Question: A 9-year-old has no remorse stealing but always gets caught. Why do you think he allows himself to get caught? How should a parent respond?
Answer: When a child is stealing, the first thing to think about is: What, why is the child stealing? Now some kids are actually materially deprived. They may not have enough food, they may not have enough clothing, and when they go to school they compare themselves to other kids and they steal. There are other children that actually have everything that they need and in these cases they're feelings are wanton depravation. In many cases it may be that they feel that their not getting enough attention, love, caring, nurturing by their parents. Sometimes this is true, for a longstanding reason, other times it's just a transient phenomenon due to stresses in the family.
But what we have to think about is why is this kid getting caught? Many kids are smart enough to get away with it. Kids get caught because they want parental involvement. They're asking for attention.
And you know, one of the first things kids learn when they're very, very young is that the most important sign of love is saying "No." So when the 2-year-old is putting a fork in the light socket or pulling the cat's tail, parents say "No," and then they sort of start walking around saying, "No, no, no, no." What does "no" mean? "No" means "We love you." "No" means we're setting limits. And it involves time and attention and loving. It also gives a child the opportunity to kiss and make up. I'm not recommending punishments around the clock; what I am saying is that the child is asking for something, and the parents need to respond. It's far better to use rewards for good behavior and incentives rather than punishments. But always think about what the child is asking for when there's stealing and getting caught.