Dear Dr. Bill,
Our 4-year-old son keeps taking things from church, preschool, and friend's homes. I think he’s just is playing, and he puts things in his pocket and then forgets about it.
We’ve talked to him several times about why this behavior is wrong. We’ve tried punishing him and have explained what the Bible says about stealing. But he keeps doing it. What should we do?
A 4-year-old tends to respond to actions more than words. Explaining that stealing is wrong that his actions make God sad is important. But unless you back up those words with consequences, he’s unlikely to change his behavior.
You say you’ve tried punishing him, but my guess is the consequence hasn’t been powerful enough to have an effect. He needs to know what it feels like when someone takes something of his that he holds dear
Tell him the next time he takes an item from someone--you will be taking something away from him. If it happens again, go into his room and remove one of his favorite toys, books or stuffed animals.
When he discovers this cherished item is missing, tell him he won’t be getting it back for a while. For a 4-year-old, one or two days is sufficient.
Also, have him return the item to its rightful owner and apologize. If he took something from his preschool classroom, work with the teacher to set up a restitution plan. For example, he might be required to stay after class to help clean up the room
If you’re consistent, this plan should nip the stealing in the bud fairly quickly.
Thanks for writing Susan.
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