Security guards at the Chicago Ridge Mall found the boy wandering alone in the food court Thursday night, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.
They searched the mall for nearly an hour with the boy, but gave up and called police. Officers were asking the boy about his mother's identity when she showed up to retrieve him, the police report said.
She told officers the boy had been misbehaving, and she had left him on his own to "teach him a lesson," the report said.
Ernestine Willer, 52, faces a misdemeanor charge of endangering the life of a child, police said.