A Dilemma, what would you do?

Last week I met a miniature thief. I was doing a craft fair, in a busy hall, full of families with young children and with a nice buzzy atmosphere. My table was full and on the front edge, perhaps too easily accessible to small hands were three little bowls with low priced hand-made beaded bracelets. A small girl perhaps three or four years old came across, on her own, and studied them. After a few minutes she started picking them up, looking at the colours and trying them for size on her tiny wrist. I could see she liked the bright colours. Just as an older lady came up to talk to me she grabbed three of them and trotted away. My chin dropped and I asked the lady if she had seen it happen. She had half seen and guessed because she noticed the look on my face. I meanwhile was trying to track the child’s path across the hall. She disappeared into a corner where a few people, children and adults, were gathered. I made note of the colours she was wearing and kept looking that way in between talking to potential customers.

I didn’t know what to do. When everyone had moved on I came out from behind my table, walked part of the way across the room and looked at where I had last seen her. I wasn’t sure which if any of the little girls still there was her and with a sigh I returned. I mentioned it to a young woman at the next table but she was busy and had no idea who the child was or what was best to do. I decided I should probably right it off, the items didn’t have much monetary value, but they had been crafted with love. The strange thing is there have been times when I’ve seen little ones really, really wanting something on the stall who clearly could not afford to buy it, so I’ve given it as a gift.

I brooded. Then I saw her clearly again with a woman, very young who had to be her mother. Okay should I go and say something. A couple of people came to chat again and for a few minutes I couldn’t do anything, then lo and behold the mother came my way with the little girls hand firmly in hers. I was embarrassed but raised my eyebrows and said hello, pointing at the bracelets that mum had in her hand. She looked at my table and knew it was where they came from.

‘Are these yours she asked?’

‘ Uh yes, she obviously liked them because she helped herself and ran off, I didn’t know what to do – I didn’t want to upset her or make her feel bad (thinking all the time that she her behaviour was bad!) but she needs to know that it’s wrong.’

Mum said ‘She’s done it before.’ Apparently she has seen things in shops and said to her mum ‘why don’t we just take it?’ Mum was profusely sorry and embarrassed so I tried to be kind, while reinforcing that little girl needs to learn quickly that it’s wrong. They left then. This has never happened to me before after doing craft fairs for about five years. My question is what should I have done? Actually it probably has happened, other people have had things disappear from their tables. Should I have stormed over behind the girl and made a fuss right away? Suppose they had left immediately without the mum doing anything? or the child could have dropped it in a corner, having got bored with it, then another could have picked it up and ‘found’ it. Tricky things to deal with, when it’s a very young child. What would you have done?