My son’s stealing

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My son (9) was caught stealing again two days ago. The first time he did this, (about 3 weeks ago) we took him back to the store and had him talk with the manager, and thought he understodd the reality of what can happen when you steal, and hoped that would be the end of it. He was also on restriction and had his video games taken away. Two days ago he came home from a field trip with stolen items from the place they had visited. He attends an acting class that we happily pay for since he enjoys it so much. He has been allowed to continue these classes regardless of whatever his behaviors are, and I feel this is wrong. I feel like this is a priviledge and that until his behaviors change, he should not be allowed to attend these classes. My huisband disagrees. Help.

A. You and your husband disagree on how to discipline your son. I am sure this disagreement has gone back many years. I think the hardest thing for a parent to recognize is that their parenting has been ineffective. Yes, there are many theories and there are some therapists who would suggest that this is your son’s problem. But there are an equal number that would suggest this is a parenting problem. Children such as your son who enter inpatient behavior programs always do very well. The behaviorists in the program use simple behaviorism to both punish and reward his behaviors. I have seen the most troubled child leave such a program completely changed however I have seen the same children return to the previous behavior within weeks of returning home. I don’t know your situation, I only know what you have written in your short paragraph but I would seriously suspect that this is a parenting issue. My first steps would be to suggest that you and your husband find effective counseling that will deal with your son’s issues. You have more power to change your son than an in-house program has. You can control what he eats, and when he eats it, when he gets up and when he goes to bed, what clothes he owns, etc. You can control his every activity. These are powerful punishers and reinforcers. I believe that you have the power to control his behavior but you must learn how to do that, thus I am recommending family counseling or a therapist who does family counseling. I would be very selective in the therapist I picked. Find someone who has a great knowledge of effective parenting and most importantly, is a strong advocate of behaviorism. I wish you the best of luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jun 2005

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2005). My son’s stealing. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2005/06/03/my-sons-stealing/