When Children Steal & Lie

Many children take things that don’t belong to them at some point.  This happens because: 

Very young children don’t understand that

  • a toy belongs to another person,
  • things in the shop must be paid for.

Older children know what ownership means and may have reasons why they are stealing.

Reasons for stealing may include some of the following: 

1. Peer pressure

Children want to be “in” and have the coolest clothes and latest mobile phone. 

2. A cry for help

Children who are hurting inside and feel sad and depressed try to fill a “hole” inside themselves. They’ll draw attention to themselves, even if it’s negative attention. 

3. Just for fun

Some children seek excitement and some want to see if they can get away with stealing and / or lying.

What should parents do?

  • Children should be taught from a young age that stealing and lying is WRONG.
  • Children should know that stealing is illegal, it’s a criminal act and that they can be arrested and prosecuted.
  • It is the responsibility of the parents to teach children moral values of a high standard.
  • BUT THEN parents should set the example: Never act dishonestly yourself. 

Have you as a parent, ever thought of the following as dishonest, disobeying behaviour and stealing?

  • Taking some of the stationary that belongs to your work to your house, because the work has lots of pens, rubbers, koki’s.
  • Talk on your cellphone while driving.
  • Telling a white lie (doesn’t matter how small it is).

By doing this you sow the seed for your child to do the same, as children usually do what you do. 

  • Start teaching your young child what trust is.  Trust is belief in others to do and / or not to do certain things. 
  • Your child has to know that if he steals and take something that is not his, someone else will get hurt.
  • Teach your child to respect his own and other’s belongings.

How do children justify stealing and lying?

  • Children who shoplift belief that the shop has many of this specific item, like a game, and that it won’t hurt anyone. Your child should know that shops who deals with large losses just put up their prices to make up for these losses and that it ultimately affects you and your child as customers.
  • They can further justify theft by thinking they deserve to take something from a person who seems to have more than enough. 

What parents shouldn’t do

  • Don’t use fear and guilt to stop your child from lying and stealing (it will not help).
  • Be strict when dealing with stealing and lying.
  • Try to understand why he lied and / or stole.
  • Stay calm.

Your child should see and experience the consequences of lying and stealing

  • Never try to protect you child by pretending he didn’t steal or lie. You will only worsen these incidents in future.
  • Talk to your child and find out what he thought before he stole.
  • Let him take the stolen things back and apologize.
  • He should pay for things he can’t give back.
  • Ask your child how he will feel if somebody steals from him. 

Stealing and lying that don’t stop can indicate deeper psychological problems. 

With therapy children who steal and lie get the opportunity to: 

  • learn to love themselves,
  • acknowledge positive things they do in life,
  • find something positive that excites them.

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist, 0740410081.


A child’s world: Infancy through adolescence. 2004. Papalia, Olds and Feldman.