Child Mistreats Siblings and Animals

Should we be concerned about our oldest son's abusive behavior towards his siblings and our household pets? We're constantly getting on his case about hitting his younger siblings, and lately he's also been hurting the cat and dog. I used to think he was just aggressive or hyperactive, but now I'm not so sure. Is this behavior pathological?

The first question that comes to mind is, “What else is going on in your child’s life that might be driving him to take out his frustrations on pets and smaller, weaker siblings?” Is there tension or dysfunction at home? Conflict between Mom and Dad? Recent or impending divorce? Trouble at school, bullies in the neighborhood, a death in the family, or some other type of trauma or loss? Any one of these circumstances could touch off the kind of behavior you’re describing. If something in this list jumps out at you, or if other issues suggest themselves as likely sources of anger or aggression, we’d encourage you to go straight to the heart of the matter. Deal with the underlying cause first. Only then will it become possible to deal directly with the abusive acts that are causing you so much concern.

If you’re still baffled, ask yourself if your child’s behavior can be traced to outside influences. Is there another boy in the neighborhood who treats his pets this way? Has your son recently been exposed to a lot of violent television or video games? Are there other people in his life – friends or members of the extended family – who display abusive tendencies? Remember, children learn by imitation and often copy what they see exemplified in the world around them.

If neither of these seem likely, you’ll have to step up the intensity of your investigation. We suggest you begin by sitting down with your son and asking him what’s going on. See if you can get him to pinpoint a reason for the cruel treatment he’s been dishing out. Don’t raise your voice or blow your top. Instead, draw him out gently and question him patiently. Do your best to encourage him to talk.

We would also strongly encourage you to enlist the help of a child psychologist or family counselor. It’s particularly important that you seek out professional assistance if you feel that your son’s behavior indicates a pattern of abuse. A trained therapist will have a number of tools at their disposal, such as play therapy and personality analysis, that will help you get to the bottom of the problem.

Call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with referrals to qualified Christian counselors practicing in your community. Our staff would also consider it a privilege to discuss your needs and concerns with you over the phone.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Boundaries With Kids

The New Strong-Willed Child

The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works

Encouraging Your Kids to Discuss Their Feelings

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership


Effective Biblical Discipline

You May Also Like