Catholic Activity: Lying and Stealing
Minor transgressions can be expected of every pre-school child; if nothing more, they indicate his desire to learn exactly what penalty will be imposed if he violates your rules. The three- or four-year old probably cannot understand that all of us must obey God's laws. Later, of course, he must be taught that lying and stealing are sins because they violate that law.
It takes a wise parent to understand the difference between a young child's imagination and his lying. When children learn that speech has the power to affect others, they often make up stories simply to notice the effect upon adults. In such cases, you probably need not do any more than indicate your mild disbelief. Untruths affecting others are a different matter, however. If your child lies deliberately about a serious matter, you should point out to him that his action is sinful; that it harms those about whom he lies; and that it harms him by causing people to lose confidence in him.
The best way to discourage lying is to encourage truthfulness. The child who admits the truth and is willing to face the consequences of his actions displays a fine sense of maturity and deserves to be complimented for it. But do not carry your commendation for truthfulness to extremes, as though it were a novelty. Whenever one little boy did something wrong, he ran to his father and confessed. The father invariably praised him for his honesty and neglected to punish him for his actions "because he told the truth." The youngster, now sixteen, is the most truthful boy in town — and the greatest mischief-maker. He firmly believes that simply telling the truth absolves him of all blame for his conduct.
Children also do a certain amount of stealing. Vinnie, three years old, sees a toy which Billy is playing with and takes it as soon as he can so that he too may enjoy it. He is simply doing what comes naturally; he wants the toy and sees no reason why he should not have it. Obviously, he commits no sin. He must be taught in a calm way, however, that he must not take things which do not belong to him.
You can strengthen your child's resistance against the impulse to steal by strengthening his own sense of possessiveness. If you treat his possessions with respect, making it plain to him that you would not use them without his permission, you make it easier for him to comprehend his obligations to others.
Probably all children pass through a "stealing" stage during which you can impress upon them the importance of not taking what belongs to others. This tendency to pilfer others' possessions usually decreases and ceases to be a source of difficulty by the time the child is seven. If he continues to steal after that, it may indicate that some of his strong and legitimate desires are not satisfied. For instance, the parents of a ten-year-old boy habitually compared him unfavorably with others of his age. He had a compelling urge to show that he was their superior, and he began to steal watches and other jewelry and to flaunt them before his classmates as presents he had received from his rich, admiring relatives. Other youngsters may steal to relieve their boredom: boys who raid a fruitstand may simply crave excitement. If your child steals after he has reached the age of reason and is morally responsible for his actions, do not minimize the fact that he has sinned; but also seek to determine whether any psychological reason may have been important in causing him to act as he does. A child should always be required to pay for objects he has stolen, even if he must work on Saturdays or forgo his allowance for months to do so.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959