When Kids Steal

One day last week after I picked up Emmie from school, while concentrating on navigating the aravan out of the parking lot and keeping with the school zone speed limit out on the street, I caught the words “hundred dollar bill” as she chattered about her day.  It took me a few seconds for it to fully register on my brain.  “Wait a minute—back up,” I said.  “What did you say?”

“Frankie gave me a hundred dollar bill today,” she said. Of course I’m thinking it was one of those fake bills, like the old $3 bill with Bill Clinton on it, but I asked to see it anyway.  She passed it up to me, and I almost pulled the car over.  It looked, smelled and felt like a real hundred dollar bill (not that I handle a lot of those on a regular basis, but this was definitely not something out of a Monopoly game…)  

I examined it further at the stop light.  “Emmie, this is real, and this is weird,” I said.  “Why would he do this?” She shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “He said something like he felt bad that people give presents to each other and that he hadn’t given me a birthday present, so he wanted me to have it.” It still didn’t make sense.  Emmie’s birthday was four months ago. My mind raced—it had to be that he felt guilty having it and needed to get rid of it.  Either he’d found it when walking to school or on the playground, or had taken it from someone in his family.  “I should probably go ask the principal if anyone has reported lost money, or ask the teacher about this, or talk to his parents,” I said. “Someone is missing this money, and you shouldn’t be keeping it.”  She burst into tears. And not because I was talking about taking it away from her. “Please don’t,” she begged.  “I don’t want him to get in trouble.” This was a kid whose family was known for harsh punishments—he’d definitely shared stories with his classmates of past “whoopins”.  “Please, just let me give it back to him tomorrow,” she pleaded.  “But Emmie, a hundred dollars is a lot of money,” I said, and explained to her that he might not do the right thing with it if he got it back, and that someone may not be able to pay their rent, or buy groceries, if they’ve lost it. “But what if it’s really his money, and he just wanted to give it to me?” she asked. I told her n that case, his parents should still know, because if it’s his, he’s probably not supposed to be giving it away.  “That might be a gift from a grandparent or someone else,” I explained.  “And if it really is his to give away as he chooses, we’ll find that out.”

I stopped by the principal’s office first. No money had been reported lost, so I went home and called his parents.  His dad said he’d look into it and call me back. It turns out the child admitted he’d stolen the money from his older brother, who had been stowing away cash under his bed while saving to buy a laptop.  Surprisingly, the father sounded perplexed rather than matter-of-fact mad, as I’d expected.  “I don’t know what to do,” he said.

I could relate.  Emmie is the big saver among our children and sometimes stashes cash in easy-to-reach places, and Allison has stolen money from her on at least two occasions.  After Andy and I had gathered enough evidence to convict (and our sleuthing skills were definitely worthy of an episode of CSI), I remember being completely flabbergasted.  I mean, with our kids, we’d dealt with backtalk, temper tantrums, noncompliance…even broken windows, but never stealing. I had never been a stealer or a liar as a child and neither had Andy.  While we required her to pay back the money (and in the second case, pay it back with interest), I never felt like we’d done enough.  Yes, I know a lot of kids steal at one point in their young lives (a friend of mine who is a great mom/outstanding citizen recently told me she once shoplifted a bathing suit when she was a teen) but I still have a hard time coming to terms with stealing, knowing the right way to address it, and it sounds like Frankie’s dad does, too, and probably other parents. 

So, today I surfed online and read many “expert” opinions on the topic.  Here is a good one I found, one I wish I’d read two years ago: 
http://www.empoweringparents.com/is-your-child-stealing.php  I’m sure going to use some of its advice if this ever happens again in our family. But I sure hope and pray it doesn’t!