Stealing is a common misbehavior of children with ADHD. One of the characteristics of ADHD is impulsiveness-acting without thinking. When a child with ADHD sees something he likes, he often pockets it, puts it in his mouth, or walks away with it.
Later, when he has a quiet moment, he will take it out for a good look at what he got. If it is not as interesting as he thought, he might just discard it.
When a child is caught stealing, he lies impulsively to avoid losing his stolen loot and avoid discipline. (That’s why stealing and lying usually go hand in hand.)
The secret is to see the behavior clearly and stay calm. Address the elements rationally and you can get through this.
A child will steal for the following reasons:
* He likes shiny or glittery objects-so he takes them impulsively. This is common in kids with ADHD.
* He wants something to chew-so he steals food, gum, or sweets. Kids with ADHD often steal gum from convenience stores. These kids also chew on their shirt collars and sleeves.
* He wants to buy gum and sweets-so he steals money to buy them (common in older children with ADHD).
* He wants to get revenge-for example, if a classmate got him in trouble, he might steal a book from her school bag.
* He feels deprived, materially or emotionally-abandoned children steal, unconsciously to fill the empty feeling in their heart.
* He wants to escape from depression-pumped up with sneakiness and excitement from stealing, he can escape depression. He feels temporary excitement when he is chased.
Some parents just threaten, by saying, “If you steal in the real world, you’ll go to jail.” The child thinks, “Nothing happens to me when I steal at home and at school, so I might as well steal again and take my chances.”
A child might lie for the following reasons:
* He cannot admit he made a mistake (most common)-for example, broke a vase.
* He is afraid of punishment-he remembers the pain of when he was punished before.
* He wants to impress others with his background or abilities-for example, “My dad has 13 cars.”
* He does not want others to know about his embarrassing past-for example, he lives in a destitute part of town.
* He does not know the difference between the truth and a lie-because he lies so often. He forgets his lies, so he keeps others very confused.
Yelling, threatening, and screaming do not change your child’s stealing behavior.
Use the following guidance techniques for lying and stealing:
Make sure your child has three meals and two snacks each day. Keep a bowl of fruit available for snacking. Keep emergency sugarless gum handy in case your child appears desperate to chew on something. It will save many collars and shirt sleeves.
Catch your child every time he steals, and he must get logical consequences every time. Track down the origin of anything he says he found or was given to him. Insist on seeing a receipt for items he says he bought. Otherwise donate the item to charity or return it to the school lost and found.
Teach him the difference between “need” and “want.” When his eyes catch on something and he wants to reach for it, he must learn to ask himself, “Do I want it or need it?” If he just wants the pen his peer is holding, teach him to ask his peer, “May I hold/admire your pen for a few moments?”
To train this skill, gather a few novelty items (like those he may steal). Supervise him while he practices saying, “May I hold/admire your [novelty item] for a few moments?” Hand him the item and let him look at it for a few moments. Thank him when he returns it to you. At the end of this scientific experiment, give him a token. Teach him that he needs something if he cannot do without it, for example, air, water, food, and rest. If he needs something, he is justified to ask for it properly. For example, “Mom, it’s 6:00 p.m. Is dinner ready? If not, may I have a cookie because my stomach is growling?”
Teach your children to settle arguments with clear and assertive communication, not revenge.
Give your child ways to earn allowance with good behavior and good grades so that he can have spending money. (I recommend using a token system.) Let him spend it as he pleases, even for sweets. He earned it.
Give him logical consequences for each stealing event. One of the most compelling consequences is paying restitution of three times the value for stolen items. If your child has to pay three times the value of a $10 item and return the item, he will learn that it is worth waiting to buy it with allowance.
Train your child values and hold him accountable for his actions with logical consequences. If you use these methods consistently each time you suspect stealing, your child will probably decide that stealing is more trouble than it is worth.
You Can Solve This
Consistency is critical to a possible cure for children lying and children stealing..