Monday, August 20, 2012

That Evil Grin and What it Tells You: Foster Kids and Stealing for Revenge

 by John and Diane.

 Stealing is a common issue with troubled kids and is often seen in foster homes for many reasons. We have already talked about a few types of stealing in previous blog posts, Impulsive Stealing:An ADD/ ADHD Child Problem?, and Kids Who Steal for Thrills and How to Stop It. Now I want to talk about stealing for revenge.
I was really surprised the first time I witnessed this. I discovered it with a foster child in my home and he shared with me his motivation, why it worked for him and made him feel better. Once he had opened my eyes to this “phenomenon,” I saw it repeated over and over in my home by many different children.
I caught the first boy stealing a part from a toy that belonged to his brother. He could not play with the part he took, so I asked him: “Why did you steal this, it no good to you.  What did you think you were going to do with it?”
 He told me that his brother had done something wrong to him and he was getting even with him.
 This child was a small boy who could not win a fight with his brother if he tried, so the only way he could win would be if he took something that his brother needed to play with.  Now, he just took one part, not the whole thing, so I ask him why he only took half of the game?
 He told me it made him feel good, seeing his brother looking all over for the lost part and knowing that he was not going to find it. He also thought it was extra funny because he would not be blamed for taking it.
 “Smart!” I said to him.  “Wow, that’s a good way to get even with your brother.”
Now he was smiling at me and had to share more.  He told me that once his Dad punished him for something he did at school, so he got even with him by taking his Dad’s wristwatch.
 So I said,  “wow you did that?”
 “Yes” he said “and I threw it away to.”
His Brother and sister heard us and they knew of their brother’s system to get even, but they said they never knew when he would take something because he would never let on.
 So they got into a routine of checking the garbage before emptying it. They found that he would also hide things outside or in other places in the house.  Thank God I have cameras!
Now that I knew of this behavior I would watch for it in other kids in my home.
Suddenly, I could see it was there all the time.
 Now I know that “lost things” are not always “lost things” in the house. For example, if one of the kids did not like it when I told them to turn off the TV, my TV remote would be hidden under the coffee table.  Not totally hidden, just enough so it could have been put there by accident, at least that is what the child would tell me when I would find it.
 “Opps I must have put it under the coffee table in that dark corner, leaning against that table leg by accident.”
 “Ya right” I would say to them, “do you remember last night, you were mad at me at bed time…” then he would give me that smile, and I knew I had him. 
My remedy for this situation was to take the matching remote from the kid’s television in the family room and use it in the living room until the child admitted he had hidden the remote on purpose and it was returned to me.
 Stealing for revenge may seem somewhat harmless but it is still stealing, not only of an object, but also of time, which is a precious commodity, especially in a foster home.
So, how do you deal with this kind of stealing for revenge?
The trick is you have to know that it was this kind of “stealing” and not just something misplaced or lost. So, here is the house rule:
·       The last person that uses something is responsible for it. (Or for finding it.)
·       Always have a designated spot for certain items so you can see if it’s missing i.e.: the TV remotes, scissors, art supplies, games, game controllers and joysticks.
·       Have a consequence for the child responsible until he finds it: refer to disciplinary sheet (of course a time-out here would not be helpful.)
·       Group homes or foster families might need a sign out/in sheet for items that tend to go missing a lot to prevent revenge stealing or irresponsible usage.
Overall, the prevention methods are clumsy; the real key is to be aware of this kind of behavior as a possibility and as a reaction to fights amongst kids or discipline from caregivers. If you notice that things start to go missing, and you see a pattern, you can narrow down which child reacts with this kind of stealing behavior and isolate him.  Prevent him from having access to items other than when he is with a trusted child.
Always treat all stealing as a serious issue. If you don’t it will get to be a serious issue later in life.
Image: copyrighted Diane Steinbach: no reprints

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