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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Does your child "STEAL"?

A 10yr old boy was brought to me by his parents who were distraught about their child being accused of theft at school. The child was in a terrible state himself. It was evident that he has been through a lot himself. He looked extremely guilty as he sat there in front of me, tears in his eyes, waiting for the final verdict!
Discussions with the parents revealed that on several occasions the boy had picked up stuff that didn't belong to him - at school, at home, and at other people's places. The parents were extremely embarrassed and felt helpless about the situation. A lot of damage had already happened because they let all their reactions loose in front of the child. From what they had to tell me, and my observations about them, it seemed that they had just been yelling, crying, talking, and making the child understand. Unfortunately, there was no attempt to 'LISTEN', 'ASK THE CHILD', or 'LOOK WITHIN'. They had already made up their minds about the child having a 'character defect' which is why he was stealing.
A separate discussion with the child revealed very simply that the child picked up something that he found very attractive and felt there was no other way of getting it. Further probing lead to a better understanding into the behavior. He spoke of how his parents never got him the things that he wanted. From my interactions with the parents I knew that his parents often bought him toys and other things. So, I clarified this with him, and he said that they always got things of their choice for him. Even when he is with them at a shop, telling them that this is what he wants, they would give him some reason for why its not good and end up buying what they had picked up. He gave me several examples of situations where the same thing had happened.
The child was very well aware that his action was not good. He, in fact, felt guilty each time he picked up something that didn't belong to him. Yet, he says he was unable to control himself. He had been accumulating all the guilt and fear inside himself. His own grades had been going down and he described his own self as a 'bad boy'.
Everyone had been busy pointing fingers at him. No one tried to understand his side of the story. All that was needed was good listening and a gentle putting-him-back-on-track. A problem that could have been diffused right at the beginning was blown out of proportion only because the people around were ready with a verdict without exploring the situation adequately. Its important that as parents or teachers we step down from the moral high ground and view things realistically. The parents were doing 'THEIR best' for the child. Actually, they need to do things in collaboration with the child. In fact, through small exercises like choosing what to buy, a child can learn important lessons in life like decision making, responsibility, bearing the consequences of the decision, increased self-confidence, trust-building with parents and as a family.
Please SHARE this if you LIKE it so that others may read and benefit. Thank you.
Dr. Sanjay Chugh
Senior Consultant Psychiatrist
S-132, Greater Kailash Part 2, New Delhi - 110048 (INDIA)