Parenting a Sneaky Toddler

My adorable, precious little 3 year old daughter is the love of my life. She’s smart, funny, energetic, and a total kleptomaniac. We were  over at one of our friend’s house the other day, hanging out in their family room, which happens to be piled with three generations worth of toys. My kid entertains herself pretty well for a while then out of the blue walks up and asks me to get her coat for her. I say, “Later, we’re going to go home in a few.” She’s persistent that she needs it now and that she’s cold. I start to get suspicious. She sneaks upstairs and gets her jacket, comes back and continues to play. I watch her with an eagle eye, knowing she’s up to something. Just as I suspected one of her coat pockets was bulging. She had squirreled away some random toy in her little pocket, expecting us adults to be too distracted by her adorable rosy cheeks and killer smile to realize that she was trying to sneak out with someone else’s GI Joe.

Let’s just say this wasn’t my first (or last) experience with my daughter trying to take off with things. She’s actually pretty skilled at it. She had a party at preschool and came home with a huge bag full of goodies. One of the envelopes stuffed in the bag just didn’t feel quite right. My husband opens it and lo and behold, she had hidden a pair of school scissors in the envelope. Random, right? You have to admit, she’s creative in her criminal behavior. You might even call her ingenious.  Who knew a little person with only 3.5 years of life experience could be so smart?

So, what to do about this little problem, to nip it in the bud before my child becomes a hardened criminal? I thought back to my childhood and what my mom did when I was caught with a box of tic tacs stuffed in my sweatshirt after a trip to the grocery store. She made me take it back and apologize to the store clerk. It was humiliating, but effective. Let’s just say I passed up the candy rack from then on.

I also took to the internet to see what the experts had to say. The American Academy of Pediatrics has these tips to offer about correcting undesirable behavior:

>>clarity on the part of the parent and child about what the problem behavior is and what consequence the child can expect when this behavior occurs;

>>providing a strong and immediate initial consequence when the targeted behavior first occurs;

>>consistently providing an appropriate consequence each time a targeted problematic behavior occurs;

>>delivering instruction and correction calmly and with empathy

Looks like my mom had it right; now I must be consistent (sometimes the biggest challenge in parenting). No yelling. Stay calm. Okay. She clearly knows what she’s doing is wrong; otherwise she would not try to hide it. She needs a consequence.

First, I take the item away and put it up where she can’t reach it. Then, I tell her that she’s going to have to take it back and apologize for stealing. I tell her (calmly) that stealing is very bad. Then, the next day I have her give the toy back and she loses a privilege, such as treats or screen time. I think the shame alone probably does the trick for my sensitive girl.

I don’t doubt that this behavior will probably happen again, especially if she spots a Frozen ring or her friend has a Curious George action figure. After all, toddlers still think everything is theirs. I just have to be stealthy and catch her in the act, maybe even give her a pat down before we leave a friend’s house. I want to be able to trust her, though, and I hope that consistency pays off with this little challenge and she gets past this stage in her toddlerhood. I can say this for sure though, these are definitely the embarrassing stories I’m going to tell her boyfriend when she’s a teenager.

About the author...Arianne Rapkoch-Snyder has been a journalist and communications professional for nearly a decade. She grew up in Montana and enjoys writing about families and the community that she loves. She is a wife and mother to a beautiful, rambunctious little girl.