At the end of June, my fiancé and I got custody of my cousin's five-year-old son.

He has been stealing and lying to us since the moment he got here. We have tried everything we can think of to get him to stop, but he just doesn't seem to care. He has his first therapy session on the 5th.

Today I found him with a pocket knife and a mini SD card he took from our room. I told my fiancé and he told me he was done and it was up to me if we keep him or not. I don't want to give up on my cousin, but he has made our lives so much harder.

I just don't know what to do. If anyone has any advice, please share.

  • 8
    You don't get custody of a child as a non-parent when things are going well. 2 months time doesn't seem like a long time to work with a child who likely has been through a lot. It certainly doesn't seem like enough time to "try everything" as parenting needs consistency, and in 8 weeks time you can't keep switching approaches. Are you getting any help/instruction.counseling on how to best help him? I don't mean his therapy, I mean for the adults.
    – threetimes
    Sep 1, 2017 at 21:21
  • I would talk with foster care. Let him know that if he does not shape up then foster care is the next option.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 1, 2017 at 23:25
  • 6
    I'm with @threetimes - a 5 yo that had to be taken from his mother is likely to be somewhat traumatized and has a lot to work through. Please remember that the "bad" behavior is likely a) an outlet for inner tension and b) a way to (subconsciously) test your loyalty and love. And please make sure you get some support and counseling, e.g. classes for (future) foster parents etc. And you might want to have an open talk with your fiancé (and perhaps a pre-marital counselor) about the challenges of raising children and what they can mean for a relationship. (The latter is my personal suggestion)
    – Stephie
    Sep 2, 2017 at 16:40
  • Have you tried talking to him, telling him you know he's been stealing and lying all the time but that you're willing to help him? Perhaps finding some time-consuming activity for him? Sports maybe.
    – Vinícius
    Sep 3, 2017 at 2:14
  • Also it seems to me that he's got a lying/stealing addiction and the problem of addiction isn't the act itself but that it constantly 'pops' in the mind the will to do what you're addicted to, and then from this thought on the person will choose to do it. To deal with addiction you have to show to the addicted person that it is good to do otherwise, perhaps after talking to him you can tell him you'll give him a nice reward every week that he doesn't mess with your stuff, or give him small rewards everytime he doesn't lie, like a hug or a compliment. Guess it would take time but it could work
    – Vinícius
    Sep 3, 2017 at 2:17

2 Answers 2


Since I do not know what the circumstances of this child were before coming to live with you, I can only assume they are similar to circumstances that land other children inside the foster care system. If you have not reached out to a case worker to get assistance on how best to support this child going forward you should do so immediately. I am not sure if you are aware that stealing and lying (along with other behaviors) are not really unusual in such situations.


It may seem as though there is no valid “excuse” for theft, but consider stealing from your foster child’s position. He or she typically doesn’t steal with malicious intent. Instead, some foster children steal things in order to gain a sense of power or control over their lives. Other foster children may steal as a survival tactic, taking food and clothing. Dealing with theft in your home can be tricky, but it’s important to address situations such as this one without resorting to problem behaviors yourself. Avoid name calling and derogatory comments, and remember not to take it personally.


If your foster child is lying to you often, consider the reason behind it. Common causes of lying behaviors include to imitate adult behavior, not wanting to be a disappointment, to get attention, to avoid being punished, or to avoid a stressful situation. Some children lie simply because they are conditioned to do so by their previous circumstances. Pay attention to the lies your foster child is telling, when he or she is telling them, and what the purpose of the lying is.

From here (where you might find additional useful information) http://www.fccy.org/blog/foster-care-pa/problem-behaviors-in-foster-children-following-placement/

There are also support groups out there specifically for foster parents. It may help you to join one so you can see what other people are dealing with and have them talk you through specific issues you are dealing with. https://www.dailystrength.org/group/foster-care

And finally, you need to decide if you are going to be in or out for this kid. The fact is, most kids in such a situation have had many adults let them down before they even came to you. The last thing any child needs is another adult that isn't there for them. I speak from experience here as I adopted two older children I knew to prevent exactly this. It was hard. It was so hard my husband almost bailed because it was my push to do it, not his. If he was going to walk I was ready to let him do it. I loved him deeply. I would have been incredibly heartbroken, but I already had decided that these were children who needed me more than he did. I know that is a huge thing. I get it, fully. I turned my life upside down to make that work. But that is the sort of commitment that heals children from the damage of their past. I wasn't going to be one more person that harmed them. That is the last thing they needed. They needed me to say that I was never going to "give up", I was never willing to walk away and allow them to feel "abandoned again". I was in it forever.

And please hear me. I am not saying you have to say yes to all this, far from it. What I am saying is that if you cannot say yes to all of that, then perhaps it would be time to talk to someone about finding him a placement with someone who may be willing to go to the wall for him. Are there other family members that are willing to step in here? He has to have someone that will be "stronger" than his pain. It has to be someone that can not take it personally and understand he is simply operating in the only way he's ever known to get by. It's the best chance he has at ever having his life turn out okay. All children deserve to have their best chance. It might be with you, or with someone else, but it has to be with someone that is willing to turn their life inside out for them. It's no easy task to take a child into your heart like that and do all that is needed to help them find their peace and live their full potential. If at 5 he is lying and stealing enough to cause your fiancee to give up on him, then it's clear he's been through a lot already.

As an add on, one of my girls used to steal very specific things from me, for a very long time. I asked her once why it was that specific thing, and she told me it was because I loved it, it reminded her of me and "when I was gone" she wanted that to remember me by. I told her to keep it, and she could give it back when she realized I wasn't going anywhere. All stealing stopped that day for her.

  • 1
    +1 I've been pondering how to express thoughts similar to this , and could not have done it better than you, and certainly not from first hand experience.
    – pojo-guy
    Sep 4, 2017 at 18:35

Spank him. Then, send him away and tell him why. This will teach him there are consequences, penalties and punishments,and that he is not special.

  • 2
    What do you believe this will teach a 5 year old? Mar 2, 2019 at 2:55
  • This may have been appropriate with your own children in the past, but... it is illegal to spank foster children, in all 50 states, I believe.
    – elbrant
    Mar 2, 2019 at 5:21
  • 1
    And it’s illegal to spank the any child in my country. The last thing a child that has been brought into a new foster care home only two weeks ago needs is abuse.
    – Stephie
    Mar 2, 2019 at 6:01

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