According to the Family Management website, it is the parents' responsibility to "...actively teach their children about property rights and consideration of others." Foster parents have the added challenge of trying to teach these important social skills to children for whom theft represents more than simply getting something they want. When a child feels helpless, he will attempt to gain some measure of power any way he can. For many foster kids, stealing is their attempt to assert their control. In spite of the difficulties, it is possible to teach your foster child to refrain from stealing. Your persistent efforts and good example can help him learn a better way.
In her article "Response to Shane: Children Who Lie and Steal," published on the Fostering Perspectives website, Katharine Leslie, PhD, warns that foster children who steal require constant supervision. Your foster child may not make his decisions from a platform of right and wrong. Morally correct behavior is not relevant to a child who believes he must steal to ensure his survival. He only knows what gets results and what helps him feel like he is in control. Therefore, you should avoid leaving him unsupervised as much as you can and address any thieving behavior immediately. Carefully monitor your own behavior as well. If your foster child observes you being dishonest, you will lose credibility with him.
It is important that you give your foster child clear expectations and consequences for stealing. In his book "The Power of Positive Parenting," Dr. Glenn Latham says consequences "...put the responsibility for the child's behavior squarely where it ought to be: on the child." Outline the rules in your home regarding trustworthiness and respecting other people's property. If your foster child chooses to disobey you, do not argue, question or lecture her about right or wrong. Simply take her to the person she stole from and have her confess and return the item. As embarrassing as it may be for the both of you, it is also very important that you consistently enforce your rules. Allowing a child to slide on an offense will only encourage her bad behavior. She will learn that you do not really mean the things you say.
Many foster children act out because they do not experience empathy for other people, according to Leslie. To overcome the effects of self-interest and a proclivity for deceit, she stresses the importance of actively teaching foster children what it means to care for others. Point out to your foster child acts of kindness that are performed for him on a daily basis and explain that these are done because you care about him. Talk with him often about what caring in action looks like and what it means. You want him to learn that his behavior is an expression of how he feels about someone. Stealing indicates a lack of respect while service communicates regard. Be patient and persistent. He may not respond at first, but your kind example may inspire him over time.
- Fostering Perspectives: Response to Shane: Children Who Lie and Steal
- Family Management: Children Who Steal
- "The Power of Positive Parenting"; Dr. Glenn I. Latham; 1990
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