People often assume that a thief steals for a reason. However, link the truth is that stealing doesn’t always have a practical purpose and not everyone who steals is a “thief” in the true sense of that word. A child may be caught stealing something he doesn’t really want nor need, pharm something he already has, or something of very little value. A child may also steal for the sake of stealing, not because of a need for attention, a desire for revenge or a show of inadequacy. When someone steals without any obvious gain, it is possible that he or she is suffering from a mental health condition called kleptomania.
What is Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is a mental health condition characterized by a strong urge to steal, and a feeling of relief after stealing. It’s an impulse-control disorder, similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, where the patient suffers from persistent thoughts and repetitive patterns of behavior. Kleptomania usually has its onset in young adulthood, but there are cases of kids as young as 5 years old with Kleptomania.
Are Kleptomaniacs Criminals?
Kleptomania must be distinguished from the criminal act of stealing, or the willful and knowing theft of someone else’s property. People with Kleptomania steal not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. They experience extreme anxiety when they do not give in to the behavior of stealing, and stealing is the only way they can get relief. They know that what they do is wrong, but they can’t help it. In fact, many kleptomaniacs steal things that have little value, such as paper clips or tissue paper rolls. They may also return what they have stolen afterwards, as they are not particularly interested in the stolen object itself, but rather the act of stealing.
How is Kleptomania Treated?
The dynamics behind Kleptomania point to how the condition should be handled by parents, teachers and helping professionals.
It’s recommended that Kleptomaniacs (those who suffer from Kleptomania) not be punished for their stealing, as they have a mental health condition that needs help and healing – not punishment. In fact, many researchers argue that Kleptomania, like all impulse-control issues, may have a physiological origin. Abnormally low amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain may be the cause of Kleptomania.
Counseling is an appropriate first response to a child with Kleptomania. Except for really young children, people with Kleptomania are aware that what they are doing is dysfunctional and they are often stressed, even depressed, about what they are going through. Helping a child vent his or her feelings over the inability to control impulses is a good start.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been known to assist children with Kleptomania in managing their urges and compulsion. Skills in stress and anxiety management are also helpful, as it is stress and anxiety that often compel a kleptomaniac to steal. Gradually sensitizing a child to the impact of stealing on other people can also be a way to help kids with Kleptomania manage their condition.
When therapy alone fails to cure the condition, psychotropic medicine of the type used for obsessive-compulsive disorder may be prescribed.