Can a five year old be a THIEF??

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Look at that cute little cheeky face. Butter wouldn’t melt. But…..SHE IS A THIEFFFFFF!!

No it isn’t the step-mother talking! Read on…

Having had my stepchildren with me since they were two and four, I have been responsible for their social, physical, psychological and moral upbringing. Now if I had a biological mother involved in our situation, I could have happily been just the friendly amazing partner of daddy’s. But no, I am now meant to be everything. I am getting used to it but not quite used to the situations where I have to teach moral values.

So a new thing that I had to face today was stealing. Our youngest who is five now, has been caught with a few pennies in her pocket previously that she “found” in the house, not even outside. I have been trying to explain how she needs to bring them back to mummy (that’s what they call me now) and daddy as money isn’t for playing with.

I have been dealing with it quite calmly up until this morning when she came downstairs all dressed up for school and unfortunately for her, coins clink. And I noticed a few pound coins, not even pennies. I wondered where she could have “found” them as she always uses the term “found”  as an excuse (and I blame myself for leaving them on the table). But turns out they were from my bag. Somehow 8am in the morning, I am slogging to get their lunch boxes ready, whilst in the middle of making breakfast and making sure they are cleaning their teeth and getting dressed etc, I couldn’t bear the fact that my child was turning into a child thief. She has taken this money treasure hunt to an altogether different level.

After using my high pitch at her, I banished her into her bedroom. I did that only because, this might sound bad, but the very sight of her was making me more angry and helpless as to where the hell did I go wrong? Where is she learning or developing such impulses?

I had to cool down before I could think of how to deal with the situation like an adult and to assess it from a child’s perspective.

After about 10 minutes of her throwing herself on the bed, crying, kicking and saying a hundred sorry’s in agitation at the wall; I was calm as well and I invited her to come downstairs and talk to me. I explained her that stealing money is the worst mistake ever and that money is not for playing with. I asked her if she knew what is the purpose of money and she very cleverly admitted ‘to buy things’. Well, having realised that she is not a silly little girl, she obviously knows what money means, I then asked her if she had to get something from the shop with that money but she said no, she only wanted to play. Fine, again money is not for playing with. Not real money. I explained her that if she wants to buy something, she should ask us for money and if she finds money on the kitchen counter, mum’s dressing table or even bag and she picks it up just to have a look but by impulse puts it in her pocket, that is fine as long as she returns them back as soon as she realises she has them.

Now Reuben is seven and much more clever and so he asked if children can be put to jail for stealing. I didn’t want to lie; and scary as it may sound, I said yes if you steal from someone who is not feeling particularly forgiving, they can complaint to the police. To mellow it down a bit, I further said, “But we don’t have to worry about that because from now on we will try not to take money from anywhere and if we find money, we will give it to mummy and daddy. And if we forget, we will apologise when we return it back to them.”

I think they understood. Or so I hope!

It is difficult when you have parents from two different school of thoughts. My partner was very lenient with money and it’s value etc when the kids were very very young. Children have a box where they put all the pennies (which hold no more value to us than copper weight in the purse). Their daddy often let them play with those coins. I was against the whole idea, because I strongly believed that children cannot differentiate between a copper coloured one penny from a pound coin. Collecting coins has become a hobby and now their impulses probably ask them to pick up any coin they see.

Another school of thought would say if one isn’t so rigid about money and let children have a little play with the money, rather than kept as a high value item of treasure, it won’t create a lot of curiosity in kids to either find them or keep them. But I believe there is a risk with that is children as young as 5 and 7 who cannot reason or rationalise, and hence will use money as a commodity. They do not see stealing the way we do. For them, stealing could be something as fun as a treasure hunt without realising that it means something to someone else. The basic value of caring for other’s emotions, hard-work and showing kindness.

It is very easy as a parent, to blame oneself for what children do especially something that is wrong. But one has to remember, they are young and adaptable. So a mistake must not be treated as a crime. A mistake or a behaviour can be altered. Children can be moulded into what you see them to be like in a few years, of course they will have their own characteristics and personality. But think about it, no body is born with the skill of stealing – it is definitely something in the environment you are exposing them to that has developed such an impulse. It could be anything from friends in school who may be bringing in money, or trying to impress someone in the park, or trying to buy a toy off a older child who has asked for money (kids know that won’t be allowed and hence take the plunge), or something could be as simple as what my little one wanted to do – play (she loves playing shops in her bedroom)!! It is our job, hence to identify that element and talk them through it. Or perhaps alter things in their environment if need be.

One of my solutions now is to try and buy her a few fake coins. Hopefully, once she owns them she will stop scouting for real money in the house or elsewhere. And we shall take it from there.

This was a new experience for me this morning and I was totally phased by it but also learnt something more about little children.

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