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 don’t know the differences between borrowing and stealing, and that taking someone else’s property is wrong. Older children, on the other hand, have other reasons for stealing–they do not have enough money to buy what they want, have problems resisting temptation, have friends who steal, or feel important when they show off their stolen goods to friends.
o 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 your students without asking them first.
o 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.
o Explain to younger children the differences between borrowing and stealing. Role-play ways of borrowing and returning other people’s belongings.
o Make sure children return or replace items they steal, along with giving an apology to its owner. If they cannot replace what they took, children must compensate for it in other ways: earning the dollar equivalent by doing jobs in the classroom, giving something of their own which is equal in value.
o 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 decide what to do next.
o Set up group contingency rewards such as the class getting 15 minutes of free time if nothing goes missing in your classroom for a day.
o Lay your cards on the table. If you suspect a child of stealing, say, “I’m not sure you stole the pen, Tony, 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 Tony took it, don’t beat around the bush. Say, “I know you took the pen, Tony. 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, Tony, 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.”
o Avoid calling a child “a thief.” It is also not helpful to ask a child, “Why did you do it?” Children often don’t know why they do what they do, and the pressure of telling “Why” may result in another lie.