Teaching children not to take things that do not belong to them might seem like it should be a simple task for a parent, but many of us have discovered that this can be a major challenge. One of the biggest things we are working with in this department is that conceptually, young children may not realize that they are actually stealing. It can take a while before developmentally children are able to process and understand that they are actually stealing when they take items that are not theirs.
The values of a family can affect how well a child is able to understand stealing as well. If you have a family where all the toys, clothes, etc. are shared amidst the siblings and family members, it might be hard for the child to really understand possession. This can make it tough for her to realize how everything at home can be community property, but things in the outside world are not.
Additionally, parents can model respect for individual property in order to help teach the child about possession. If we respect that the child and other members of the family have items that belong to them personally, we can teach our children through modeling about this sort of appreciation of other people’s items.
Teaching children about stealing and respecting other people’s property can take time and there needs to be a consistent message sent and shared by the parents. Instead of automatically assuming that the child understands and is choosing to steal or exhibit stealing behaviors, we might need to focus on creating a sense of understanding first as we instill the values around respecting other people’s property. Once the child is able to mentally grasp the concept of possession and the difference between sharing, borrowing and stealing, then we can continue to work on teaching a child not to take things that do not belong to him or her.