I'm in a situation where I'm really not sure what the best course of action is. Today I promised my younger sister that I would give her $100 if she worked up to running 3 miles. As proud as I was that she ran the distance, I was a bit disheartened that she was able to run it on the day I made the deal with her. I was expecting a few weeks of training with the hope of her building momentum towards exercising regularly. Reluctantly, I paid up.

Problem is, just a few moments ago, she was caught stealing makeup from a store. Not a huge deal it seemed at first, but she had about $600 worth and it was apparently far from the first time. She's likely stolen over $1000 worth of it over time.

Our father is deceased and our mother is too lenient, so the responsibility of disciplining this sort of thing often falls on me. So, I took back the $100.

My sister is, of course, in tears about the whole ordeal and accusing me of breaking my promises/going back on my word, etc. Our mother, unfortunately, decided to defend her position and argued that I was now untrustworthy and liar for taking back the money.

I'm trying to teach my sister the consequences of stealing by disciplining her for it. I don't think it's questionable whether this is necessary, but my concern is that there's some truth to their argument and that I'm breaking her trust in me.

My personal position is that this is, if anything, too lenient. Stealing, especially the amount she's stolen, is a very serious problem and by being passive, I believe I would be making it too easy for her to brush this off.

Is taking the money back a fair punishment? Does it damage my relationship with her?

  • Are you sure that this is stealing? I don't know about your situation, but you know, if you live together and she just takes your stuff and doesn't care about returning it to you, it's not stealing, it's just carelessness. Also do you live in the same house? How old is she/you? Is she stealing in a matter of taking your stuff when you do not see it and hiding from you?
    – Uko
    Mar 26, 2013 at 7:11
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    Please clarify: Did she steal the items from you, or from a store? The latter is a criminal matter and she definitely needs to learn not to do that - before authorities make things worse by enforcing the law. Mar 26, 2013 at 8:47
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun, It was from a store.
    – user3929
    Mar 26, 2013 at 18:38
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun, And the cops came. I wasn't there, but apparently she narrowly avoided juvenile court because the manager was nice.
    – user3929
    Mar 26, 2013 at 18:51
  • I updated my answer in response to your new information. Mar 26, 2013 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


I'll try to come back and edit my answer when the question is updated (see "updates" below!), but here's a start:

Given the family situation you mention, you might need to ensure (or keep) her trust. Show her that you're able to keep things separate -- her achievement is not lessened by her stealing, but rest assured that the stealing will be dealt with too! I would try to deal with this as two separate things, at two different times. So:

First, you promised your sister a prize if she achieved a goal. She has earned this and you should keep your promise. Also, adjust your expectations so that your next challenge to her is a real challenge. You could praise her for (positively!) surprising you.

Second, the stealing. This is serious. Your question doesn't explicitly say from where she stole the goods but I will assume that she stole it from a store, not from your room. This is a criminal offense, and no small value, either! If she had been caught, she'd be facing problems. Serious problems. With "The Law."

Before you punish, learn her point of view:

Explain that stealing is never okay - ever. Ask her why she did it. Figure out what her motivation was. Was it just for fun? Does she feel pressured by peers to have these items? Did she steal because she wanted the items or because she wanted to do the deed?

Learning her motivation is important because you can't adjust behavior if you don't know what causes it. Once you know this, seek her cooperation to think up other ways to achieve what she wants. Be constructive, helpful. Next time she wants (whatever), get her to tell you and then you can make a plan together -- perhaps she can ask you for another challenge so she can earn some money, or do some extra house chores for money.

Now that you've given her a "way out" in future situations, it's time to look at her crime. It's time for punishment!

Does she understand that she did wrong? That she should not do it again? That she will get caught? (Hopefully by you and not by law enforcement!) What punishment does she think is appropriate? Maybe you can work out a settlement - something that certainly is a punishment but perhaps a milder one than you'd have chosen, but she gets some credit for admitting the crime and for working out a punishment. This discussion will tell you whether she has understood the gravity of the situation, and you can adjust your response accordingly.

Finally, once a punishment is announced, enforce it. Make sure she doesn't walk away from it and if she does, punish for that.

One threat you might choose to use is that if you ever catch her stealing again, you'll walk her to the store manager and have her confess. Depending on the crime, and the mood of the person you speak to, this can result in a slap on the wrist, or actual charges. Be careful.


You should give her back the $100 that she earned from you. You demonstrate good personality traits especially when it's against your interest to keep your promise. Notice the comments by deworde and Beofett!

Stealing from a store:
Does she realize just how merciful that store manager was? She could have gotten into life-altering trouble from that. It would be a valuable experience for her to go back to the store manager and thank him for how he handled it! And, of course, she also needs to apologize sincerely.

She doesn't seem to have understood her fault, or doesn't understand that actions always have consequences. As the saying goes, "when you pick up one end of a stick, the other end always comes with it."
Criminal offenses are much worse than putting a dent in mom's car, or eating a sibling's candy. Make your best effort to explain why her suggested punishments aren't appropriate, and then explain why (insert your suggestion) is a suitable punishment. Listen to her complaints about your suggestion and pick her arguments apart with logic and reason.

Because you're not her mother, I can't know how much authority you really have, so adjust your suggested punishment to the level that you can personally enforce.

I realize that we don't know her age, so perhaps she's really too young to grasp how big her mistake was. But I'm thinking that if she were that young, she wouldn't have stolen makeup. Perhaps I'm guessing poorly.

Lastly, remember that it's incredibly easy for us Internet strangers to sit here and type out what one could/should/would have done. Actually being in the situation, and having to think up perfect responses, is difficult. Whatever happens, please don't be too hard on yourself. You're making great efforts to handle this well, and that's absolutely commendable.

  • 10
    Absolutely agree. The $100 reward for running 3 miles has been earned, and she should have it. The punishment for stealing (whatever that winds up being) has also been earned, and she should have it as well. They need to stay separate.
    – user420
    Mar 26, 2013 at 13:03
  • 7
    +1: Keep achievements and punishments separate. From where you are, I'd apologise for taking back the money, explain you were angry and hand it back, then move on to explaining why you were angry, and then move on to the phases above.
    – deworde
    Mar 26, 2013 at 15:44
  • 1
    Aww man, I was sort of hoping it wasn't this. I don't mind giving it back to her, but I don't want to appear inconsistent. Should I offer to give it back if she does something that is a challenge, like working up to running 5 miles, or should I just flatout give it back? What should the punishment be then? I tried negotiating her punishment with her, but she kept opting for things that she wouldn't really mind.
    – user3929
    Mar 26, 2013 at 18:44
  • I think she did it out of greed. She just wanted lipstick and makeup she couldn't afford, so she took it.
    – user3929
    Mar 26, 2013 at 18:49
  • 5
    @Walkerneo I'd definitely just hand her back the money. Adding additional conditions will only make it worse. Being consistent does send a positive message, but demonstrating that you can acknowledge and accept when you've made a mistake, and correct that mistake, sends an even stronger message.
    – user420
    Mar 26, 2013 at 18:54

I don't think taking back the $100 is fair, you said if she ran 3 miles you'd give her the money and then she did it, so pay up. What you are saying is that you are acting as a parent, and as a parent you must be fair and consistent. Not giving it to her when she's carried out her side of the bargain would not be fair, but giving it to her and then taking it away is not only unfair, but completely inconsistent as well.

Good parenting, or mentoring which is more what you are trying to do, depends on building up a trust relationship. Without trust there is nothing to base a further relationship on, so when you make an agreement you stick to it. Discipline goes both ways.

OK, so maybe she played you. Maybe she knew she could run 3 miles easy and figured it was an easy $100, if so chalk it up to experience and move on. Or maybe she had no idea she could run 3 miles until she tried it and is surprised at her own abilities. Either way taking the money back is counter-productive. Instead, challenge her to do more. Reward her for running 5 miles, then doing a 10k for charity. If she's good at it and likes it try to get her into a running club or a track team as both experiences may bring her into contact with adults who could mentor her.

When I talk about rewards I don't mean financial in most cases. Financial rewards don't work that well - once they are paid the receiver tends to think that the deal is done. Instead, offer the things that can't be bought, or used to buy anything - respect and praise. Kids crave these things above all else, but first they have to care what you think, and that means building up your credentials, meaning you have to be fair and honest.

  • 4
    OK, so what about the theft?
    – kojiro
    Mar 26, 2013 at 12:00

Reading this and your previous question together, I'm going to recommend somewhat less leniency than the other answers. Your sister is starting a real problem managing expenses, maybe enough to warrant professional therapy. The consequence should entail her showing you can trust her to spend wisely.

For starters, I would disallow any unaccompanied shopping trips for a while. She abused that privilege and that trust, and needs to earn it back.

As for the $100, I would not just give it back unconditionally. I would take her shopping and show her how to spend it wisely on things she wants that are also within her means. You can get an adequate amount of makeup for $100, even for an adult. I would recommend taking along your girlfriend or other female whose style your sister admires, who understands being stylish on a budget.

When you see her start to make frugal decisions on her own, you'll know you can trust her to shop unaccompanied.

  • +1 for "no more unaccompanied shopping" in particular. Highlighting the connection to the other question reveals a deeper issue to address. Good catch! Apr 1, 2013 at 12:34

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