Q: I discovered that my son has been taking money from the wallet of my husband and from my purse without informing us. I put extra cash into my purse to catch him out and confirmed this. I haven’t told my husband as yet about this. It would be a disgrace for us to have raised a bad son. I do not know what to do. Can you help me?
I’m sure you were prompted to do so, because you feel both hurt and deeply worried by the behaviour of your son. That breach of the trust you have placed in him is so destabilising to your relationship. Not being able to share your worries with your husband is clearly causing you additional distress, so hopefully I can help by giving you some clarity about possible ways forward.
I’m sure you must be wondering why this has happened. No doubt you have started to question your ability as a parent, deliberating where you went wrong. The first thing to remember is this is not an uncommon occurrence.
It’s not nice, it’s most certainly not right, but it happens. This in itself is no consolation, but it may give you some comfort and perspective when it comes to the second thing to remember. This kind of behaviour always needs to be dealt with. You cannot let it slide; though it may lead to some difficult times when the stealing is challenged, in the end, you will be doing your son a favour.
[The Inuit don’t shout at their children. What we need to learn from them]
In the first instance, this is not about you and your parenting. Shake off any sense of guilt you have, because that’s not going to help when it comes to enforcing the consequences of his actions. Your son has behaved inappropriately, not once, but twice and he needs to understand that stealing is wrong and that his actions have repercussions.
If I was the parent in this situation, the first thing I’d do is a little bit of detective work. I’d want to know what the money was being used for. Kids always take it for a reason and it’s usually, because they want something they can’t have.
You don’t mention his age, but if he’s under the age of 7, I would tread carefully. Young kids haven’t necessarily absorbed the rules of right and wrong in the early years. A gentle talking to about why it is wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you and a clear outlining of the consequences if it happens again may suffice. However, I suspect we’re talking of an older child here.
Once you’ve established what the money has been spent on, then it’s time to act. If it’s a material possession, I would remove it while he is out.
For a start you want to send the message that he will not benefit from his poor behaviour choices. It will also give you the perfect opportunity to start that all important conversation you need to have with him. Notice, I didn’t call it a confrontation. Set aside a space and time that is conducive to rational talk. Don’t do it when either of you are tired. Be unexpected too. He may notice there is something missing if you have taken his ill-gotten gains away, but he’s unlikely to question, considering their origin.
Once you’ve embarked on the conversation, keep a cool head at all times. Anger will just give him the opportunity to deflect from the real issue. Ask him to explain himself and listen carefully. If he storms off, wait, stay calm and go again. If he refuses to engage, tell him how disappointed you are in him and tell him what the consequences are.
You should have this planned out in advance, so you can sound clear and firm in your delivery. Finally, tell him what the consequences will be if it ever happens again.
Escalate these proportionately.
I believe it’s up to you to use your judgement as to whether to tell your husband at this point. However, I would say it is always better for parents to stand equal and united when it comes to discipline.
If you feel your son has stolen money to purchase substances as opposed to material goods, this is far more worrying. It may be accompanied by other tell-tale signs such as changes in mood or secretive and withdrawn behaviour. Should this be your suspicion, I would advocate seeking out professional support. This will help you support him, through what could be difficult times.
The bottom line is, no matter what the reasons for his stealing, you need to make him accountable. If he isn’t, he will more than likely continue with this behaviour. You will need to bring your parenting ‘A’ game, because it won’t be easy, but, in the end, what other choice do you have?
Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based lifecoach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting (russellhemmings.co.uk). Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.