Toddlers Steal Anything Not Nailed Down

My Darling Toddler Stealing? NEVER!

Have you ever experienced your toddler stealing? If not, you are lucky or your child has short arms, which if that’s the case, bless you!

Oh, Jules…I would just DIE if any of my kids ever stole…SOPHIE!!! WHERE DID YOU GET THIS POLLY POCKET!

From birth you begin teaching your children right from wrong with hopes they will listen to a smidge of your advice; however, there are various developmental stages where kids just can’t grasp the difference between what’s theirs and carpe latoy (seize the toy).



Let’s face it…kiddos are clueless about money or what belongs to whom. Explaining how they should pay for something sets an educational foundation for them, but if your toddler is sitting in the “fire truck” cart at the grocery store, within easy reach of the bright shiny tube of M&M’s, you’d better check his mitts before you exit—unless you want to return with your screaming child.


Most children by this age should know they aren’t to take something without paying for it. If they do steal, there could be a lack of self-control issue or other underlying problems which need to be addressed—especially if behaviors are repeated.

Preteens and Adolescents

Older youths know it’s wrong to steal, but peer pressure can play a role in their actions, or they may be thrill seekers testing limits. This age of experimenting with independence from parents and rebelling often can be confused by teens as fun behavior. Other adolescents may not have money, so they steal to keep up with their peers in fashion, music, events and recreational habits, including drinking, smoking and drugs. Other teens just crave attention because of stressors at home or school.

What’s a Parent to Do?

It’s the parents’ responsibility to teach young children that stealing is wrong. The child must be deeply impressed with the lesson that she hurts someone if she doesn’t pay for an item, ask if she can borrow it or have it.

When a toddler takes something from a store, parents are advised to take the child and item back to the store. Make sure the child apologizes to the cashier or manager and then either return the item or pay for it if it has been consumed. This makes a huge impact on the child and further punishment is not usually warranted. The Nemours Foundation says, “By the first and second grades, kids should know stealing is wrong. But they may need a better understanding of the consequences.” What do you tell parents if grade-schoolers or preteens are stealing? Dr. Jason Wichman, a pediatrician at Pediatric Care Specialists in Overland Park, says, “If it’s once or twice, I usually have the child apologize and then write a letter admitting they were wrong. If it’s an ongoing problem, there probably is something else more significant going on. I talk to Mom or Dad and see how school and home life are going and get a psychologist involved. You have to find out if the stealing is a cry for help, abuse or something else occurring.”

Repeated Behavior

(Nemours Foundation) One third of juveniles who’ve been caught shoplifting have difficulty quitting. It’s important to help youth understand they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal. Here are additional resources for parents, if stealing becomes a serious problem:


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