Step Daughter Stealing

Updated on April 16, 2008
T.K. asks from Rochester, MI
26 answers

My 12-year old step daughter stole all my jewelry, make-up and clothing over a 3-month time period. Stupid me, I didn't discover it right away because she "smuggled" a little at a time out of the house on weekends she was with us. Her mother saw all the expensive items (obviously not appropriate for a girl her age) that she brought home and never questioned where they came from. Once she was "outed", she has shown no remorse and not apologized. VERY slowly the items were returned, but only under duress. When asked why she stole, her response was that she doesn't have nice things and it's not fair. She is jealous of the relationship I have with my 17-year old daughter (mine from another relationship) and feels completely justified in her behavior. My husband says he blames himself and that she needs more attention from us. We took her to counseling and the counselor said she has very low self esteem and very inappropriate ideas of what is normal dress, accessories, behavior for a girl her age. He said she identifies with how the girls behave in movies such as "Mean Girls", "Gossip Girls", and other reality shows that she watches with her Mom. This was not and has not been a single instance of stealing. She stole hundreds of dollars of make-up from a dept. store when she was 8, and has also stolen toys from friends. Her mother is no help and says it's not her problem because she is not stealing from her! Her mother does not want her embarrassed or punished. We punished her by taking away TV and having her do extra chores, but when it's every other weekend, it's not that effective. After the long story, here's the questions: (1) How do I teach her that stealing is morally wrong, criminal behavior that will get her into BIG trouble if it doesn't stop; and (2) How do I get past this and learn to forgive her? I'm worried about her and my relationship with her. As a side note, we are quite close and I think she looks up to me and my daughter as role models and friends.

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So What Happened?

Thanks so much for all the great responses... I feel so loved!! Here's the latest on the step-daughter situation: Despite the fact that the stealing incident has never been brought up again and discussed, my step-daughter continues to behave really well and we are getting closer every day! Even my 17-year old daughter WANTS to spend time with her and seeks her out for fun outings, etc. My step-daughter even asked me to chaperone her upcoming trip to Cedar Point... we will have a great time together! A few weeks ago she even brought up moving in with us. We are receptive to the idea, but also discussed with her how successful she is in her school now with her friends, grades, activities, etc. It's funny, but last year I could have NEVER imagined having an open, loving relationship with her, but now I feel really lucky to have all of my daughters in my life. Thanks everyone for the great love and advice. I'm forever in your debt!

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answers from Tampa on

Had to send you a quickie email to let you know that I, too had raised all of my children. My youngest on is 23, and my oldest i2 35 THEN----I married a gentleman with triplets!! Age 8!!!!!!!!! I, like you, have had jealousy issues, and their birthmother is a real piece of work!! She is a real piece of wotk!!!!!!!!! I've encountered many "problems" along theway.. The Step-child concept can be very difficult, antbut very excitinb K.

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answers from Detroit on

T., I am speaking to you Step mom to step mom here. I have a 13 year old step son who does not live with us full time. My first bit of advice is to forgive her. It sounds to me that the root of the problem lies in the mother's way of dicipline (or lack there of). She should have nipped this in the bud when she got caught stealing from a dept. store. Therefore, it is not healthy to continue to be irritated with her for something that sounds much deeper than naughty behavior. Second, when she is at your home, it is a completely different life, along with that comes completely different parenting skills. Therefore, you cna have you rvery own rules and consequences for bad behavior. It may take a bit of time to get used to, but she will eventually come to realize that at dad's house the rules are different and she will respect them. Regardless of how her mother raises her she will have respect for you and your family. I am sure she respects the rules set forth at school. She knows them and accepts that when she walks in those dorrs it is a whole new world. Third, I truly believe that she needs to know the severity of theft. Let her know in the most loving way that if she is ever caught stealing while in your care you will call the police, and DO IT! Nothing will scare her more than a cop at the front door! Fourth, You say that you feel she is jealous of your relationship with your daughter, well dont give her a chance to be! Make special time for just the two of you. Take her on girls nites go to girly movies that are about good role models, take her to concerts, buy her her own nice jewelry, show her that you love her and that you are so happy to have her in your life. You say you married the man of your dreams, and along with that has to come the family of your dreams or you will never make it as a whole. I hope this helps you, Good luck and God Bless.

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answers from Stationed Overseas on

Good morning, T.,

Fathers are very important to a child's identity. Fathers were created to show boys how to become men and daughters how to be treated as a woman by the way they treat their mothers. The stealing is indeed a cry for help.

So make sure that your husband takes all his daughters out on a regular basis, including yours. Their should be a "date night," as in do something that both want to do, be it movies, dinner, whatever . . . just time between "Daddy and me." And while you are at it, incorporate a family game night, or something, where no one else interferes with family time.

Treat her like you would treat "your child," meaning that "your child" and "his children" are no longer your children individually. They are your children together. That means that you care for her in the same fashion. So you and hubby need to set down some rules together concerning all your children. Just because you did not birth yourself does not make her any less than your child. So don't treat her any different. The best thing you and your hubbby can do is to give her a stable and loving environment that she can come home to, where there are clear rules.

The situation with her biological mother will not change and until she deal with her own issues. And she will not get the moral training she needs from her until Mom comes to grips with her own moral issues. So don't expect it until the Lord brings her to the place of healing and wholeness.

Now, I don't know if you have a relationship with the Lord, but you will need the Lord to help you navigate through this. Only HE can help you ultimately. All we can do is give you advise on how to proceed. So as with any and everything, cover in prayer. Only God can speak to man's hearts. Only God can reach to the interiors of a person soul.

In all your getting advice, you will need God's direction on what will work for each of your three children.

May the Lord help you through this time.

One last thing, if you and your husband have not sat down and talked through the issues of how to handle the children, then now is a good time to do it. Remind him that all the children are yours and that together each issue must be dealt with.

There indeed alot of unique issues in a "blended family." But by the grace of God, you will make it through.

Be encouraged.

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answers from Detroit on

I think the real issue here is getting down to what your step-daughter really wants, which is to feel taken care of and special. It sounds like spending some extra time with her and going on a shopping spree would be a very appropopraite thing to do to help her see that she can get her needs for nurturance met in a positive way by you. remember how you felt at age 12? It's an age when girls are beginning to explore what they will be like as they mature, and they want to change some of their little girl clothes and things into more mature clothes, begin some makeup and have more teenage firl "things" like jewelry, a purse, more mature shoes, makeup, etc. I think it sounds like your step daughter may be embarrassed by needing to steal to feel closer to you or to get those needs met secretively. Remember, you are the adult and it's up to the adults to anticipate needs of kids, so I wouldn't focus too much on the stealing behaviors that brought about her needs too much. I think if you nail her needs on the head, she will learn she can get those needs met by you and that will bring you two closer again!

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answers from Los Angeles on

YOU MUST GET BETTER HELP RIGHT NOW! Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. There is a phenononal therapist named Steve Friedman in Woodland Hills, near Corbin that know's how to deal with this. You and your husband should get parenting help, and there is an oustanding therapist named Briar Grossman in Woodland Hills for that. Punishing her will not matter, in fact, to a degree it's just what she wants. She needs to know NOW the impact of her actions on those around her. Act fast, you have a very limited amount of time to effect any change in her world. The fact that she's been doing this for so long should tell you something. Good thing she has a step mom who cares, it sounds like her mom is out to lunch. Good luck

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answers from Denver on

I,ve been thru this. When my step daughter was a teen she did the same sort of thing. I didn't call the police either and I've regreted it since. By not making her realise how wrong the things she did were, she became more and more difficult. Drugs and sex came by fifteen. She is now 23 and has had 3 children. My husband and I are raising her oldest, she lost her middle one to the state and may lose her third to another state. Your daughter needs counseling and fast, before she acts out even more.

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answers from Detroit on

HER MOM is the problem. HER mom is trying to be her friend and not her mom. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to help. Maybe just ask her if there is anything that she is not getting from you, her dad or her mom. She is obviously crying out for help. Keep doing what you are doing. GOOD LUCK!!!!

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answers from Syracuse on

Hi T.. I've had similar issues with my step-daughter. We tried everything from tough love to much love and counseling,too, and much prayer. She was a sweet heart everywhere else except at home, stealing stuff from me and him. Dad had the ultimate say in everything and she knew I had to follow his instructions toward her, but any discipline was all on him. When she got mad and had her hissy fits is when we would find out about stuff, but ultimately, her real issues were 1. she blamed herself for the relationship problems with her Mom, her Dad and me 2. she wanted it to be her, her Mom and Dad to be her family. Her Mom was never married to her Dad, but I am (almost 13 YEARS)and I've been a part of her life since she was 2, but that did not stop her from dreaming that she could some how get them together to be a happily ever after family. We had to have heart - to - heart talks about this once a week or so just to keep her thinking straight about that issue. We also found that having dinner together at the table with no TV helped us all communicate better, and that gave her a sense of belonging to this family. She also dealt with self esteem issues and being a bi-racial young lady, she was picked on at school sometimes. She wouldn't tell us that stuff until she'd get mad, but then it all came out. We bought a puppy and believe it or not that helped her a lot. She had responsibility to take care of him, brush him take him for walks,etc. and this helped her so much. I might suggest a pet of some sort if you can - even a turtle or hampster, something she has that's alive that she has to take care of. Being the youngest sometimes made her feel inferior to every one else, so the pet became the "baby" and we called him that too and since she wasn't the baby any more she felt she belonged. Daddy time is very important, but also, how Dad treats you and her Mom are important. My husband ( & I) didn't like the Mom much, but have never spoken badly about her or with her in our dealings or our conversations about her when my stepdaughter was around. Her age has so much a role in all this. If she gets involved in sports or youth activities, too, that will help to give her a sense of belonging to a group. She just doesn't know where she fits in sometimes going from house to house. Remember, this is the "all about me" age and she doesn't know much about her body changing or why she's having certain feelings. Let her know it's OK to feel what she's feeling, and give her suggestions of how to deal with it. Share with her issues you had at her age and she'll identify with them and also see that you survieved it and turned out pretty good - so she can too. Be patient and loving, but stick to the rules - which - Dad and you and she need to sit down and discuss together. Ask her what she thinks is appropriate for rewards and punishments for what's going on including good and bad grades. An allowance is good if she's done what's expected - like keeping her room clean, doing dishes on her night,etc. with extra for extra stuff like dusting or washing the mirrors, helping with the laundry. It's good training for when she gets out on her own too. If Dad likes to clean the car on Saturday's maybe she could help out and earn a bit extra. Monitor what she's watching on TV and the computer. Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. Tell her she's beautiful, strong, smart and a young lady who will be somebody when she grows up! I pray things work out for the best for all of you. :)

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answers from Tulsa on

Well, I shoplifted little things like candy bars and comic books when I was 10-13 years old, and I was caught at age 13 by the MPs (my dad was in the Army at the time). I was never so glad in my life. I knew stealing was wrong, and I knew I should stop, but the thrill becomes addicting - you want to see just how much you can get away with. Now, I was terrified of how my dad would respond, but what happened is my mom picked me up, and I felt so ashamed that she knew what I was doing, that I just wanted to hide. She didn't yell at me, but she did let me know she was very disappointed; and when I asked if she'd even trust me again, she said not right away, but in time if I proved myself trustworthy, then yes. So, I'm very glad I was caught and very glad I was punished for it - base rules were that a first-time juvenile shoplifter was not allowed unaccompanied entrance into any shop, whether PX, commissary, or bookstore, and this posed some problems during some school trips or when hanging out with friends, but the humiliation did me a world of good in the long run. I've been scrupulously honest since then, and can say with satisfaction that I am known for my integrity now. I think my mother started trusting me fully again within two years, which I think is a reasonable amount of time to demonstrate a changed heart.

Bottom line: sometimes the BEST teacher is the consequence of one's own decisions. If she gets caught shoplifting at the store, "protecting" her from embarrassment will only teach her that she can get away with things that lesser mortals can't. Keep showing her love and personal interest - her desire for respect and trust will be what motivates her to change - but perhaps feeling the natural consequences of wrong behavior now when she's younger will help her avoid doing things later that will carry much more serious consequences.



answers from Phoenix on

I HIGHLY recommend taking Love and Logic classes. Here are the list of classes the local Love and Logic instructor is teaching: Tell her T. sent you. You can also call the Love and Logic company at 800-588-5644 to get the contact info for people who teach classes in your area (I just called and a real person answered right away and was very helpful).

It is better to learn when the consequences for defying authority are relatively small.
The Love and Logic approach is all about tough love--being firm and consistent in letting children suffer the natural (logical) consequences of their actions, while doing so in a very gentle and loving way, having true empathy in your heart. My mom parented this way, and I really appreciate my upbringing. I feel she was a very effective and loving parent who helped prepare us for the real world.

If classes aren't available near you, check out some Love and Logic materials at the local library for free or buy them at Here are some I recommend: a seminar on DVD "Painless Parenting for the Preschool Years," the book "Parenting with Love and Logic." They also have some great CDs full of wonderful advice and real-life applications that you can listen to in the car while driving.



answers from Milwaukee on

It's funny - I was 14 yrs old and stealing from all kinds of stores. After being caught 2x and once being arrested it made me realize that I have two choices - to stop stealing, change my friends and do well or go to juvenile detention. I chose the first one. Stealing can become an addiction if it isn't stopped and sometimes the only way to do it is to get law enforcement involved. It's tough love but sometimes you have to do it for the better. She may not understand it now but she'll thank you later on. Hopefully things work out for you and your family. Good luck.



answers from Phoenix on

Hi T.,

I how taking this can be on the whole family. I read through many of the responses and think it's great that some people were able to change their ways through a little counseling. However, many people that have issues like this have very DEAPLY seeded issues that can't be worked out through counseling, as they can only address the "conscious" mind.

In these cases, it's best to try healing modalities like EFT ( or Hypnotherapy. These may sound a bit freaky to you; but they are very powerful techniques that address the "subconscious". I'm happy to refer you to some practitioners who specialize in these techniques. Please feel free to call my office at ###-###-####.

Best wishes to you and your family. :)

Warm Regards,
G. Van Luven



answers from Detroit on

She should be getting regular counseling , she is crying out and needs someone to talk to, probably once a week. It will be expensive but she is hurting and needs it. You might want to look into getting her a mentor, too. That way maybe she will have someone to talk to that she can feel is on her side. I get the impression that she doesn't have a lot of friends, try to find out what she likes and is good at, like painting or pottery or dance, and put her in a class of that kind so that she can have an outlet.

You should probably all go to family counseling. You all need to learn to deal with the situation and help her through it. There is obviously some healing that needs to be done, and you all need to know how to help her and communicate with her since she must not feel like she is being heard.

In dealing with her mother, maybe you will need to get the help of the friend of the court. Maybe they need to mandate counseling so that she will take her, or maybe you will need top volunteer to pick her up and take her and pay for it. The same with the classes, if Mom will agree then you can volunteer to pick her up and take her to the classes and deliver her back home, otherwise, you may need to get help from the courts. Mom is obviously not caring for the child properly, maybe a custody change is in order. Maybe you need to ask her if she wants to move in with you? At 12, she does have a say. Just a few thoughts. Good luck.



answers from Norfolk on

You have taken all the right responses you and your husband can take. Do not out her with the police however. This seems to be a very serious emotional problem. You said her mother, whom she lives with, is no help. Has her mom participated in the counseling? If not, and if she is not willing to AND abide by the counselor's advice, it may be time to get your husband's attorney involved with the Domestic Relations court. Her mother is enabling her to be this way and in no way helping this young lady to be ready to go out into the world as a responsible adult. You and your husband may have to be the ones to take over. If you take on that responsibility, and it does not work out, your only course of action may be to remove her from yours and the mother's house and put her in a temporary rehab/counseling facility for emotionally disturbed children.
Good luck to you and many prayers be with you.

ps...I agree with Odette also. You will need the extra strength from the Lord to see you through this.



answers from Denver on

Hi T.- just reading this for the first time. I have been in therapy lately for similar issues with my 14 year old step-daughter. It sounds like we have similar dynamics with our step-kids moms and our husbands on discipline. My therapist suggested not trying so hard (to make the relationship closer)and not rewarding her for poor behavior. While I can't change how my husband feels (I assume someof it is motivated by guilt of not being with her all the time), I have stopped "trying" so hard- (ie:hugging her/telling her I love her/ asking her to do one-on-one time with me). In response, she comes to me more and has been warmer and more open to a relationship with me. I also think it is important to call her on poor behavior when you are the main caregiver- I hate having to discipline my stepchildren (although I have no problems with my Own kids) and my therapist has pointed out that by not saying anything I enable her to continue her negative behaviors. Obviously, you need to do what is best for you, just wanted to share my experience since it seemed a different approach from what I read in the responses to your request.



answers from Anniston on

All actions has consequences. No tv or extra chores is not my idea of consequences. If this problem is not dealt with a strong hand the criminal justice system will. I was told by my sister that most of my family considered me "mean" but I am not I am "love". She saw the difference when her little 5 year old great granddaughter called her "mean" when she attempted to chastise. Yes we want to be liked but at what cost. Should we turn our backs on wrong doing for the sake of being popular? The prisons house many of people that got the false love.



answers from Sharon on

I had a similiar problem with my daughter at the age of 13. She stole stores, family members(ones that lived here and ones that lived elsewhere), while visiting my office at the time. You name it she stole it even if it did not serve any purpose for her. My husband and I punished her by allowing her sister and brother to take one item a day out of her room until she was left with a bed and a dresser with very limited clothes to choose from. We tried taking privileges, grounding, taking her back to a store to speak with the managers, talking with our minister. None of the punishments had any affect on her. One day, on a whim, I decided to call the local state police office to see if I could bring her in and have an officer speak to her about stealing and the reprecussions of her actions. They agreed to have someone available to "talk" with her. I verified with the officer prior to our visit, what they would be discussing and then we took her to the barracks. To this day (she is now 21) I am not 100% sure of every word that was said, but when she came out of the office she was crying and visibly disturbed. The stealing came to a stop and hasn't happened since. I don't know if this would be an option for you and your step daughter, but it is something to think about. Best of luck to you, it is a very exasperating problem.



answers from Stationed Overseas on

Hi T.,

I don't have any experience in this specific matter also my children are a lot younger and we don't have a blended family. But I remember when I watched Dr. Phil while we were still living stateside that he told all step parents that they have to refraine from the dsciplin. You and your husband have to agree on the rules of your house but he is the only one to handle the discipline as you are not the mother of the child. And it seems from your reply that your husband is willing to take on his role. Good luck!



answers from Missoula on


well i think that if she does look up to you and your daughter then maybe you guys should start doing things with her like girly time bring her shopping, teach her that she dont have to steal for the things she wants. I bet she is just looking for that mother figure sounds like she is not getting mother daughter time with her own mother. and having that attention from you and her dad might brighten her a lil. Thats just I would do if i was ever in that situation well i hope my advice might do some good.

Good Luck !!!!



answers from Boston on

Friday April 11
This week's promise: God celebrates family
What was the most effective discipline you have experienced?

Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, "What are you going?"

Suppose you get home from grocery shopping and discover your six-year-old is eating candy you didn't buy. It might be tempting to just scold him, send him to his room, and let it go at that. After all, it's only worth a dollar, and you're tired. But you'd miss an opportunity to turn this "miss" into a second chance.

It would be better to take away any uneaten candy, put your little shoplifter back in the car, drive to the grocery store, hunt up the manager, and tell your kid to apologize. Pay for the candy and deduct it from the child's allowance. Then, if the culprit is truly sorry, be sure to express your forgiveness—and God's forgiveness, too.

You've just boxed out the opposition and put your kid in position to rightly rebound. Because there will come another time in that grocery store or when he's passing a coveted pair of Nukes or—who knows?
Ricky Birdsong in Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life

The Bible tells us that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of our children. And nowhere is the job given only to mothers and grandmothers. As Moses told the people of Israel, "Repeat [the command of God] again and again to your children" (Deut. 6:7). Why not begin today?



answers from Missoula on

You should know that it's NOT just step-moms who deal with this type of behavior. My 13 year old daughter was doing the same things. Taking items from me and her sisters. We have been happily married for over 20 years so it's not just the step family thing.
I did take my daughter to counseling because of low self esteem. She said she took my things because she wanted makeup and she takes her sisters things because she needs or wants them. The counselor asked her how she would feel if the situation was reverse. She also asked if she could resolve to NOT take things anymore. My daughter said yes. I have held her to that. She has had to work to repay what she has taken, but I also compromised by getting her some makeup of her own, just a few small subtle things. Turns out with her very fair skin she is self concious of her complexion. This is something I didn't have to worry about with the other daughters.
I am also spending time just with her on our drives to the counselor and at other times. We talk more and it has helped. Stay with it. Our jobs as parents is to "put ourselves out of business" by teaching them what they need to know for the world. Keep up the good work and Congratulations on finding the man of your dreams! When you have that, the rest is all worth it! ;)



answers from Chicago on

Stealing is a cry for help. I agree with your husband.
And it is very common amongst pre-teenagers and teenagers when parents get divorced or remarried.

She need therapy and for all of you to meet with the counselor.

M. Binder
Former Professional Counselor



answers from Houston on

I know I'm kind of late as I'm just now seeing this message. I have been that little girl that stole not for attention, but because I wanted nice things that my parents could not afford.

I think you should determine 1st WHY she is doing what she is doing and move forward accordingly. if it's for the lust of material things that can be easily solved. though i don't condone rewarding bad behavior, after maybe a series of chores and pledges of trust and honesty I can see rewarding her. KOHL's has beautiful pieces of jewlery that they put on clearance every day ranging from .99 - 20.00. yes! i said .99. why not snatch her a few pieces and give them to her sparingly.

if it's because she needs attention, then of course time well spent is needed. i wouldn't do too much one on one time as she is still young and may feel weird about such direct attention or may even see it as an attempt to steal her mother's limelight.

this should be a WHOLE family effort. what works for our family is family night on fridays. which includes good eats, movies and games. works everytime.



answers from Sacramento on

It sounds like this goes much deeper than stealing. Your step-daughter is dealing with some big issues, mainly living in an integrated family. My dad remarried after the divorce and I had to adjust to living with a "new" family. It isn't easy and sometimes the feelings children manifest in other ways such as running away, eating disorders, slipping grades etc. She doesn't know how to communicate the turmoil that she is feeling. Don't take it personal. This too shall pass. Good luck to you, and contact me if you need to by going to Click on the "Ask Officer M." portion. Good luck to you and your family...M.
As far as the stealing aspect, the advice that I would give you as a police officer is to make sure that she understands the ramifications of her actions. Let her know that some acts could stick on her criminal record. Let her know that if she is involved in a felony, it could creep up every time she tries to get a decent job. Let her know that you understand that it is hard to be a teenager sometimes, and that it is a temporary time.
Maybe she needs an after school sport or part-time job. The busier they are, the better. Look for some volunteer opportunities on line. Sometimes seeing the way others live humbles us.



answers from Columbus on

I am a stepmom to a 6 1/2 year old and you have just described my worst nightmare! I am so sorry that you are struggling with this, how hard.

My advice would be to continue to strengthen your relationship with your stepdaughter. When I had my son (who is now 6 1/2 months) the advice I got from friends who were at one time stepdaughters themselves was to spend as much one on one time with my stepdaughter as I could with the new baby (thus giving dad a chance to be with the baby) to reinforce to her that I love her and still care for her. YOu love her, she knows you love her, maybe it would help for you two to spend more time with you alone so that she doesn't feel that she needs to steal to get your attention (if that is in fact what this behavior is indicating).
I hope this helps. Good luck!

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