again if I said something wrong.

Jellie's avatar

Oh this situation is much more complex than I had assumed.

This may be a bit crazy but how about you “stage” the theft of her most important/valuable thing. I know it’s unorthodox but it may drive the point home.

The fact that her bad behaviour is a constant feature you may considering changing her therapist. I understand it would mean starting from scratch but obviously her existing one is not doing anything for her.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Perhaps, given the history of her childhood, telling her over and over again that she doesn’t need to steal in order to provide for herself, and that it is wrong. Perhaps it’s reinforcing, “In this family, we do not_____.” In this family, we trust one another. In this family, we are kind to animals. In this family, we are polite to others. In this family, we do not steal. In this family, you are loved and taken care of. You are part of this family. You may not steal. You don’t need to steal. You may ask if there are things that you can do earn something if you really want it badly enough. Then the first time she asks for something, give her a chance to earn it.

I’ve done something similar mine. In high school, I told them while I don’t condone underage drinking, I really don’t condone underage drinking or riding in a car with a driver who’s been drinking, and pledged to pick them up wherever, whenever no questions asked, them or their friends. I’ve been called a few times for them, and several times, their friends have called me to come get them. I get up at 3 am, and deliver them from wherever, without saying a word. My daughter said she didn’t drink at parties that much because she knew that I would get up and come get her, and she felt bad about waking me up, since I was so nice about it. If I found out they drove home, or rode home with someone who had been drinking, they would lose their driving priviledges.

creative1's avatar

As you know Kate adoptive kids bring with them so much more than the normal kid especially when they were adopted when they were older and sometimes that comes out in the constant need for attention which she is experiencing. When I went through the classes to be come a foster/adoptive parent this was discussed with us. Understanding and talking to her about it is also just as important, something that probablly wasn’t done in her previous life. The great thing is you have some wonderful adoptive parents that will eventually turn her around, I see the wonderful things they have done for you. I know they won’t give up on her no matter what happens.

blueiiznh's avatar

I agree on the point of drawing lines and making certain she knows what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
There certainly is a balance between attention needs and teaching independence too.
But it has to center on core values that she sees and are consistent.
Bottom line she needs to be respectful of what is around here and being nurtured.
When a line is crossed the negative action has to have consequences that are strictly enforced.
Sadly she has not learned this at this early age and if left unchecked is not doing anyone any good.
What she learns now is what is going to carry her through life.
Do the best thing to help her.
I am sure this is also being approached in a loving caring manner versus a guilt trip.
GOod luck. Prayers to her.

greenergrass's avatar

I agree with many of the people above – especially on the focus of finding out why your child/teen had done the stealing. Usually, it’s because they want something they can’t have/don’t want to get themselves but can get from someone else.. err someone else’s wallet.

My friend told me that her parents told her that whatever she wanted to have she had to tell them why she wanted it, then from there they would approve if she got it or not. Now, that’s pretty wise because it gets to the “why” of the child’s want and obviously, they can’t easily get away with “because everyone else has it” or “because I want it, so there’s a possible solution to that problem. However, then you run into the problem with stealing and lying – the next step when a child doesn’t get what he/she wants.

I believe, that the child first has to understand the significance of what her actions are to the person, people, or place she stole from. Then she should be punished, so that she knows how her actions will always affect other people. This punishment could be humiliation – now don’t think I’m mean! What I’m saying is that, for example, she could apologize to people who she knows are above her, in other words authority figures that she knows are authority figures so it’s somewhat embarrassing ‘fessing up to the “big man”. Then she knows that there’s a person at the other end of her actions – and her actions have consequences.

Then, she should learn what was bad about her actions. Stealing is not a good thing (obviously) and that child will not know that if she just gets what she wants without a punishment and doesn’t understand why what she did was bad.

Then – if you want to go a step further, she should understand the significance of money (if you find this necessary, and if you feel she’s old enough). You could put a price tag on each of her favorite things, literally, then take away $50 of it, adding it up in front of her, (Yes, I’m thinking along @Poser ‘s brilliant idea!), and either giving it away or taking it away until she can earn it back.

In all, let your child know that their are consequences to her actions, by making the people at the other end of her immoral action more relevant in the situation, and make her punishment more personal (the price tags).

Good luck – Happy fluthering!

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