My husband and I are at a loss as to what to do with our 6 year old. He steals all the time, mostly food, but he has also been caught in our spare change jar & he is constantly taking his younger siblings toys and squirreling them away- not playing with them just taking them and hiding them so his siblings don't get to have them. His main problem is with food, it is not the typical sneak 1 or 2 cookies from the cookie jar type thing, it is take all 2 dozen cookies and eat them or possibly hide a few for later; he doesn't take one bag of fruit snacks he steals all of the bags & I am constantly finding him eating sugar out of the sugar out of the jar or honey & maple syrup from the bottle. You get the picture. I have tried freezing extra cookies, muffins or cupcakes & he just goes into the freezer & eats them all. We have tried just not having anything prepacked in the house. We have limited amounts of sugary food (we don't use any refined sugars), but we do have sweet treats such as cookies, muffins, sweet breads & cakes 2 or 3 times a month & we have green smoothies (we don't add sugar just fruit or perhaps juice for sweetness) several times a week, plus tons of fruit. I am at a loss as to what to do, it would be nice to have graham crackers, or any crackers (he also steals savory treats, just not to the same extent as sweet ones) for that matter in my house, to have some convenience items like prepackaged organic treats, so that I don't always have to make things from scratch. And, it would be nice to be able to have what I do make last longer than one day. I would like to be able to go into my pantry for chocolate chips to make cookies with & not find the bag empty. I would like to be able to stock up on ingredients when they are on sale instead of having to buy them only a day or two before I plan on making something. It frustrates me & he is now getting his two younger siblings (4 & 2) into this bad habit. It infuriates my husband though, and he has a really hard time not letting anger take over & raging at my son. We have made him pay us the cost of stolen item, we have told him (and followed through) that because he ate x he doesn't get any of that item the next time it is made. I have asking him why and he responds that "It was so good and I wanted all of it." or "I really like sweet treats and that is all that I ever want to eat." or "I don't like lunch and dinner as much as I like treats." I truly don't know what to do.
My 6.5 year old steals all the time
I could have been your son My mom tried to hide sweets from me but it just didn't work. Like one of the previous poster said, I would not have called it sealing though. That's a pretty strong word IMHO. My mom basically gave up on hiding stuff and just let me eat whatever I wanted. In retrospect, I think I would have benefited from more guidance and yummy fruit at home or other substitutes. I ate a lot out of boredom (my parents were at work). Now as an adult, I know not to buy anything sweet. As soon as it enters the house, it needs to be eaten Instead, I buy yummy fruit and healthy sweet alternatives. But, when I do eat something sweet like chocolate, I go into withdrawal for several days afterwards. It sounds like your sweets are pretty healthy though.
Is there anything else that he might like that he could eat instead? Another thought came to mind when I read your post, do you think he does it to get your attention since he knows both of you will react strongly when he cleans out the sweets?
I would suggest that when you are cooking, have him in the kitchen with you, so he can have some experience around the baking of the treats and the preparing of meals. It will give him (and you) some kitchen memories that don't involve sneaking food. I'd also teach him, if he doesn't already know, how to prepare some breakfasts for himself. Toaster waffles are a good way to start. He can start helping make his lunches if he has a packed lunch for school. All of this is to get him more involved with the preperation of food, and creating a different relationship with food. As you pack or make lunch together, you might discover that something isn't there that you would have liked to have in the lunch. Without lecturing about it, just in conversation, it can be said that you wish you would have had X for the lunch.
As for the chocolate chips thing-- what if you were to say "look. You can't eat the chocolate chips and not put them on the grocery list. I don't want you cleaning out the bag. But if you do, throw the bag out and put them on the grocery list." It's what I'd expect of my husband or myself. Make it so it's not about sneaking the food. It's just eating. Let him own it.
It becomes stealing in my eyes when the aim isn't just a cookie or two but everything in the jar, or every bag of fruit snack box, and deprives his siblings of getting any of the treats due to his selfishness. Now I know that children sneak treats, I did myself, but sneaking a treat to me implies taking one or two and not the whole pile and leaving nothing for anyone else. I also know that children are often selfish, but developmentally he is old enough to know what he is doing to some degree. But he does steal from his siblings out of jealousy "I want that toy, so I took it & hid so they couldn't have it". He has stolen half the coins out of our change jar (approx $15, but that doesn't matter so much as that he took it in the first place) & he has taken things from stores on several occasions- one where I saw him put something in his pocket and I asked him to put it back and he did then at some point took it again & then bragged that he tricked me when we got home (we always take him back to the store to return it & apologize). He makes his own breakfast or helps me make breakfast for everyone, and has since he was three. He also makes his own lunches for the days that he has supplemental classes (we homeschool). We have a weekly menu that all of the children are involved in not only helping pick meals & snacks but in the preparation as well, they also have full reign of a fruit bowl- unless it is almost meal time. I am very pro having the kids involved in the kitchen. I have tried the leave it out and just trust him & I have tried the hide things route, he just ransacks cupboards and climbs shelves. I have to search his bedroom regularly in his usual spots for his siblings toys & for food wrappers. I worry about his impulse control and how to teach him that just because he wants something does not mean that he gets to take it. I worry about him starting to steal bigger things because he wanted it, he has already tried taking a book from somewhere after I told him that I wouldn't buy, but told him that if he wanted it we could come back and he could buy it with his money. So, while it mainly manifests itself in food, it is not isolated. It is just where my husband see it most and is VERY hard for him to remain calm. So, I was hoping for some insights on how to talk to my son, or of natural consequences that I have perhaps not thought of. I don't believe in being punitive (to me natural consequences are different than punitive- i.e. you scribbled on the wall, you can clean it or help clean it depending on age), but my husband is still working on getting there and his first inclination is toward being punitive.
If it's that serious, besides prevention and curbing the cravings, let me tell you what happened when my 7 year old stole from stores, candy in the checkout aisle several times. He had a good cover story ("they gave it to me at scouts") so he got away with it for weeks. He felt convicted of it and came to me and admitted it, asking if kids go to jail. I thanked him for being honest, forgave him, and to make it right he was grounded from everything except reading and chores for a week. We're Christian so each day he copied a Bible verse about no longer stealing and starting a new life of giving instead. He spent the week doing extra paid jobs for me, we went and found the same things as he had taken at the grocery, had them ring them up at customer service, and he paid that amount to them and left the candy. Then he gave almost double the total to charity.
OP- my son was taking food as well. He is 4 and was doing it for quite awhile. I have lots of kids so I can't keep him in my sights all the time. I am particular on what comes into my house but love to bake. Baked goods go up high where he couldn't get them but he was taking things out of the pantry. Things like dry noodles, the random cake mix or box of pudding mix (for a random cake for say a church dinner)- things like that. Come to find out his gut flora is a disaster and he had a candida problem that was out of this world. Since we have been working on fixing these two things there have been no more problems. I know fruit sounds like a good solution but it is still high in sugars. So I would personally do a simple candida spit test and rule that out first.
My oldest stole a candy from the grocery store a year or so ago. I had her take money from her piggy bank and apologize to the manager and pay for the candy with plenty of interest. I believe that children need to make restitution to the person/people that they have wronged.