But between the ages of three and five, children usually begin to understand that taking someone else’s things is wrong.

If your preschooler steals something, however, don’t panic. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has some tips for you:

• Explain to your child that stealing is never OK.

• Avoid long lectures.

• Have your child return or help pay for the item she stole.

• Don’t let your child benefit from the theft in any way.

• Don’t label your child a “thief.” Treat the occurrence as a one-time mistake.

• Avoid mentioning the incident again. Let your child start off with a “clean slate.”

Keep in mind that many young children steal once. And the way you handle it can teach your child an important lesson.

Continued stealing can be a sign that your child is having emotional troubles. For example, she may be angry, jealous or in need of affection or attention. Seeing a school or private counselor can help you understand the problem and resolve it.

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