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Kleptomania Or Habit Of Stealing In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

Juvenile delinquency or minor crimes done by young people, especially children comes under a public health concern as it is not only related to the safety of children, but also may affect the well-being of society.

Kleptomania is one among the juvenile delinquencies and also a mental health condition that is diagnosed under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

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So, what exactly is kleptomania in children and its causes, symptoms and treatments? Take a look.

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What Is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder, a type of mental health disorder, characterised by repetitive episodes of compulsive stealing.

In kleptomania, the stealing is often in the form of shoplifting or say, taking items from a goods store, from bags, from pockets or from under the clothes without informing or paying the concerned person. [1]

Also, the items which are stolen by kleptomaniacs are probably of little worth, which usually is not needed to be stolen.

The compulsion of stealing things in these people is also against their egos and unacceptable to their selves. This raises the feeling of excitement and tension simultaneously. Though stealing often gives them a sense of immediate relief, it is soon followed by guilt and shame.

Prevalence Of Kleptomania In Children

Kleptomania is a stealing disease that is highly prevalent in children. According to a study, the prevalence of onset of kleptomania in the general population is very low, around 0.3-0.6 per cent, and the average age of onset of kleptomania is around 18-19 years. [2]

The study also mentions that the frequency of stealing increases with age and it could be high among 12-18 years old.

Causes Of Kleptomania In Children

The relationship between stealing and psychiatric disorder in children could be associated with bipolar disorder and many impulse control disorders.

Some of the causes include poor grades, regular smoking, hopelessness, sadness, alcohol and drug use and many other antisocial behaviours.

Such adolescent antisocial behaviours can deeply affect society, including victimisation and distress in children and problems of life opportunities. [3]

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Another study links kleptomania with childhood trauma and abusive and neglectful parents, saying that this habit of stealing in children can be because of repossessing the losses of childhood. [4]

Kleptomania in children is also sometimes linked to sexual repression in which the children are unable to talk openly about their sexual identity. In other cases, the act of stealing is learned by parents and caregivers in the first place.

Physical causes of kleptomania in children include low levels of serotonin, brain injury and imbalance in the brain's opioid system. [5]

Symptoms Of Kleptomania In Children

Most of the symptoms of kleptomania in children are related to depressive and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The symptoms include:

  • Irresistible urge to steal items without even needing them.
  • Urges of stealing without any intention of personal gain, revenge, anger or dare.
  • Unplanned stealing and without the help of another person.
  • Great sense of relief or pleasure after stealing
  • Increased anxiety or tension leads to theft.
  • Feeling of guilt and shame simultaneously after stealing and fear of arrest.
  • Recurrent urges of stealing.

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Diagnosis Of Kleptomania In Children

Kleptomania in children is diagnosed based on the symptoms described in the DSM-5. Some children might themselves seek medical attention or with the help of their parents, if they have an absolute feeling of guilt, understanding of the impact and trouble in keeping friends due to the habit of stealing. [6]

In most cases, kleptomania is diagnosed in children after they have been caught stealing or arrested due to shoplifting. These children are referred to psychiatrists for a confirmed diagnosis of the condition and better treatment to improve their quality of life.

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Can Kleptomania Be Treated?

The answer is yes. Kleptomania is a mental health issue that could be treated with a detailed analysis of the child's family history, history of any medical or psychological conditions, medications and customised treatment programs.

The primary treatment method is psychotherapy or counselling. The goal of counselling is to understand the underlying cause which is triggering the impulse behaviour in children and leading them to steal.

It also includes making the children understand how to control their urges in a good and appropriate way. Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps treat both the behaviours and thoughts in children with kleptomania. [7]

The therapy is followed by antidepressant medications that may help prevent their urge and relax them without any need for stealing.

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To Conclude

Kleptomania can cause severe emotional consequences as well as many relationships and bonding issues, if continued till adulthood. Therefore, it is necessary to keep a check on your child's behaviour and consult a medical expert soon for early treatment.