Two year olds… and their philosophy of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine. Right? That’s the law of a toddler. But then our kids start to grow up and they start to become more aware of the concept of ownership and how everything is not necessarily theirs. But impulse control takes longer to develop than that self awareness of ownership.
Ava has, on occasion, come home from a play date with a toy car stuffed in her pocket, or a loom band bracelet in her bag. When I’ve quizzed her on it, her standard response has been that friend X gave it to her and I accepted that. Or that she’d simply forgotten she had the toy car in her pocket…. because she’s my child and I’ll always believe the best of her. Till I received a phone call from her school teacher on Friday, informing me that she’d taken tuck money that didn’t belong to her, out of her desk mates lunch box, left open on his desk, while he was out of the classroom.
To say I was mortified is an understatement. I nearly died from embarrassment you guys. But after chatting with Ava’s teacher and then my friend, Jenny over at Your Parenting, I learned that lying, cheating and stealing is actually pretty normal behavior at this age. While Ava is old enough to grasp the basic concept’s of ownership, she doesn’t have the maturity or impulse controls in place just yet and this is a learned behavior and one which we will need to teacher her… starting now!
Of course, my initial reaction was to go postal the second I laid eyes on her, but I had to reign myself in, I needed to know that Walter and I were treating this as a learning experience for Ava, one where honesty was rewarded. I found this statement particularly pertinent:
Stealing is perfectly normal for children this age, says family and child therapist Meri Wallace, director of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development, in Brooklyn. “Five- and 6-year-olds are in the process of developing a conscience, but it can still be very hard for them to control their impulses when they see something they want,” she says. “Although they know the rules intellectually, they haven’t internalized them yet.”
Quote from Dealing with Stealing – Parents.com
Most interestingly from the research I did, is that this is normal, age appropriate behavior and an opportunity for us to teach Ava, although I really really really just wanted to get angry and yell at her. But I picked up some great tips from my research on the best ways to deal with the situation.
The other thing that was interesting for me, was reading that this kind of behavior is often more noticeable when a child is the oldest in the family as they haven’t had older siblings to start teaching them from a far younger age, the concept of ownership.
Be matter of fact –
“It’s not right that you took xyz from Friend X, you need to give it back and apologize.”
Avoid name calling/labelling –
“You’re a thief!”
Because this is a normal part of childhood development, name calling can do way more damage than good.
Avoid comparisons –
“Your brother/sister/friend would NEVER do that!”
Stay neutral –
If you find something in your child’s backpack that you suspect he might have stolen, make a neutral comment, such as “Mmm, I wonder where this came from.” If he says he doesn’t know, give him a second chance to confess (“I know you didn’t have it when you left for school”). However, if you’re certain that your child has stolen something, don’t ask him — he’ll probably lie to save face. Simply acknowledge it (“I see you took the Game Boy”), and let him know that you realize how he feels (“It’s okay to want it and wish it were yours, but it’s not okay to take it”), Wallace suggests. Then find a way to repair the situation — go back to the store or his friend’s house to return the stolen item. If your child is too shy, you can apologize for him (“My son took this pack of gum, but he knows now that it was wrong”).
Quote from Dealing with Stealing – Parents.com
Praise honesty –
This is a big deal. When we approached Ava to ask her what had happened, I would have been more upset had she lied. And this goes for all age appropriate lying among kids her age. I know this is an issue with many of my friends parenting kids the same age. The lying. We’re trying to teach Ava that honesty is the best policy.
Have realistic expectations –
This isn’t an issue that will be resolved after one discussion, it’s something that will need to be focused on until the behavior is corrected and her impulse control improves.
I read an interesting statistic during my research into this topic that stated that stealing of this nature is normal and common among children aged 5 – 6 and that lying would start at around the same age. But that while the stealing would, most likely, unless there were additional underlying issues, just be a phase and fizzle out, lying tends to escalate in children up till the age of 10 when they really start understanding the consequences of lying and the merits of honesty.
Here are a few other great resources to read if you’re struggling with lying/cheating/stealing with your young child.
Ask Dr Sears – 8 Ways to Prevent & Discipline Stealing
Real Simple – Why do children lie, cheat & steal.
Parent.com – Lying & stealing & what you can do to stop it.
Parent.com – Dealing with stealing.
Your Parenting – What do you value?
When I told my mom about this, she burst out laughing! She actually laughed you guys! I phoned my mommy in my hour of need and she laughed at me. Turns out my brother had a problem with sticky fingers when he was Ava’s age too and just about everyone I spoke to admitted that they had at least one child who had been through this or something similar. So there’s that!