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Parenting Spike: The seriously difficult child- My Kid Steals

by Andrew D. Gibson, Ph.D.


Mrs. Jones in the Hartford, Connecticut area, writes to say that her ten year old son, Spike, steals. He steals from them, from his grandparents and from everyone else. And yet he has everything that any kid could possibly want. What is the story?

In our times, when we see a kid stealing everywhere we suspect drugs or alcohol. We assume he is trying to raise money to pay for them. But Mrs. Jones’ comment that he has everything already suggests something else is going on.

First, check out the possible drug connection. Look for some tell-tale signs: Does he display mood swings? Got a new set of friends? School performance worse than usual? Unusual trips to the doctor? Any of your booze missing? Attitude particularly negative? Does his clothing change for the worse? Does he use breath mints? Has be become even sloppier? Anyone ever suggest he might be using?

This is just a start and you can do a quick internet search to learn more if any of these things seem suspicious. But other than that, miserably unhappy kids steal because everything is theirs to begin with. They have a gross sense of entitlement. If you offer them a piece of pie, they will insist on taking the whole thing without so much as a thank you. They certainly do not feel any obligation whatsoever to work for future pie. They are entitled to pie, especially your pie. Period

The circumstances of Spike’s life, whatever they are, has convinced Spike that everyone has taken from him so he is going to take back. And, moreover, whatever he gets he should have gotten more of.

Generally what happens with kids like Spike, if their parents enroll in a serious course of learning how to detach themselves from his bad behavior, it will gradually go away. It is a hard route but an effective one when parents are ready for it.

The good news is that one of the things that parents can usually count on happening, is that the stealing will stop if they do a really good job of learning how to control themselves.

Therapy probably won’t do the trick though parents of kids like Spike should be in it anyway for the comfort they are likely to get. Spike will, of course, have nothing to do with it. Therapy relies too much on talk and Spike is immune to talk. He probably sees the therapists as an extension of his folks, anyway. It isn’t going to fly.

Spike needs action. The heavy lifting of eliminating all of Spike’s bad behavior, including stealing, is more likely to come from an active parental demonstration that what he does negatively won’t get the attention it used to receive. If we assume that stealing is just attention getting behavior we can test the theory by never reacting negatively to Spike’s incidents of theft. Escort him back to the store if you can. But don’t harangue him on the way. If he refuses to be escorted, drop it. This is the model for dealing with the rest of his bad behavior, too. It all adds up in ways parents never imagine.

About The Author

Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at

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