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Why has my child started stealing and lying?

Q: My seven-year-old son is attending grade one at a private school. He recently stole a few seemingly meaningless objects / possessions from fellow classmates, and when questioned lied to us about why he was punished at school that particular day. The next day the teacher sent a note explaining that she had found the said items in my son's desk. He had stolen the items and lied to us all the while teary eyed about his innocence and our lack of empathy. He is otherwise a well-balanced child, who has been brought up with old school values in the manner of a gentleman. I recognise this behaviour as experimental. So, rather than punishing him severely (which we never do), I explained that stealing is akin to borrowing without the knowledge or consent of the individual from whom that article was taken. I also explained that stealing is a desperate measure that is not justifiable by any means. He seemed to comprehend, yet repeated the behaviour a week later at a birthday party, i.e. both stealing and lying. Is this a passing phase that can be handled in a simple way, or should this be regarded as more pathological in nature? He is not a child who lacks attention, love, comfort or parental presence. What is your initial empirical impression?

A:Stealing and lying could be passing phases as children are often keen to belong, and to show off materialistic objects. But if the problem persists after one or two occurrences, it is necessary to explore the reasons. One needs to understand if the child is feeling inadequate or insecure, and these are steps to gain attention and recognition. In any case, you should sit down with the child, ask him the reasons, and also discuss plans for compensating. He needs to understand that if he has stolen something, firstly you as parents do not approve of the act. Secondly, he would need to return the items either in kind or in cash, and his own allowances would be used to repay. He would also need to apologise to the person from whom he has stolen. While these guidelines are being set and implemented, make it very clear to the child that you love him, not his act. You should try to make him feel a part of the family and not rejected at all, otherwise he will resort to further lying. This becomes a fine balancing act for the parent. In case the problem persists, take the help of a professional counsellor.

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