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#AskAlyson: Stealing from Siblings

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Dear Alyson,


We are stumped with our middle child – we are not sure how to handle her stealing.  She constantly goes into her sister’s room and snoops and steals stuff.  We had a family and discussed the stealing but it continues to go on.  She is also lying about the stealing which makes these even worse because we know she is doing it but won’t admit to it.  She is 9 years old and she is taking things from her 11 year old sister.  We don’t think she has taken anything from us but not sure if that is where this will be heading next.  We don’t want to have locks on every door as a means of preventing her access to her sister’s room as we would rather fix this and live as a family that trusts each other and respects one another’s property and privacy.


Please help!


Karry and Chad


Dear Karry and Chad,


You are so wise to see the short-comings of solving this issue by securing rooms with locks. Believe me, if you install locks, she will learn to pick them. That tactic misses the entire point of the problem really.


Instead of asking the question “how do we keep her out of her sister’s room” we can ask the deeper, more salient question: what is the purpose of her behavior? How does stealing serve her? Why does this behaviour make sense to her or serve her well?


I suspect that she as a younger sister she may often find herself in a position of inferiority to her sister. I would know more if I had a chance to talk to her, but I can make some guesses. Since her sister is older, she probably feels her sister is smarter, taller, has more privileges, a later bedtime, a bigger allowance, more freedom etc..


If her older sister can out smart her, out run her, out swim her, maybe the ONE way she can conquer her sibling (or at least keep even with her) is through a covert battle.


Her stealing behaviour is saying “you might be better than me and be able to beat me in a lot of ways, but the joke’s on you – I can do something to hurt you back and you can’t stop me! I can be sneaky and steal and you have no way to prove it.”


What a nice trump card!


And so in the game of tit for tat, the younger sibling has found a powerful way to one-up her sister when she knocks her down a peg.


So now that we understand the private logic behind the stealing, the big question is how to stop this choice of behaviour.   The answer is to work to improve the relationship between the sisters so that it is less adversarial and more co-operative. If they feel close and have mutual respect, they won’t feel the need to dominate and screw one another over!


As a parent, we can’t make our children like each other, but we can sure make some changes that will increase the likelihood that they do. How?


Rule #1 – Stay out of their fights.

Too often children feel their parents prefer one child over the other and this is largely due to the fact that parents get involved in their children’s fights and no matter how “fair” you think you are being – you will be perceived by one as showing favoritism. Don’t do it!


Accept that the ownership for their problems resides between them and is none of your business. If your sister keeps coming into your room, you will have to take that complaint up with her. The best way to keep her out of your room and from stealing things is to not have her be mad at you. How can you warm up the friendly feelings between you?


Rule #2 – Never compare your children or pit them against one another in competition.  


Rule #3 – If you have disciplined your children for fighting – be sure you apply the consequences to BOTH children.

It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, who started it, who did the aggressing or who was acting like a victim.   When they both suffering the consequences for fighting they stop hurting one another as they BOTH lose when they fight.


Lastly, look for ways to give encouragement to your younger daughter so she doesn’t confuse being littler with being “less than”.   Her worth and lovability needs to be re-assured.


Happy parenting!



About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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