From childhood to adolescence, children take things that doesn’t belong to them without the permission of the owner for a number of reasons and these reasons varies with age. From the tender age of two, parents should start teaching their children good conducts if they must grow to respect the properties of others and be law abiding.

Curbing a child in early childhood: 2 to 7 years

To children in their early childhood, possession means ownership. In their minds, they have a right to anything within grabbing distance.  Their thoughts at this stage of development is self-centred. They do not know that not all toys that they see in their neighbourhood belongs to them nor do they understand the implication of taking them, until the parent pass judgment.

The good news is, by age two to four, children have developed a speaking vocabulary of over 300 words. They can also respond to prohibitions like “don’t touch that” and can respond correctly to “show me your eyes, ears etc.” At this stage of your child’s development, you must make conscious efforts to correct his actions.  When ever he collect someone’s toy or something that does not belong to him, respond with a “no! no! that is not yours, it is john’s.” You should go further to ask John’s approval for your child to . with his toy and if he didn’t give his approval, do not force it on him. Again, make effort to help your child differentiate between what is his, and what is not his. However, do not expect this concept to sink in fully until around the age of five.

If your child finds someone’s toy or property and brings it to you, praise him to the limit for his action and tell him how happy the owner will be when the property is returned to him.  Little things as this are helpful for his moral development. It increases the tendency of your child repeating that behaviour in the future because children at this stage make moral judgments to obtain rewards and avoid punishment.

Curbing a child in middle childhood: 7 to 11 years

Middle childhood is the elementary school stage.  Formal education begin in earnest during this period because most children are intellectually and socially ready for the demands of school.  At this stage, the child has the ability to reason like an adult in every way except for reasoning about abstract concepts such as justice, truth, or the meaning of life.

Children also develop close ties with their parents and peers at this stage.  Friendship groups or cliques often emerge during this period and tend to last longer. To this effect, a child at this stage may engage in petty theft because of his desire to fit in with a peer group that steals or to revenge for the pain they feel others have inflicted on them.

This is a critical stage in the lives of children. From age seven and above, children become active learners and begin to give meaning to things happening around them. Because they lack the ability to reason about abstract concepts, they become naïve beings who accept and hold on to any explanation they receive. Parents are expected to start teaching their children about truth, lies, honesty, s*x and the likes at this stage.

You must also connect and maintain or form (if need be) strong emotional bond with your children at this stage. Show your child that your love for him is unconditional and also make effort to win  his trust; only then will he accept your advice and values and also adhere to them. Connected children feel remorse when they do something wrong because they develop a finely-tuned conscience sooner.

Often help your child to understand that it is wrong to take things that does not belong to him without paying for it or without the owner’s permission. Any time he fall short of your expectations, make sure he return what he took and apologise to the owner. Help your child to understand how hurting and upsetting it is to lose a property to theft. You also need to help your child to understand that his actions has consequences (from being grounded, to being despised by people and God) and do not let him go scold free if he repeat the behaviour.

Curbing an adolescent

The adolescent stage is the most challenging period of human development. It is a period where peers are often more important than parents in terms of attachment and influence. Although most adolescents are capable of reasoning abstractly, they have little experience to base their abstract thoughts on. Children  at this stage of development steal for the same reasons as children in middle childhood. In addition, they steal to buy things their friends have that they cannot afford, they think they can get away with it, or to buy drugs.

Parents who are able to develop trust and intimate relationship with their children will find it much easier to deal with the excesses of their teens at this stage. This is because the kids trust their parent’s judgment and will readily give relevant information about their friends, where they hangout and things they do. Parents must cease such opportunities to teach their children good conducts, self control, delay gratification and also explain the consequences of violating the rights and properties of others. Teach them also, how bad companies corrupt good manners and how to chose their friends wisely.

If the behaviour persist, seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist. It could be that your child’s case has gotten out of control, or he has kleptomania (a compulsive disorder which makes a person feel a sense of tension before the theft, then feel relief or gratified after committing the crime).

Sarki Gadah is a Psychologist and a writer. For free consultation: [email protected] or follow on twitter @psycheNigeria.