My stepdaughter is stealing!

Every time my stepdaughter comes round, my daughter’s toys go missing. Can I bar her from my house?

I think you might be overreacting a little, warns our elder.

Dear EWC

I’m writing to you out of frustration. My husband found out about a daughter that he missed out on 11 years of her life. She was 11 then but now she is 12. We have been both very much part of her life since then but, the last few months I’ve noticed things of my daughter’s going missing. The first couple of times she returned the toys (they were my daughter’s, who is five by the way) and said it must’ve have accidentally gotten in a cross between her toys. No problem, it happens. But, then I started catching other things after that.

The last straw for me was recently her mother told me online she found one of my daughter’s babydolls in my stepdaughter’s room and is returning it. My stepdaughter told her mother that my daughter put the toy in her bookbag. But after so many times of finding items going out of this house (one of the last times I went through her bag and found a toy of my daughter’s and took it it out), this is basically my last straw. My husband seems to want to let her spend the night here on weekends still and all. But honestly, I don’t want her coming over here any more. I don’t take to thieves in my home.

My concerns are now what else has she taken of my daughter’s, if she’s taken anything that belonged to my stepson as well (I have a stepson whom I’ve helped raise since he was a baby), and not to mention, what of mine or my husband’s has she taken as well. I know she has been going through my makeup bag. So far I haven’t found anything missing (yet). I don’t want to have to pat her down like a criminal everytime she’s over here beginning to leave, and quite frankly I no longer trust her at all. I don’t trust her around her siblings, or in my home — period. I need to know what is some advice you can give me? Because my husband is still going to let this child come over, despite my wishes that he just go spend time with her in other places (park, museum, restaurant, etc).

Folk replies

I totally understand your frustration with your stepdaughter’s stealing. But as much as I understand your need to trust the people you invite into your home, I think it’s possible that you may be over-reacting. What you really want, after all, is not to bar your stepdaughter from the house, but for her to stop stealing. So, if your husband is going to insist that she be allowed to continue to come over anyhow, and you want to put an end to her taking things that aren’t hers, it might be a good idea to think about what you can do to help overcome her problem. A good place to start might be by taking a look at the kinds of things she is stealing.

At age 12, your stepdaughter is certainly old enough to know that stealing is wrong. She knows full well what belongs to her and what does not. But a lot of good kids who know better steal, and that’s a fact. I had to march a couple of my own back to the store a few times after discovering that they had stolen candy. Because their brains are not done developing, children and teens often have trouble with impulse control. They see something they want and they just take it. Or to put it another way, they often act without thinking the consequences of their actions all the way through.

Your stepdaughter is not stealing money or jewelry or anything else of value. Instead, she is stealing toys — and not just any toys, but toys that are intended for a five year old. Toys, in other words, that are way too young for her. So, why is she taking these things? One answer might be that she doesn’t feel loved and is acting out. There are many reasons why children steal, but a common one is to fill an empty place in their hearts.

Something caused your husband to miss out on the first 11 years of his daughter’s life. This means that being a member of your family is a new experience for her, and everyone is still adjusting to everyone else. The family your stepdaughter came into — you, your husband, your daughter, and your stepson — was already established when she arrived on the scene. Your household already had its own rules, its own habits, and its own ways of doing things. Your stepdaughter is the newcomer, the interloper, the one who has to try to fit in. This is hard for anyone, but it is especially hard for a pre-teen who is going through puberty and trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs. Perhaps once your stepdaughter feels more like a member of the family and less like a intruder, the stealing will stop.

Maybe she hasn’t handled the situation in the best way possible, but, she’s still just a kid.
What would you do if it was your own child that was stealing? Would you feel powerless and say you couldn’t get over your lack of trust in your daughter? Or would you keep trying? Would you turn away from your child? Or would you think that her behavior was your responsibility as a parent to deal with? Would you talk to your child and ask her what’s going on with her? Would you ask her if she was upset or angry about something to try to understand why she suddenly started stealing? Would you talk to the child about how it would feel if somebody took something of theirs without asking?

Your stepdaughter may not even understand herself why she is taking the things she is taking. She may need to talk to someone, a counselor maybe, to help her figure it out. Another suggestion is for either you or her dad to talk to your stepdaughter’s mom. She may be able to offer some insight into why her daughter is acting out by stealing.

While you’re working out a plan with her dad and her mom (and maybe a counselor) to figure out what’s going on with your stepdaughter, it’s probably a good idea to ask her in a casual way to please check her bag to see if there’s anything in it that doesn’t belong to her before she leaves. By doing this, you will be giving her a chance to police herself and to put back anything she might have been thinking about stealing. If there is something of your daughter’s that you notice that your stepdaughter seems to really like, you could ask your daughter if it’s OK for her stepsister to borrow it for a few days.

Girls your daughter’s age are very interested in make-up — which is why she was probably looking at yours. You could offer to show her how to apply it. You might even want to consider buying her a few age-appropriate make-up items of her own to keep at your house.

I know you feel betrayed by your stepdaughter’s behavior, and you have every right to. But you and her dad are the adults in your home. You therefore have a responsibility to this child to correct her, and the best way to do that is to tackle the problem as a family, not to sweep it out the door.

I hope this helps. We are always here if you’d like to talk about this more. Please write back and let me know how things are going. I will be thinking of you.

Letter #: 423917
Category: Children

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