Does it happen with you that you take your child to someone’s place and the minute you sit in the car, they take out a toy from their pockets? And when you ask them, they say “Mom, I really liked it”. And being a mother you ignore your child’s mistake and make a call to your friend and very casually inform her that you will return the toy later. Well, if it has happened with you, then you should not take it “casually”!
Till a certain age children are not aware of the concept of personal boundaries or moral values for that matter. So you can ignore them but while doing so educate them that “listen, if you like something, tell it to me, I will get it for you, but never take someone’s object without taking permission from them”. As these children grow old they become aware of their boundaries and are sensible enough to not to bring anybody else’s toy to their home. BUT, there are some children who do not stop “stealing” the toys because they have developed a psychological disorder called Kleptomania.
Kleptomania refers to a compulsive stealing behavior, belonging to the family of impulse-control disorders. Children with kleptomania experience strong need to steal objects. The impulse to steal is extremely strong and the child cannot resist it no matter how hard he or she tries. There is a loss of control!
Before the act of stealing an extreme tension builds up in the mind and the body and when the act is carried out the child usually experiences pleasure and relief. The child usually carries out the stealing act alone and it is a carefully guarded secret. Children suffering from kleptomania develop uncomfortable feelings of shame, guilt and fear.
What Causes of Kleptomania in Children
There could be a number of psychological, environmental and biological factors can lead to Kleptomania.
In many cases of kleptomania, the stolen stands as a symbol for something else. Usually, a child has some deep wishes which he or she is scared to acknowledge and suppresses. The stolen object fulfills these wishes in a symbolic and complicated manner.
Children suffering from kleptomania have often experienced a real or imagined deprivation or loss and both the act of stealing and stolen object help them deny and cope with this painful sense. The stolen object has a deep symbolic significance in relation to the trauma.
Then there are medical reasons. A decrease in the availability of neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain has been associated with a tendency toward risk taking behaviors. In simple words, there is an increase in the level of dopamine which produces feelings of pleasure and reinforces the stealing.
Treatment of Kleptomania
The treatment of Kleptomania requires the collaboration of both parents and psychologist. Parents whose children are kleptomaniac become very aggressive and experience grief. During this time it is important to keep in mind that their child is not a criminal but is suffering from a disorder.
Blaming or ridiculing the child is simply going to worsen the problem. While they need to set limits for the child, the perspective should center on trying to understand what makes the child steal? What symbolic value the stolen object may have for the child? What psychological functions are the acts of stealing performing for the child? An engagement with these questions will elucidate the complexities of seemingly bizarre behavior and the ways to cope with it.
Psychoanalytical treatment focusing on underlying causes of kleptomania leads to a reduction in symptoms besides improving the self-concept, relationship patterns and coping skills of the child.
In Pakistan, it is very common to ignore when a child brings someone’s toy home. In our culture, we tend to take this not-so-normal behavior very casually. So if your child is kleptomaniac, take him/her to a psychologist for a treatment. Because if not dealt and treated on time, the same child will continue stealing in his/her adulthood.