dealing with a klepto kid
July 11, 2011 9:38 PM   Subscribe

A kid at the day camp I'm helping out at is constantly lifting camp property and pocketing things when he thinks we're not looking. What can I do?

I help out at science/tech day camp for kids aged 11-12 -- on the first day of camp, this kid has tried to lift batteries, electric motors and lego pieces, among other things. He has already been warned once, but denied everything with a "but I would NEVER" sort of incredulity. All of the staff are aware of this issue and know to keep half an eye out, but there are only so many things they can pay attention to at once. As a helper with no actual authority, the only thing I could really do was keep an eye on him and order him to put the stuff back when I catch him, but putting him under constant surveillance for the whole week is no real solution. Is there anything else I can do/say to him that might improve the situation?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (18 answers total)
"Kid, everybody here is already on to you. You're the guy who steals stuff. We are all watching. If you stop stealing now, you still have a chance of connecting with other kids and counselors at the camp and having a fun summer. If you continue stealing, you're going to be caught, shamed, thrown out and, if you aren't careful about who you steal from, you're going to get your ass kicked. Since you're obviously interested in being sneaky, although you are not good at it, here's a book about sleight-of-hand. Come back and see me tomorrow and show me a trick."
posted by Scram at 9:48 PM on July 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Be honest. Tie shit down and say things are walking away and y'all don't have the cash to replace these supplies; they're not free and it's going to impact the quality of activities at the day camp. Pick up some monofilament in the fishing section of the sporting goods store. It's strong, non-bulky, and cheap. Kids get and appreciate non-dramatic honesty from adults. Be real.

If caught, separate offender, be polite and caring, but firm. Don't victimize him/her, don't be mean. Just be calm and unemotional.

Good luck. I've had a few things lifted by students. It sucks for them (as much if not more than you).
posted by smirkette at 9:48 PM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

My dad would call what I am about to suggest a "come to Jesus meeting." Sit the kid down, privately (so that he is not embarrassed in front of his peers or anyone else), and tell him in no uncertain terms that the stealing has been witnessed by more than one party and that it will stop immediately or his parents will be notified. Obviously, you would have to back this up- something that you may not be able to do in your position. Has the director of the camp been notified?

Alternately, maybe the motivation he needs in order to stop stealing is to be called out in front of his peers. Maybe a casual "Hey Bobby, take that Lego/battery/motor/etc out of your bag and put it where it belongs." Then move on- in other words, don't go out of your way to humiliate him, just call the attention out just enough that he doesn't want it to be a regular thing.
posted by LyndsayMW at 9:51 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This kid has a bigger problem than just stealing. He needs real help. If he is at the camp for a week, watch him closely, stop him when you can and search his pockets and bag at the end of the day before putting him on the bus. Not much else you can or should do. Let the camp admins deal with it with his parent or guardian.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:54 PM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a helper with no actual authority

Of course you do. Not authority to send him home, but authority nonetheless, 'cause you're a grownup. Fix him straight in the eye, and firmly-but-not-unkindly tell him that the innocent act ain't working.
posted by desuetude at 9:54 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You mention that he's taking batteries, legos, etc. - maybe he's actually trying to build something specific. Bring it up casually, "Hey, I noticed that you've picked up a few materials, are you working on a special project?"

This works well on two fronts: 1. You let him know that you're on to him without actually accusing him of anything and 2. You're engaging him in a good faith effort to actually help him work on whatever it is he happens to be interested in.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:54 PM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Please make sure someone mentions this to the kid's parents. If my kid was stealing stuff and no one bothered to tell me, I'd be pissed.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:10 PM on July 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

You should ask the camp directors what the policy is regarding this situation. You don't want to be accused of bullying this kid and getting yourself fired.

I'm sure they've seen this before and have policies in place t deal with it. Ask!
posted by jbenben at 10:15 PM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Wow, good timing. I just had a conversation about this. I am sitting with 20 campers, and 2 of them just broke my rules. (not more then 5 min ago)

First thing is first. Never ask a child if he cheated, stole, broke the rules. They will not tell you the truth and then you need to address both lying and the broken rule. Tell them what they did was wrong, that they knew better and then tell them why stealing hurts the whole camp. Make them feel guilty, punishment should be reasonable, make them sit out of the next activity, nothing physical or long term.

Be stern, calm, unwavering; no interrogation. Just; This is what you did wrong, This is what the punishment for what you did wrong. Lastly (and most important) ask the child what they are going to do to make sure that this never happens again.

All of that works really well when things are simple. Chance are something else is wrong somewhere else.
posted by Felex at 10:37 PM on July 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

Never ask a child if he cheated, stole, broke the rules.

Wrong, bzzzt, fail, your camp sucks. Guess what negative attention does? It drives negative behaviour. Always give a child the chance to come clean, the benefit of the doubt, and a way to get back on track.

Private conversation.

1. "Dude - do you know what I want to talk to you about?" (A chance to come clean. If no, 2, if yes, 3.)

2. "Dude - I want ask you about the stuff that's missing from the place." (Doubt - you didn't say he took it, or has it. If denial, see 3(a).)

3. "Can you tell me why you need all this stuff?" (An out. Look for the root cause of the behaviour. Let them return the stuff. Give them something to do with the stuff with the others. Thank them for doing the right thing with the stuff. Positive attention and a sense of community provides an incentive to do the right thing.

3a. "OK, I guess I was mistaken. Well, we can't find some stuff, and we thought you might be able to help us to find it. Without the stuff, we can't do our activities. I'm sure there's something you wanted to do with stuff, too, maybe after we've finished doing the other thing. But thanks for your help. Hopefully it will turn up at the place later. I'll have another look at time, and I'll catch up with you later to let you know if it does."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:38 PM on July 11, 2011

You want to talk to the director of the program, and have them sit down with the kid and talk to him.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:52 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work with kids that age and I'd want to find out why the kid is doing it. Maybe he doesn't want to be at camp and he's trying to get sent home. Maybe he's a "collector" and he likes to have his pockets filled with little things to play with (at school, we call them fidget toys for kids who crave sensory input).

I'd pull him aside and show home a small assortment of Legos and whatever else he's been taking and let him pick 5 things he's allowed to hold on to and play with whenever he wants for the day.

Make it sound like you're giving him a job, not trying to stop his stealing, but let him know that if anything else ends up in his pockets, you're calling his parents and he's going home.
posted by kinetic at 1:48 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

ummm, about telling his parents about the stealing..... While there are parents who would agree that their kid did wrong, unfortunately there are also a lot of parents who'll insist that THEIR little darling would NEVER do such a thing, and how dare you accuse their sweet, innocent Little Bobby of being a criminal?!? If they're the second kind, it would only make the problem worse, because now the kid knows he can always get away with it.
posted by easily confused at 3:04 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Where is he stashing this stuff? Pockets? Backpack?

You do have authority over what goes on at the camp - for example you can implement a "time out while we all do cool stuff" rule for people who steal. But as someone said, you should go with your existing policy.

Absent one, just let him lift stuff all day. If he is that obvious you can see where he is stashing it all. When his parent comes to pick him up, take them aside and tell them "Before he goes home, we'll need the handful of LEGO and six batteries he has in pockets back."
posted by mikepop at 5:54 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you can do anything. A friend of a friend stole things as a kid (and older) and couldn't stop himself, and couldn't feel guilt about it. This may be an issue for a mental health professional.
posted by Malla at 9:15 AM on July 12, 2011

Seconding Tell His Parents.

Obiwanwasabi gives great advice, however, I would scratch 3a. Instead, let him know that the staff is aware that he's stealing and that you'll have to inform his parents. No reason to let him get away with it IF (huge IF!) you are 100% sure that he's been lifting.
posted by brynna at 9:25 AM on July 12, 2011

2nd-ing finding out why he takes things. Sometimes kids don't see what they're doing as stealing. Maybe he just wants to borrow things. Maybe he just wants to hold them. Maybe he's lonely. Calling the kid out as a liar or a thief will just make him feel shitty and make him less likely to trust adults. Calling his parents will just get him punished, also likely not really address the issue in any real way. (Not that his parents shouldn't know. But it should be more of a there are 'things you should be aware of'. And not, 'you need to discipline your child and instill* morals')

So yeah, talk to the kid (kindly!), get the stuff back.

*if only it worked like that
posted by everyday_naturalist at 4:26 PM on July 12, 2011

One of my kids does this, and would be very drawn to the items you've mentioned. When he was doing it at a Lego camp, I just checked his pockets at the end of the day and handed the stuff back to the teachers. Nobody made a big deal out of it, so he didn't get defensive.

My kid has some special needs that are relevant (autism and OCD, notably). I wonder if the boy you're talking about has a need to collect items, or a fascination with certain objects. If so, the "I see you're working on a project" talk could be helpful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:08 PM on July 13, 2011

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