Stealing and hiding things
This question often pops up in support groups and is something that I have personally experienced with my own daughter. At first it was very puzzling because the items that frequently disappeared wouldn’t always necessarily be either a valuable or desirable object for a child to want. So would could be the motivation behind this confusing behaviour?
To give you some idea of things that have disappeared along the years I have compiled a list for your information.
- Check book stubs (hidden for fun and found several days later at the bottom of her lego box. I was quite stressed because they were my business check stubs and I couldn’t do the month end accounts)
- Door keys (hidden for fun in her toy teapot, she was delighted when her dad had to fix a new lock to the back door)
- Car keys (hidden for fun and the enjoyment of watching us frantically searching for them and, as a result, her brother being late for school and her dad having to walk to work.
- Phones (hidden to stop others from using the phone)
- Batteries removed from all remote controls (hidden for the fun of seeing the resulting confusion when no remote controls worked)
- Her brother’s Xbox handsets and microphones (hidden for the fun of seeing him lost without them)
- Her dads Ipod (thrown in the bin as a punishment for telling her off, last seen in a bin wagon and gone for good)
- Rings (stolen from my fingers while I slept)
- Jewellery taken from my jewellery box and discovered in various hiding places. If I didn’t notice that something had gone missing it would be returned to me later in an envelope saying ‘I stole this two years ago but you can have it back now’.
I could go on for ever but hopefully this gives you an insight into the situation and may resonate with your situation. At first it was deeply confusing but as you can see from the remarks in brackets we eventually began to realise the motive for these occurrences.
It can basically be summed up as either being a punishment for someone or for the pleasure of watching the reactions of others. In short, at times, for my daughter this was simply seen as being a rather enjoyable game.
‘A successful steal used to give me a great adrenaline rush. I would steal loads of stuff and hide it and enjoy watching people look for their stuff. I don’t do it any more, so don’t worry if your kids do because they will probably grow out of it.’ Quote from my daughter
We did come to find secret stashes of other people’s stuff hidden under kitchen kick-boards rather cute and endearing. However it was also important for my daughter to understand that taking things and hiding them did have negative consequences for others and that stealing, even from family members, is against the law. But of course this had to be done in an indirect way.
Following the incident when her brother was late for school and her dad had to walk to work because we couldn’t find the car keys I approached the situation in the following manner. I found the keys in a storage box in the kitchen at which point she laughed and looked rather smug with herself. I laughed too and said that it had been a good prank but that her poor old brother may now get a detention and that her dad had been late to work which had got him in trouble with a customer. I remained light hearted in my approach even though I was trying to explain the consequences of the prank on others. She later apologised and the keys have not gone missing since.
Many children with PDA may also greatly enjoy playing practical jokes without realising that the joke is not always funny for the other person. These practical jokes may often be completely over the top and cause a lot of mess. A few examples that we have experienced are as follows.
- Locking people out of the house from a very young age, leaving her locked in and the adult locked out.
- Cellophane over the loo seat.
- Hiding in public places so that we would be distraught thinking that she had gone missing.
- Giving her outreach worker a blue towel to mop his brow but priming it with matching blue paint first. Yes he did end up rubbing blue paint all over his face!
- Flour and sugar left precariously balanced on cupboard shelves so that it would fall all over the person that opened the door.
- Placing chocolate on the bare back and face on one of her brother’s friends during a sleep over. Yes it did melt during the night and the poor lad woke up thinking that he had been sick in his sleep!
As with stealing these things were often done in order to enjoy the reaction of others or to punish them for an earlier perceived crime against her. We have gone with the flow with these practical jokes over the years but have also simultaneously tried to balance this by trying to help her see things from the other person’s perspective.
Telling Lies & Making up Stories
As with stealing and practical jokes I think that this falls into the same family. Some of the lies and stories that we have bore witness to can be found below.
- “I hold the world record for chewing a piece of chewing gum” my daughter triumphantly told a neighbour. “I have been chewing this piece for ten years now” she exclaimed, even though she was only eight years old at the time!
- “My social worker has a mechanical leg and has just returned from a year in the states” explained my daughter to a lady at the swimming pool.
- “I have a twin sister named Corinne”, explained my daughter to a group of children, “she is just inside the caravan right now”. Que for my daughter to run into the caravan get changed and re emerge in the role of Corinne. This continued for quite some time before the other children caught on.
- “My boyfriend is in jail for murder” my daughter casually informed a peer at the park.
The reasons for these lies and stories are perfectly summed up by the instigator of these tales herself. ‘Lies about my life and my family are to make me seem more interesting so I may tell someone that me and my family have been on the biggest roller coaster on the world. I say things like this so that people will be interested in me and like me. Other lies like for example saying “Jack, someone has run over Rosebud” I would say because I think it is funny to see the reaction. I just think it is funny and I don’t naturally think how I have made that person feel.’ Quote from my daughter.
So in this instance the lies and stories are not just to see a reaction in others but are also down to possible low self esteem and wanting to appear interesting to others. As with stealing and practical jokes we have gone with the flow with lying also. But we have also tried to balance the situation by gently and indirectly helping her to understand the effect on others and how this will affect the perception of others in relation to her.
I think that, sometimes children with PDA may need the benefit of maturing years to be established before consequences for their actions can be fully understood and realised. My daughter has come to realise, at a later age than a typically developing peer, how engaging in these actions may feel for others and how this in turn will affect how they may view her. At the age of 12 these types of behaviours are far less and continue to decrease.
Once we can begin to understand the reasons behind the behaviour it can become easier for parents to help their children to move on from the types of things described above.