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My 7-year-old is stealing from me and it's freaking me out

She stole $20 out of my wallet — now what?
Illustration of girl with wallet and bills and parents behind
Is my child lying to me or could this be a coincidence?TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people with the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. To submit a question for Caroline, click here.

Hi Caroline,

I think my 7-year-old daughter has been stealing money out of my wallet. I caught her with a $20 bill in her backpack that didn’t come from me or her father. She said she found it on the ground at the park and “OMG, isn’t that soo cool and exciting?” She was nearly manic when I asked her about it, talking a mile a minute about how she found it and where she found it. I thought it was strange but didn’t think anything of it until later when I went to run an errand and I noticed that a $20 was missing from my wallet that had been there earlier that morning.

When I confronted my daughter, she maintained that she had found the $20 in the park. She knows the difference between right and wrong and she knows it’s not OK to steal or lie. I reminded her of this and she nodded.

Is my child lying to me or could this be a coincidence?


Worried Mom

Hi Worried Mom,

I don’t have kids nor do I have a degree in child psychology, but it’s ... possible that this could be a coincidence? The fact that you are reaching out to me suggests that you believe it’s not, and that your child has picked the $20 out of your purse and then lied to you about it later.

I don’t think behavior like this should be ignored, because lessons can be imparted here!

I also, on the flip side, don’t think this means that your child is bad or destined for a life of crime. If there is a professional you can consult with — a therapist, a teacher or child psychologist — there may be a useful way to turn this into a learning experience for all parties, and to nip this behavior in the bud ASAP.

TMRW checked in with parenting coach Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, to see what she would recommend.

"Kids take things that don’t belong to them for various reasons," said McCready, adding that she dislikes using the negative term "stealing" when it relates to a child. "In most cases, it's a lack of impulse control — they see something and they want it, period. Other times it’s poor problem-solving skills; somebody else has something they want and they see no other way to get it. Older kids may take things to experiment with boundaries, for the thrill of it or to feel accepted by their peers."

In this situation, McCready emphasized that you should avoid accusing your daughter or putting her in a position where she feels like she has to lie. Instead, do your best to give her an opportunity to tell the truth without punishment or shame. Here are some suggestions you could say:

"Hmmm, I had $20 in my wallet this morning, and now it's gone ... I wonder what could have happened?"

"I'm not concerned with who took the money — only that it be returned. I feel confident that someone will put the money back in my wallet with no questions asked, because after all, we all make mistakes sometimes."

If she comes clean, try to empathize with her and encourage her honesty. "That must have been difficult to tell me the truth. You should feel really proud of yourself for doing something hard."

Overall, McCready said you shouldn't be too concerned about this fairly common childhood occurrence, unless it becomes a repeated pattern or it's paired with other concerning behaviors (such as trouble following rules, difficulties with friendships or lack of remorse), in which case you may want to pursue professional counseling.

Best of luck to you and your child; I am rooting for you!


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