From minor pilfering to serious shoplifting

Your little girl stole a lollipop from the kiosk? Your teenager swiped a designer shirt? Or perhaps you’ve noticed money missing from your wallet? Your child’s age and the seriousness of the theft are important factors when discussing their actions and the consequences with them. After all, theft isn’t the same in all cases.

Was it a dare, attention-seeking behavior or payback?

The reasons why a child might steal can vary greatly. It might be a dare, payback, a ploy for attention, an attempt to impress acquaintances or because a child feels disadvantaged. A calm, grounded discussion with your child can shed light on the situation and encourage them to reflect on their actions.

Take a deep breath and stay calm

Finding out your child has stolen something can stir up a lot of negative emotions. Simply take a deep breath – do not approach your child angry or thoughtlessly. Talk to them calmly.

Discussion guide for parents

  1. First of all, try to keep your own emotions in check. It’s better to sleep on it for a night instead of scolding your child or raising your voice.
  2. Set aside enough time for the discussion. This will show your child that you want to have a serious conversation with them and that this is important.
  3. Begin by telling them you know they’ve been stealing, but do not judge their actions. This can depend on the situation, e.g., “the Millers tell me that you have Anna’s picture book. We’d like to talk to you about this,” or “I know that you stole that new t-shirt and I want to talk to you about it.”
  4. Allow your child to explain themselves and try to get to the bottom of the reasons behind the theft.
  5. Depending on their reasons, the conversation may now take a slightly different direction.
  6. If, for instance, your child’s actions are the result of issues with their self-esteem, reassure them that they don’t need to own certain items or prove themselves, and that you love them as they are.
  7. You should then make it clear to your child that, as their parent, you have a different set of values, and that you view stealing as completely unacceptable.
  8. Also explain to your child the legal implications of stealing.
  9. Consider together how to rectify the situation. If your child has stolen something from their friend, have them return it along with a nice letter. If they have shoplifted, a donation to a charity or an unpaid voluntary activity might be a good idea.

The main points in a nutshell

  • There are many reasons why a child might steal.
  • Their age and the seriousness of the theft have a major impact on the consequences of their actions.
  • Do not talk to your child when angry; only do so calmly.

UBS’s educational principles

UBS’s educational principles

This article was written in collaboration with educator Marianne Heller, who has years of experience in teaching financial education and debt prevention programs for children and young people.

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