While on vacation my family and I were at a store and my 4 year old daughter had picked up a toy and placed it on the checkout belt. At this time we did not notice the toy and proceeded to checkout and leave the store. While driving down the road my daughter had requested such toy, a stuffed animal. When my wife and I were discussing with my daughter that we did not buy such toy she proceeded to say we did. When we searched the bags we noticed the toy and said where did this come from? My daughter said she placed it on the conveyor belt. When we asked her why not ask us she said she knew we would say no and she wanted it.

  • How do I teach her in this situation that this is bad?
  • Is this considered stealing in a way and she we teach my daughter?
  • What is an acceptable form of punishment?
  • Should we keep the toy and allow her to receive it when she is good or does that have any bad effect with the incident involved?

3 Answers 3


First, my recommendation would be the toy goes away. Just because it was paid for doesn't mean it isn't stealing; she stole from you instead of the store. Keeping the toy implies that the offense wasn't all THAT severe.

The problem with punishment here is that the time frame between the offense and the punishment might be kind of long for it to really have an effect. Kids' sense of time differs from ours. Maybe having her dispose of the toy herself (take it to a charity store, maybe) will help her see that she doesn't get to keep things not obtained with parental permission?

As for this 'I want something but I know you will say 'no' so I'm going to get it anyway' issue, does she have a method to earn stars/points/allowance/whatever that she can use on getting the toys she wants? If not, maybe having a system where she can get x toy if she has y stars for performing z tasks will help her learn to delay gratification. Once we started using a star system (eat your veggies, get 2 stars; clean up your toys, get 1; share with your brother, get 5, etc.) our 5-yr-old got much better at waiting for enough stars to get the toys she wants.

  • beautiful advice +1
    – user21179
    Jul 28, 2013 at 14:12

I woudn't allow the girl to have the toy, but I would not do a big deal of it. I fact, what I try myself is to reduce a lot the kids and parent's dependency on toys. For example, I may get inside toy shops with my kid and "just watch", not buying anything.

I rarely buy toys myself and wish my wife would follow my lead on this. When I bring a toy, it is almost always a box of Lego.

Howver, I often try to build some "toys", for example a bow and some arrows from random wooden sticks found in the wild. I prefer my kid to build his toys himself, and in fact he can play hours with sticks he found himself.

In the same vein (not really answering, sorry): if you go to the beach with plastic buckets and other things, your kids will fight to have the bigger ones, or just "that one". If you go with nothing, kids will dig the sand barehands, will fight less but will not enjoy less their time.

  • Love your idea with the buckets, yes I long ago realised that less is more :) +1
    – user21179
    Jul 28, 2013 at 14:13

I would not call this stealing. This is a 4-year-old trying to figure out how the world works. This is an opportunity to teach, not punish. There was no maliciousness involved. She knew if she asked, you would say no, so she tried the next logical thing. This is dishonest, but at a level appropriate to a 4-year-old.

I would have a conversation with her about how we have to ask to buy things, and how sometimes the answer will be yes and sometimes it will be no, but Mom and Dad need to make the decision until she is old enough to have her own money. Perhaps now is a time to start giving her her own money (maybe she even has some already in a piggy bank?) for chores or for allowance. Or you could create a chart of chores where she could earn stars to buy the toy in question. Until then the toy stays on a shelf.

To call this stealing or to take the toy back to the store in some obvious way will create a feeling of shame, and shame is not a source of good learning.

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