Many times kids who are adopted out of foster care, and sometimes kids adopted internationally take things. We call them thieves and we call it stealing, but again, we need to take into account the WHYS and possibly choose a different term. In the first section I will talk about kids with FASD or organic brain damage.
1) Kids with organic brain damage do not understand boundaries. What belongs to who doesn't enter their heads. So, picking up something and putting in their pocket is not a conscious thought.... We have a son with FASD who is 18. He just recently started having contact wth us again after spending some time in jail. He came by and was only visiting our home (we got him another place to stay) and I saw him with a hat on that looked a lot like one that our second to youngest got for his birthday. I asked him where he got it and he said, "I don't know. It's not mine." So I pointed out to him that if it wasn't his, maybe it shouldn't be on his head as he walked out the door.
2) Kids with organic brain damage are impulsive. They grab things and stick them in their pockets without thinking. One mom of a kid with FASD that i heard about was able to think outside the box -- she sewed all her sons pockets shut and immediately solved his "stealing" problem.
3) Kids with organic brain damage take things very literally. Our son, when he was 14, "got arrested for shoplifting at an amusement park." However, he will tell you to this day that he did not get arrested. it was a security guard who wrote him up, not a cop, and he wasn't stealing the item -- he was just taking it to show a friend.
And then there are children who do not have organic brain damage, but who are practicing learned behavior:
1) Their parents taught them to steal because they needed to steal to eat. Sneaking into a store to grab a loaf of bread or some milk for a hungry baby was perfectly acceptable and even necessary.
2) They have been neglected to the point that they have had to take food in order to eat. This also leads to hoarding and other food issues.
3) They may not have been taught to steal but there was no morality taught in their home. Knowing that stealing is "right or wrong" -- nobody has ever taught them.
And finally there is just the good old button pushing that kids from the system do to test new parents. Taking our stuff is a major button pusher.
So again, as in the concept of lying , we has to ask the question of intentionality. Does not the idea of someone being a thief mean that the person can control impulses, know that stealing is wrong, not have deveoped the habit as an impressionable child out of necessity, and realize that the item does not belong to them?
Stealing and being Thieves may not be the right words for what our children do.