This is an embarrassing situation for me. I have a strange problem with my son that I have never heard about before. He is fifteen years old and has been stealing my clothes or his sister’s clothing and cutting them up into little pieces with scissors or cutting our underwear into a thong. We have had him seeing a psychiatric therapist for over a year, with no resolution to this problem. He seems to do this without any warning or reason. I can’t link it to anger at us, although he may just not be expressing his anger. It seems like an act of anger. He doesn’t talk or express his emotions much at all.
I have required him to earn the money to buy us new clothing to replace the items he destroyed, but that has not stopped him from doing it again. Is there anything you can suggest?
The embarrassment should be his, not yours.
Completely stop all forms of coercion. Have a conversation with your son letting him know that when he feels pressure from you, he is to let you know—so you will be aware of it.
But keep your standards. When he does something that is not acceptable, simply say in a calm voice and relaxed body, “That is not acceptable. What do you suggest we do about it?”
Notice that rather than imposing a consequence you are eliciting one. Also, focus on a procedure he can use in case he gets the impulse again—rather than focusing on punishment. If he says, “I don’t know.” Replay with, “As capable as you are, we both know better. What would an extraordinary person do?” If this is not successful, have him come up with a different procedure. Continue this approach.
Also, encourage him to share with one of his friends or counselor what he has done and suggest that they may help him come up with a procedure (not punishment) which may assist him. He won’t want to take you up on this. But notice that you have employed the second practice: the empowerment of choice.
Good luck and persevere in being positive, offering choices, and asking questions that will prompt him to reflect.