An ethological study of child's kleptomania case.
Authorized translation from Russian by Vladimir Chestnov
Authorized translation from Russian by Vladimir Chestnov
In the beginning of 2002 I was approached by Tatiana L. on the subject of her
9-year old son Sergey's kleptomania case (the boy's name changed). A half-year
ago the first signs of this condition had been revealed and roughly coincided
with the boy's drop in performance on one of his school classes, which caused
some tension in relationship with his class teacher.
Of course, the mother was quick to explain to her son how unacceptable such kind of behavior was but the "lost and found" petty little things kept appearing at home. Two month prior to her visit to me Sergey's behavior had been noticed at school, which caused a drastic surge of his popularity among the students and teachers. At the same time, despite of the severe criticism and strict control the kleptomaniac behavior had become worse and, accordingly, the tensions had grown as strong as never before. Though the notion of a school change hovered in the air, still there was a concern that the story might continue at a new school.
In order to avoid that a theoretical case analysis was required, which should lead to some practical recommendations.
In first of all I had to make sure that it was a kleptomania case indeed, rather than a common petty theft. However, hardly there was any doubt. All these pens, notepads, badges and similar flashy trinkets could have no intrinsic value for the boy, since he had plenty of his own of this kind. Sergey realized that all these petty thefts would escalate his relationships at school, however, he was unable to stop it.
Ethologists believe that instinctive kleptomania could arise as a result of a lower position within the group hierarchy and is a biological defensive reaction, conditioned by the short supply of resources, which is characteristic of the group members of the low rank in the natural environment. It has to be stressed out that it is the lower rank, which is the releaser for kleptomaniac behavior, rather then the short supply of resources per se. The short supply of person's resources may or may not be the independent consequence of a lower rank, which at the first glance makes the kleptomaniac reaction look paradoxical.
Then my attention was drawn to the very high level of (the patient's - V.C.) neurotic and hysterical behavior, which pointed to Sergey's heightened primativeness(*), and accordingly, heightened instinctivity of his behavioral reactions. His rank potential turned out to be rather medium, though quite mosaic.
(Nevertheless - V.C.) His higher rank ambitions, revealed through his high conflict initiativeness (i. e. "bulling", in simple word) and especially grown during the escalation of the conflict were coupled with his rather low conflict fortitude, that is, the low ability to "hold" (withstand) strikes. Despite of the number of his self-provoked conflicts he would invariably lose them, which greatly reduced his rank in his group and in a quite visible way. It would reveal itself in the constant open badgering of the boy by his peers, along with, to our greatest regret, his pedagogues.
So, having taking into account Sergey's high primativeness, his lower hierarchical status in his class, as well as the dynamics of the kleptomaniac process, getting worse as long as his hierarchical rank gets lower (starting at the weak stage as a response to his performance criticism, and up to very pronounced one as a result of the open badgering him as an "omega"), the hypothesis of Sergey's kleptomaniac case being a reaction to his lower hierarchical rank should be considered quite proven. Hence, Sergey's hierarchical rank in school had to be improved. However, to gain in a hierarchical pyramid, especially from the so sharply revealed bottom level was quite unrealistic. The only real way was to try to get a new, not so low rank among some new group where Sergey's current quite low rank would be unknown. Therefore the school really needed to be changed as soon as possible. But not any other school would do in our case. It was explained to Sergey that in the new school he should avoid conflict situations as much as possible, that is, avoid rather than yield. If a group member stays out of conflicts, his RP (rank potential) is not quite clear to his peers. His rank stays rather hidden and that was exactly what we needed in our case.
It was also important that the new school would not have a marked instinct-based hierarchy. The distinctiveness of such hierarchy depends on the rank ambitions of its students and the position of their pedagogues. A good pedagogue should prevent such hierarchical relationship among children from starting and promote the notions of equality and altruism. Usually it is possible to evaluate a pedagogue's professional credo beforehand.
School status is indirectly linked to its students' hierarchical ambitions. I recommended Tatiana to stay out of elite schools. Such kind of school will attract ambitious parents, whose children inherit or adopt their ambitions; therefore the hierarchical situation tends to be more intensive in such kind of schools. But low-end schools should also be avoided. Beyond anything else, these could also have a harsh hierarchy, though caused by high primativeness level rather than ambitions. The best choice in our situation would be a good, medium kind school with no pretension for elite status.
To our relief,(at last - V. C.) such school was located. There Sergey was accepted as a regular member of the team, without any badgering or persecution up to now; the kleptomaniac behavior has not resumed also. Since three years have already passed since the described events, the carried-out analysis and given recommendations can be concluded as correct.