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Help With Troubled Children Who Are Lying and Stealing

By Flora Richards-Gustafson ; Updated September 26, 2017
Lying and stealing are behaviors that you can help correct.

As they learn right from wrong, children may lie and steal to test their limits. It’s natural to feel upset, hurt or betrayed when a child exhibits this type of behavior. The Empowering Parents website explains that the negative behaviors of a troubled child are often not personal or a sign of your parenting skills. Lying and stealing are a reflection of how your child chooses to solve his problems at certain moments.

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Why Children May Lie and Steal

When a trouble child demonstrates behaviors like lying and cheating, it’s important to understand why she does this. By addressing the root of the problem, not just the symptoms, a parent can take greater strides to encourage positive behaviors. OneToughJob.org shares that after the age of 6, children know that lying and taking things that aren’t their own are wrong.

A child may lie or steal to get attention, establish an identity, meet high expectations, fit in, avoid hurting someone else’s feelings or because a parent may not discipline or enforce boundaries consistently. In a troubled child, behaviors like stealing or lying may stem from an emotional need or impulsiveness, according to the Empowering Parents site. When a child has a traumatic background, she may not trust others to meet her needs, so she may feel the need to steal.

What to Do

Moral development in children takes time. As a parent, it’s important to help your child understand that lying and stealing are hurtful and wrong, as well as the reasons why. Have a discussion about respecting others and their property. Then outline clear consequences for lying, stealing and other negative behaviors. For example, if a child steals something from his brother’s room, a consequence may be to not let your child go into any of the bedrooms unsupervised.

For an older child, you may have her pay “rent” for property that he stole. If your child lies about not having homework, a consequence may be to have her teacher sign a homework worksheet that lists the assignments. When you discipline a child, the consequences established are logical and in line with the behavior. This helps a child understand why she was wrong instead of just letting her say that he’s sorry. in other words, the idea isn't to shame but to help the child take responsibility.

Practicing Consistency

When you establish boundaries with a troubled child, outline a set of clear expectations and consequences. If your child steals or lies, follow through with the consequences that you discussed with her every time a behavior occurs. Reinforce good behavior by setting a good example. For instance, don’t demonstrate that it’s OK to tell a white lie to spare someone’s feelings. Just as you practice consistency when disciplining your child, reward her positive behaviors just as often. Celebrating times when your child behaves honestly reinforces the positive actions that you want her to take.

Asking for Help

In some instances, habitual lying or a high frequency of theft or hoarding in a troubled child may indicate the need for professional help. Ask the school counselor or your child’s pediatrician for recommendations for a mental health professional who specialize in treating troubled children. Empowering Parents states that even if your child receives professional help for her behaviors, it’s important to consistently hold her accountable for negative behaviors instead of making excuses or blaming a troubled past.

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About the Author

Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.

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