Children are stealing when, despite knowing it is wrong, they take something which is not theirs. Younger children between the ages of five and eight usually have not learned the differences between borrowing and stealing, and that it is wrong to take another person’s property. Older children, on the other hand, steal because they do not have enough money to buy what they want, have problems resisting temptation, identify with a friend who steals, or feel important when they show off their stolen ware to friends.
- Encourage a climate of trust in your classroom. Let children know you do not expect them to steal by leaving out items like supplies, display ornaments, and prizes. Set the right example yourself, by never borrowing anything from students without asking them first.
- Advise children to ask you for anything in your class they want, and if you can give it to them, you will. This makes it harder for children to justify stealing (Rogers, 1987).
- Discriminate for younger children the differences between borrowing and stealing. Role-play ways of borrowing and returning other people’s belongings.
- Make sure the child returns or replaces the stolen item, along with giving an apology to its owner. If he cannot replace what he took, then he must compensate for it in other ways: earning the dollar equivalent by doing jobs, giving something of his own which is equal in value.
- If an item goes missing in your class, and nobody admits to taking it, ask all your students to write down on a piece of paper either “I did it” or “I didn’t do it,” along with signing their name. Make it clear you’ll talk to the wrong-doer later in privacy and settle the consequence (Rogers, 1987).
- Set up group contingency rewards such as the class earning 15 minutes of free time if nothing goes missing in the classroom for a day.
- Making children feel like criminals if they steal something. This could inspire excessive guilt, or a self-fulfilling prophecy where the child lives up to the reputation you have slotted for him.
- Forcing a confession out of a child. If you suspect a child, say, “I’m not sure you stole the pen, Brad, but if you did, I’d like it back by tomorrow. Otherwise I’ll have to ask the entire class to look for it until we find it.” Or if you know for sure he took it, don’t beat around the bush. Say, “I know you took the pen, Brad. Although you must have had a reason for taking it, it’s still my pen and I’d like it back. I want to trust you, Brad, and it makes me feel bad thinking I may not be able to. If you return it by tomorrow, I’ll know you realized your mistake, and you want me to trust you again.”