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Support with children stealing and lying - recognising underlying issues and when to seek help

Posted on Thursday, 09 February 2023, in Behavioural Issues

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While it's normal for young children to lie because they can't distinguish between reality and fantasy, persistent lying can be a sign of an underlying issue.

Child and adolescent lying can result from multiple factors, including high parental expectations, fear of consequences, attention seeking, or low self-esteem. If your child frequently lies and it is getting them or others in trouble, or if the lying is accompanied by depression, lack of empathy, low self-esteem, or intentional harm to others, it may be time to seek expert help.

Similarly, finding out your child or teenager is stealing can be understandably concerning. Emotional problems, peer pressure, low self-esteem, bullying, or neglect could prompt a child to act out and steal.

Research has shown that children who lie and steal may have underlying conditions such as conduct disorder, ODD, or an emerging personality disorder. Working with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist can help your child manage their emotions and develop positive lifelong skills. In some cases, medication can also be effective in addressing underlying issues.


When should I seek support for my child?

Lying and stealing are sometimes considered normal for children. However, these behaviours can also indicate a serious underlying issue, so parents and guardians need to be mindful of the warning signs.

First, it's important to understand the difference between typical lying and stealing and when it becomes problematic. Lying is a common behaviour in children and often starts around the age of three. For example, a child may lie to protect themselves or to avoid punishment.

Stealing is also common in children and often begins around the age of five. Children may steal to test boundaries or because they are curious about what happens when they do. These behaviours are usually considered normal and developmentally appropriate in young children. However, if lying and stealing happen often, it could indicate a more serious issue.



One of the underlying issues that can cause children to lie and steal is anxiety. Children struggling with anxiety may lie or steal to avoid difficult situations. They may also steal or lie to feel a sense of control or power over their lives. Children with anxiety may feel like they can't handle the stress and pressure of everyday life, and lying or stealing can give them a sense of relief.



Another underlying issue that can cause children to lie and steal is depression. Children with depression may steal or lie to avoid facing their feelings of sadness and hopelessness. They may also steal or lie to escape their problems or feel a sense of control. Children with depression may struggle to connect with others and find joy in life.



A third underlying issue that can cause children to lie and steal is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD may lie or steal impulsively without thinking about the consequences. They may have difficulty focusing and paying attention and struggle to control their behaviour. Children with ADHD may also have difficulty with impulse control, making it harder for them to resist the urge to lie or steal.



Trauma is another underlying issue that can cause children to lie and steal. Children who have experienced trauma, such as abuse or neglect, may lie or steal to cope with their feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. They may also lie or steal to avoid facing their traumatic experiences. Children who have experienced trauma may struggle with trust and difficulty connecting with others.


By understanding these underlying issues, parents and guardians can help their children to get the support they need to overcome their challenges and live happy, healthy lives.

If you're worried about your child's behaviour or suspect your child is struggling with any of the conditions outlined above, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional.

A confidential call with an advisor will help you understand your options and help you find the best support for your child.


Read about our services for children and teenagers