Thursday, November 14, 2013

Question: "Thoughts / Advice on Escalated Stealing?"

A Glimpse into My First Experience

With a baby on my hip, another in the cart, my 8 year old with her arms crossed and pouting, and my 5 year old gleefully (an annoyingly) jumping all around me as I check out at the register I peer over my shoulder for my 9 year old boy. He gets up quickly from the candy shelf, they conveniently put at the check out of so many stores, "I was just looking." I smiled and we left. I survived another shopping trip. So I thought. "What are you eating?" I ask in the car as he moves something around in his mouth.

He was a master thief. Cunning, deceptive, straight-faced, the perfect con artist. I would actually be impressed by it if theft wasn't against the law. Even when he stole something right in front of me and I could say, "I saw you just take such and such, please put it back" he would be able to look me in the eye and deny it, even insist so persistently why he couldn't have possibly stolen it that I found myself wanting to believe him....that is, if I hadn't seen it happen. This same insistence of his innocence would make it all the more difficult when theft was assumed but not able to be proven.

This was the first trial that bombarded me during this intense journey down a very long, hard path labeled "habitual theft"!

Theft is an Outward Deed Pointing to an Internal Heart Issue

Habituated theft that becomes as easy as breathing and the manipulation that follows it to avoid consequences is common in children struggling with attachment issues or RAD.
Stealing: (The child will often show up at home with items that belong to others, with unusual or suspicious stories of how they came to obtain these particular items. School is a very common place to FIND these type of items and the parent and school must work closely to help get this problem under control.) from "The Little Prince-Surviving Life with Reactive Attachment Disorder" blog
Theft, Pointless Theft: Theft is chronic, brazen, cunning, and even nonsensical. A grade-schooler named Charles stole baking powder, something useless to him. They enjoy being sneaky.
Biblical Lens: Many desires motivate theft, including anger. Possession of a forbidden object gives a sense of power over the object and over those from whom it was stolen (Prov. 9:17; 20:17). This is true regarding possession of pets and, in adults, kidnapped people. from the book "Parenting the Difficult Child by Linda Rice"
The following is the teaching that has helped me most; it is from Parenting the Difficult Child by Linda Rice summarized:

 Fear Motivates Desire

When a child fears loss of something like security he also has a driving desire for security and probably other related objectives such as comfort, control, or possessions. In 1 Samuel, Saul's fear of losing his kingdom drove his desire to kill his faithful servant David. Fear of loss and desire for gain fit hand in hand. Since loss has produced a lack of trust in others then gain has to be self-obtained.


Self-sufficiency affirms selfishness. If the child doesn't depend on others, then neither should they expect anything from him. He is free from responsibility to love them. James speaks to the self-sufficiency of his readers when he says, "You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.... You do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Rather than ask God to grant their desires, his readers determined to obtain what they wanted by their own means.

Hardened Conscience

Whether a conscience becomes calloused or good depends upon the direction to which it is trained. Those "trained in greed" (2 Peter 2:14) trained themselves to ignore or shut off the alarms of conscience when tempted with coveting. Training shapes the conscience.


Habituation explains how the lifestyle becomes more extreme and fixed. Through training, habituated thoughts and behaviors become second nature. Romans 7:14-23 teaches that the flesh habituated to evil does it automatically. Desires can also be habituated. Peter describes someone who had "a heart trained in greed" (2 Peter 2:14), which means a heart habituated to wanting more and more. Such a person does not think twice about wrongs that he does.


The fact that the child has a conscience means there is hope. Even a hardened Judas, calloused enough to betray Jesus, still sensed conviction for his betrayal (Matthew 27:3). The commands of Scripture offer hope. Since Colossians 3:12 commands the putting on of compassion, then that is something that can willfully be done. Re-habituation offers hope. Practicing right behaviors can increase sensitivity to moral rightness. Caution must be applied so that putting on good habits is not taught as behavior modification. That is, in addition to actions, habits of heart desires and thoughts are retrained (Hebrews 5:14) and then bear fruit in actions. God's glory is the goal!

Parenting When Behaviors Never Deserve Praise

A Parent's goal is to glorify God, not to get your child to behave.
God's sovereignty is the foundation of parenting and His glory its highest purpose.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is a commission to a stewardship. Children belong to the Lord. He gives them temporarily to parents to train for His kingdom (Psalm 127:3). This stewardship is a great privilege. You and I, sinful people, are granted participation with God the perfect Creator in the wonderful work of shaping another little sinful person to love Him.


Very simply, we parents are responsible to love God and teach His Word diligently to our children (Deut. 6:7-9). We are responsible to train our children. We must command their obedience and discipline their disobedience (Proverbs 6:20; 13:24; 19:18; 23:13-14). We are responsible to "not provoke our children to anger" (Ephesians 6:4). "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Parents are NOT responsible for a child's response. The Deuteronomy 6 commission says nothing about children's responses, only about parents' obedience.


Colossians 3:8-13 says to lay aside anger, malice, and the like. In their place, "put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Compassion is an essential ingredient to mix into the parenting recipe. Compassion prevents a hardening of heart. Someone who approaches with humility, kindness, and patience is not provoking fear and anger (Ephesians 6:4), but is encouraging a sense of safety. Compassion encourages hope. Compassion is NOT permissiveness or blindness. It does not excuse or ignore sin, but truthfully identifies it for correction. Compassion drives discipline. Be immovable about consistent discipline because you love that child too much not to be. Develop compassion by watching Christ. Read the Gospels and watch Jesus teach the ignorant, reason with the stubborn, forgive the repentant, and warn the unrepentant.



Patience is important because the task that you will ask of your child is daunting. For the child to turn to God he must turn from the only thing he trusts--himself. He has to come out of hiding and abandon his refuge, the habits that make him feel safe. Self-preservation is hard to give up. Letting others be in control is frightening. The moment he tries, he feels vulnerable, confused, even terrified. The old ways entice him back because they are easier. Because changing habits is so difficult, you need to view change as a baby-step by baby-step process, strewn with failures.



Perseverance is needed when seeming failures and futility strike. You may do everything right, yet your child is implacable. What a challenge parenting is! No wonder God says, "You shall teach them diligently" (Deut. 6:7). God calls parents to persistence. Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." Perseverance requires self-discipline. Be consistent; be persistent. At times, you may think that you have no more love to give. Do not believe your feelings. Love is not a feeling, but an action; a matter not of having but of doing (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).



Willfully trust in God's sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. The composition of your family is not an accident. This child is a gift from God for the spiritual welfare of the whole family, that you all might be drawn to Him. You trials also are a gift that God intends for your good (James 1:2-3). Godly hope pursues truth and compassion and trusts God with the results.

Practical Steps That Structured Our Home

I have sinned while parenting. I have wanted to give up. I have parented correctly with no behavior results. I have parented wrongfully with behavior results. I have been on a journey of being the parent God wants me to be and leaving the child's behavior in God's hands. I wish I had read, studied and applied the truths written above in the beginning of my journey. Oh, Linda Rice, why did you not write this book sooner! Buy the book here!

Our success in this area have come with VERY consistent structure. So consistent that the structure and diligence has been habituated in my parenting. Even when not needed providing boundaries and checking them comes as naturally as breathing. I have learned and had much practice in just simply and plainly calling out sin in truth and issuing an already established consequence. Instead of yelling and huffing and puffing about "did you steal this?", "how could you?", "I know you did, don't lie!", "why do you keep doing this?", I can calmly point out, "I found a stolen item, this item is evidence of theft." No argument needed. Consequences may change as the sin progresses but there is always a foreknowledge that a consequence will come if theft continues. Here are some consequences specifically for theft that we personally followed through on:

Pay Back Seven Fold

"Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house" (Proverbs 6:30-31). When one of our children stole a bag of chips from the teacher's lunchbag in her desk, that child was then responsible to save up money to buy her 7 bags of chips.

Provide No Excuse

The main thing our children took was food. Mostly from the cabinets at home, but sometimes at school and public stores. We wanted them to know that we understand their need to feel fed due to their past. Although food was not allowed in their rooms, a hungry child could always come to the dining table where two choices of healthy snack or crackers were kept for midnight cravings. At our house these snacks were NEVER eaten or even opened. However evidence was constantly found in the sweets cabinet. Sprinkles or reward M&Ms would be strewn all over the kitchen, all baking ingredients eventually went missing, new peanut butter jars continued to be empty, and any candy gone.


Desire Received

After MANY previous instances with one child they were told you will receive what you want if you would only ask. Often a child with attachment issues will REFUSE to verbally ask for help or request a want. The child will obtain what he wants by his own way. That child stole an entire bag of baking chocolate chips and ate a handful before evidence was found. It was explained that we would have loved to give that child what they wanted if only they would ask. Stealing is making your desire known. So instead of enjoying the nutritious meal we were eating for dinner this child was served their choice of food -- chocolate chips. Believe it or not the child never stole food again and began asking for a treat when they felt a craving for something sweet.


Protect Others' Belongings

We had a few stolen items (non-food) found and began doing pocket and backpack checks often throughout the day. Any items would be returned quickly before they were hidden in child's room. Eventually the pocket checks became burdensome and the child was told the next item found will result in loss of pocket privileges. Well, that item was a yo-yo I found in the dryer that was not bought or gifted to the child. That instance required no words, just scissors and all the pants in the child's closet. This did not cure the heart that wanted to steal but did provide me some temporary relief of pocket checks.
Eventually those pants were out-grown and larger-sized pants with pockets replaced. The child was warned if these new pockets were used for theft they would have the responsibility to sew every single pocket shut so I wouldn't have to cut them again (I felt really bad when donating the previous pocket-less pants and the unsuspecting new owners would be denied pocket privileges). Unfortunately it is hard to break old habits and when desire tempted theft won. That week was homeschool sewing class. All pockets were to be sewn up properly by Friday if child wanted to participate in Friday Family Movie Night. Pockets are a privilege.

Keep Honest Children Honest

Although we have alarms on our children's doors for different reasons (runaways, destruction of property overnight, preventing any sexual sin they may have been exposed to, etc.) they did come in handy in keeping honest kids honest. If you come out of your room at night just to pee, when I am awakened by the alarm and standing in the hallway to see you coming out of the bathroom, instead of snooping in the pantry, I can praise you for being honest. The alarms were not a discipline but a sin deterrent and a help to us parents to stay consistent in our re-training.

Oh, dear parent, my heart yearns to give you a one-size-fits-all fix. A bandage to take away all hurt, fear, and anger that grows fruit of theft, deceit, and manipulation. But there is hope! With Jesus there is always hope. You will not always handle to situation correctly, free from fleshly anger. You will sin as your child sins. But we find forgiveness, and because we are forgiven, we forgive. Dwell on the good, correct the bad, stay consistent, hold firm, persevere in love and have fun with them while they are still kids!

Posted by Shannon
Soli Deo gloria - Glory to God alone


  1. WOW!! You did have a lot to say! :-) Thank you very much! I think I may print this and hang it on a couple of my walls. I am growing weary with all this. I have to keep practicing to have the correct perspective. God's glory! That they are here because God brought them here. My "job" is to be obedient to Him, not redeem, correct (in the sense of 'fixing' them), heal these children, that's the work of Christ. I knew it would be hard.. but oh goodness it is HARD!

    1. Amen! I have been in that hard place many times! It is so HARD. I used to hear people say "God doesn't give you more than you can handle." What I lie! In Scripture God says we will not be tempted without a way of escape, but He certainly gives us more than we can humanly handle so that we will walk ever closer in reliance on Him who can and has handled all things! I would walk this journey again in a heartbeat, the growth in my spirit and faith far outweigh the intense behavior trials and exhausting hard. Keep going Michelle! God chose correctly when He chose you!

  2. Shannon, these are great practical ideas. You implement them with such love and grace.

    1. Thank you Linda! This compliment means so much coming from you! I hope you don't mind that all the advice I have to offer is based on the truths in Scripture your book presented! :)