Why Children with Developmental Trauma Steal

Apr 09, 2024

Stealing is a challenging behavior often associated with children who have experienced developmental trauma. Whether they're in foster care, adopted, or have experienced childhood trauma, stealing can become a concerning issue. This behavior not only raises alarms among caregivers but also prompts a deeper exploration into its underlying causes and how we can effectively address it.

Reasons for Stealing

Children with developmental trauma may resort to stealing for various reasons, and it's crucial to delve into these reasons to provide appropriate support and intervention.

Attachment Issues:

One significant reason behind stealing in children with developmental trauma stems from attachment issues. These children may have experienced disruptions in forming secure attachments with caregivers, leading to feelings of insecurity and mistrust. Stealing might serve as a way to seek attention or fill an emotional void left by the absence of nurturing relationships.

Survival Instincts:

For some children, stealing could be a learned survival strategy. Having faced neglect or deprivation, they may resort to taking items as a means to meet their basic needs. This behavior might have originated from environments where obtaining resources through deceptive means was necessary for survival.

Control and Power:

Stealing can also be a way for children to regain a sense of control and power in their lives. In situations where they feel powerless, such as frequent relocations or disruptions in their living arrangements, stealing may serve as a means of asserting agency over their circumstances.

Impulse Control:

Developmental trauma can impair a child's impulse control and decision-making abilities. Stealing may occur impulsively, without fully considering the consequences, as the child's brain may be wired to prioritize immediate survival over long-term considerations.

Self-Esteem and Identity:

Stealing could be tied to issues of self-esteem and identity. Children who feel undervalued or inadequate may resort to taking items to gain recognition or validation. Additionally, societal pressures to conform or meet certain standards may drive children to steal to fit in or avoid judgment.

What  We Can Do:

Understanding the root causes of stealing in children with developmental trauma is crucial for implementing effective interventions.

Provide Non-Punitive Ways for Reporting:

Creating a safe environment where children feel comfortable reporting and returning what they’ve taken. Implementing methods such as anonymous confession boxes or open dialogues can encourage honesty without fear of punishment.

Normalize the Behavior:

Instead of shaming or punishing children for stealing, normalize the behavior by acknowledging it as a communication of unmet needs. Establishing designated spaces for returning stolen items without repercussions can help children understand the consequences of their actions in a supportive manner.

Reinforce Healthy Relationships:

Building trusting relationships is paramount in addressing stealing behaviors. Engage in constructive conversations with children to understand their motivations behind stealing and offer alternatives for seeking validation or control. Encourage activities that showcase their talents and strengths, reinforcing positive self-esteem and identity.

Stealing in children with developmental trauma is a complex issue with underlying emotional and psychological factors. By adopting a compassionate and understanding approach, caregivers and mentors can help these children navigate their challenges, build resilience, and foster healthy relationships based on trust and respect.

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