Parents of children exhibiting kleptomaniac tendencies often find parenting a herculean task. Often than not, the embarrassing behaviour may cause parents to handle things quite aggressively crossing the line between discipline and child abuse as we often see in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that raising children is not without its attendant challenges. From the time a child is born, parents and guardians are saddled with the task of providing the basic needs he/she needs for optimal growth. Besides, they must also ensure that the child competes favourably among his or her peers.
Character traits in children differ and even in homes where basic necessities are met, dealing with kleptomaniac children can be utterly frustrating for parents.
It is even worse for parents in homes where this behavioural disorder is noticeable in more than one child. The Shulman Center, United States, defines kleptomania as the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects not needed for personal use or monetary value.
Counselors and child psychologists have argued that for children who have this character trait, there is always an overwhelming pressure and yearning to take items that are not theirs.
They said such children could steal petty things like pens, paper clips and toys which they normally do not need. According to them, when the theft is committed, the pressure of stealing is let out.
The experts further said if the disorder was not nipped in the bud at an early stage, it could lead to a bigger problem which parents would not be able to control.
Punch newspapers Bukola Bakare spoke to a cross-section of Nigerians about the problem and they offer useful insights plus advice, read on.
Speaking on the disorder, a mother-of-four, Mrs. Kemi Abimbola, said that to identify kleptomaniac children, parents should be observant.
‘‘When you notice that your child begins to bring home items you did not buy for him or her or begins to take things away from the house, raise the alarm.
Do not keep quiet because silence in such a situation is deadly. A child I know that has such a behavioural tendency does not live with his parents.
He lives with his guardians and they always inform people that he is a kleptomaniac and they should watch their items whenever he is around.
It is always embarrassing for the people and the child.’’
Abimbola further stated that in dealing with kleptomaniac children, one must first talk to the child about the abnormality to find out why he or she steals.
“If the habit persists despite repeated talks and warnings, parents should deal with the conduct publicly as that would send a message that stealing is not welcome for whatever reasons and will not be supported.
Personally, I will restrict such a child from situations that bring out kleptomaniac tendencies.
I do not know if therapy services are available to such children in this part of the world as they would assist in helping such children,’’
Another parent, Mrs. Christiana Adegoke, argued that in some situations where children are provided with all they need, some of them would still have eyes on other peoples’ items, especially if it was an act they picked from their peers.
Adegoke also described kleptomania as a serious issue in many homes but which many parents prefer to discuss in muted tunes.
Parents should always be watchful and regularly counsel their children on the negative effects it could have on them and their lives as they grow older.
For the spiritual ones, a word of prayer and references to holy books may come in handy to correct their children exhibiting kleptomania.
A Developmental Psychologist in the Department of Guidance and Counseling, Faculty of Education , University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof. Ajibola Falaye, described kleptomania as a tricky one in children.
She also classified it as an impulse control disorder that often emanates from poor self-worth in such children.
‘‘Kleptomania in children is a very tricky one. Children with the tendency always want to boost their self-consciousness so they would have more than enough. It also arises from a sense of not being happy.’’
The lecturer further stressed that if children were provided with basic necessities, there won’t be the need for any form of covetousness or yearnings for what belongs to others.
According to her, a child’s background is important including the environment where a child is being raised.
“If you raise a child in an environment where petty thieves and touts live and thrive, there is a tendency for that child to begin to imbibe some of their idiosyncrasies until they become an integral part of that child.
It is important for children to have symbolic models in their lives. For instance, South- African iconic leader, Nelson Mandela, is a model that children can emulate.’’
She stated that in dealing with kleptomania, treatment should include varied methods such as psychoanalysis, psycho educational strategy, cognitive behaviour therapy and behaviour modification strategy.
The don noted that parents would have to apply one or a combination of the outlined methods to modify the behaviours of any child exhibiting kleptomania. A psychologist at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Mr. Segun Ayanshola, said taking cognisance of the formative years of children is a crucial aspect in curbing kleptomania at an early stage.
‘‘There are many dimensions to it, when children live in homes where there are often conflicts, violation of their rights and denial of some basic needs, such a child may end as a kleptomaniac.’’
The psychologist further said that some parents over-indulge and protect their children while also shying away from reprimanding them after misbehaving.
“These are contributory factors to developing kleptomania in the long run. Genetically, a child can become kleptomaniac if it is in the genes.
Although, this happens in a minimal percentage of children and many people refute this fact. My advice to parents is to always observe their children.
They should mete out appropriate punishment when necessary, especially when they notice any acts from their children,”
Advising parents not to also punish any erring children too much, Ayanshola stated that they should however make sure they drive home their point when correcting the child. He also said parents should give their children food and other necessary things when they need it and not when they want it.
The psychologist noted,
‘‘Kleptomania can be very traumatising for parents whose children are affected and knowing a few symptoms will go a long way in helping them deal with the disorder better.
Often times, some children feel the urge to show off what does not belong to them and in such a case, the child is bound to steal.
In cases where the parents of some children cannot afford certain items, stealing becomes an option for the children to acquire the things.’’
He stated that proper education of children regarding the consequence of stealing was a critical option every parent should explore to tackle the disorder.