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Daughter Mistreats Pets
Q: I am very concerned about my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She has fits of rage. Today she hit our nine-week-old puppy on the head with a plastic toy because "he chased after her ball and chewed on it." I could not believe my eyes when I saw her hit him. We have only had the puppy for a few weeks and this is the second time. The first time the puppy made her mad she threw him on the ground and kicked him. My husband was beside himself. Should we get rid of the puppy?
My daughter is our only child. She is very spoiled with toys and clothes and people who love her. She gets hugs and kisses daily from all of her wonderful family. I just don't understand why she acts this way. When she was three we had a cat briefly, until it ran away. I don't blame him. Our daughter constantly put him in drawers, threw him on the ground, and pulled his tail and we constantly explained to her why it was wrong. She cried and cried today and said she did not mean to hurt the puppy, but I just don't know what to think.
A: I think that your daughter has demonstrated that she cannot restrain herself from hurting or being unkind to cats and dogs, at least up to this point. Some little kids end up unnerving or hurting pets by hugging them too hard or swinging them around by their legs, but their purpose in the hug or the swinging around was to show affection or to play with the animal. That doesn't seem to be the case with your daughter's treatment of your former cat and current puppy.
At four-and-a-half years old, she doesn't have an internalized, fully developed conscience yet, but she certainly knows that when she kicks, she causes pain. She knows that from experience and from what you have explained to her about hitting and kicking others/pets.
I would have to know much more about your daughter to even offer an educated guess as to why she has mistreated the pets that you have owned. From what you have mentioned about her perhaps being "spoiled" and indulged, maybe she isn't ready for what she might perceive as a competitor for all that affection and attention. And I hesitate to make even that educated guess.
What is clear is her track record with animals. Two suggestions: 1. Experiment for a brief time with making her in charge of loving the puppy and praising her for doing such a good job (providing she does), while making comments like, "Boy, he seems to love you more than anyone. I think it's because you're so nice to him." You will have to keep a close eye on her, to protect the puppy. 2. Find a new home for the puppy because your daughter doesn't know how to stop herself from being unkind to animals in her house.
If you see evidence of her being unkind to animals in other situations, please consult a child therapist. I don't mean to sound alarming but any child who purposely, repeatedly tries to hurt animals needs help.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.