Can you give me some guidance about how you decide if your child needs professional help? Without getting into a lot of detail, I've noticed since school is out that my son has a mean streak with animals. I had never noticed it before (we don't have any pets) but I'll give you two examples: 1. I'm seeing it a lot with insects -- he doesn't just squash an ant or a moth on the sidewalk, he stomps on it and wants to see it "smushed." 2. We were visiting overnight with cousins who had goldfish. The little girl whose job it is to feed the fish made a big deal to say that if you give them too much food, they can die. That night as I was putting him to bed, he said he wanted to go see the goldfish. I thought it was sweet. He didn't want to say goodnight to them, though; he wanted to feed them. I reminded him that they ate already and what she had told us. He said, "I know, I want to see one die. "
Is this just a boy being a boy, or is it more worrisome? He's going into second grade.
From: MeLi, Detroit
I can't think of a boy I've known who didn't like to poke dead insects with sticks or squish them or cut them up. When curiosity turns into cruelty -- where a child goes out of his/her (yes, could be a girl) way to torment an animal and takes pleasure from it, it's cause for concern. Hard to say if wanting to over-feed the fish qualifies. Honestly? I can see how that might be just curiosity. I'm talking about dropping the cat out the second floor window.
Cruelty to animals is often cited as a red flag for mental health problems and perhaps that's what's prompted you to write. The topic of cruelty to animals isn't covered in the book, "The Parents' Guide to Psychological First Aid," but editors Gerald Koocher and Annette La Greca, both psychologists, offer general guidelines for when a behavior is more than something parents can or should try to fix themselves. They write:
"The decision to seek professional help should flow form the nature, intensity and duration [their italics] of the problem, and from whether or not the problem is seriously interfering with your child's day-to-day functioning."
Only you can judge if this describes your son. But, just for a hypothetical, I'd be concerned if all he wants to do, day after day, is go outside and look for dead insects, at the exclusion of other activities. Or if, when he plays with friends, he only wants to look for dead insects or find insects to kill, and the kids don't want to play anymore, or the parents are calling to mention this to you. Or if his conversation at home is fixated on hurting animals or if he goes in search of a neighbor's pet to irritate.
When trouble-some behaviors toward animals occur repeatedly, or appear to be intentionally cruel, a professional evaluation is advised, Koocher & La Greca write. And perhaps most importantly of all, if you are worried, I would say to be safe rather than sorry. Start with your pediatrician who presumably knows your child a bit, and go from there. This discussion by the ASPCA might help you talk to your son about this.
The author is solely responsible for the content.