ONE week, you find a wind-up spider in his schoolbag — the next, it’s a key ring with a miniature car attached.

When your five-year-old comes home with stuff that doesn’t belong to him, it’s most likely because the gap hasn’t yet closed between fantasy/desire and his conscience. 

“Childhood is a journey into reality. It’s the gradual bursting of a fantasy bubble,” says child psychotherapist and author of Cop On Colman Noctor.

He points out that morality is being fine-tuned in junior and senior infants when children are learning about rules and turn-taking. 

“The age of reason should definitely be established by age seven but children don’t wake up with it — they develop it.”

Noctor says the light-fingered five-year-old’s desire for the object is superseding his knowledge of the rule.

“As he gets older, he’ll start to be able to say ‘I really want it but I shouldn’t take it because it isn’t mine’.”

When your child takes or brings home something not his, you need to affirm this is wrong.

“Try to strengthen up the morality muscle so you close the gap between fantasy/desire and conscience,” says Noctor.

However, with pilfering older primary schoolchildren, there’s more intent in the taking. 

“There may be bullying taking place. Or it may be to do with dynamics in the playgroup – sometimes kids steal to maintain the lifestyle of the playgroup.”

Child therapist Helen Sholdice says parents should talk openly with their child, expressing that they wish to understand their child’s actions rather than judge them.

“The child should be treated with understanding and respect. This can be done by helping the child explore the ‘why’ of taking something that’s not theirs.”

She says it’s helpful for parents to ask themselves: “What need am I not meeting in my child that they’re trying to compensate for by taking something that doesn’t belong to them?”

Sholdice recommends looking at the family situation. Has there been a new baby? Is the child struggling in school? Are parents struggling with marital difficulties?

“It’s crucial for parents not to get angry – feelings of shame are toxic for the child. 

"When a parent’s angry, they don’t reason well and may be unable to proceed on the basis of a balanced judgment.” 

This, she says, could impede the child seeing the social value of not taking something that doesn’t belong to them.


* Put your child in the shoes of the other. ‘How would you feel if somebody took your toy/money?’

* Formulate plan for restoring the object that isn’t humiliating for child. If he has taken something from a shop, the parent can return it to the shop, explaining what happened.

* Children must feel they belong to their family. When parents step in to re-direct children, they feel the strength of their parents’ emotional involvement.

When parents step in to re-direct children, they feel the strength of their parents’ emotional involvement.



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