How You Should Respond When Your Child Shows Aggression Towards Your Family Pet


When your little one came home from the hospital, you may have had some concerns about how your family pets would cope with this new tiny human. Many pets just need a bit of time to adjust, and they will get along just fine with the new addition to their home.

As your child grows, he will need to learn the appropriate ways to interact with cats, dogs, birds, fish, and other pets in the home. It’s unpleasant and sad for the pet, but it’s not unusual to see your toddler grabbing at your pet’s fur and hurting it. Or you may see your child pick up a cat only to get scratched when the cat doesn’t like it.

You likely corrected the behavior so that your toddler knew how not to hurt your pet. But what do you do if it’s an older child or teenager showing aggression to the pet in your home?

How to respond if your teen shows aggression towards pets

Your first instinct is likely going to be anger. Pets love without condition, and it can be devastating to see them hurt. Sadness and fear may also follow, but what comes next? How should you respond?

Don’t ignore the behavior

You will need to intervene as soon as the behavior is recognized. Safety needs to be your priority. Your pet will need to be protected from further aggressive behavior, whether that looks like putting him outside, in a room on his own, or having a family member coming to get him temporarily.

Choosing to ignore the behavior is not only putting your pet at further risk of harm but also potentially allows your troubled teen to escalate his behavior if left unchecked. If he is allowed to hurt animals, he is at a higher risk of being violent later on. He needs to learn how to control his anger and his aggression as he inches closer to adulthood.

Stay calm

While your first instinct will likely be to yell and allow your emotions to run, this is not necessarily the right approach. It is absolutely a situation infused with upset, fear, and confusion. But it’s important to stay calm as you work through this situation. If need be, remove yourself from the home while you take the time to let yourself calm down and evaluate your next step.

You may find it helpful to call in reinforcements. Another parent, grandparents, or friends who can help to be a calming presence in a tense situation can prove priceless.

Is this a normal developmental phase?

Toddlers will often go through a hitting phase. This is quite normal and does end when they learn boundaries. Some children may squash ants or spiders in the backyard, but it’s quite unusual for them to hurt pets and other small animals.

Studies have demonstrated several worrying connections between cruelty to animals in childhood to serious concerns as a teenager or adult. It is never considered to be a normal part of your child’s development to hurt animals.

What does this say about your child?

News stories and serial killer documentaries will have you believe that all acts of violence against animals are signs of something very frightening to come for your teen. The truth is that sometimes it truly is a lapse of judgment and points to a need to help your teen better develop his coping skills. This is something that requires the help of professionals who are trained to handle difficult behavioral situations.

This type of behavior is seen most often in adolescent boys. They may also have a history of poor behavior that includes skipping schools, vandalism, and bullying.

Why are pets the target?

If this is unusual and new behavior for your teen, you may be wondering why the family pet is now the target of your teenager’s anger and aggression.

There are two possible reasons that you could point to as being behind the behavior:

  • 1. Your teen has zero control over his anger, and he is venting it at everything around him. Siblings and parents can also find themselves the target of anger and aggression. Your teen who is struggling with anger may be yelling, throwing, and breaking things around the home. They may also be mirroring this behavior at school.
  • 2. The pet won’t be able to speak up for itself and may not bite or scratch when it’s hurt. A teenager who is looking for control may find that he feels power when he hurts others. He may also be bullying his siblings or other children at school and in the neighborhood.

What does it say about your family?

There are many theories about what might be influencing a child showing aggression to a pet, including experiences within the home. Seeing a teen act out with aggression to a pet could point to several concerns, including:

  • A lack of knowledge and education. There may not have been firm boundaries put in place when it comes to knowing how to treat pets. Your child may not know that their behavior is wrong.
  • They could be modeling the very same behavior that they see in others around them.
  • They could have acted impulsively, and the behavior was accidental.
  • He may have witnessed or experienced violence in the home.

Keep in mind that poor behavior is not always indicative of bad parenting. Teens who are struggling may just lack the coping skills that they need to be well-adjusted adults.

Steps you need to take

Once things in the home are calm, you should open up the conversation and speak with your child. Try to uncover what might have led to the aggression towards the pet.

Ask the following questions to get to the root of the behavior:

  • Was he angry?
  • Did the pet bite him?
  • Has something happened at school?
  • Has something happened within the home?

Communicate with your child and speak with other family members, teachers, and other adults in your child’s life. The more you can learn about what else is happening in your child’s life, the better you’ll understand how to get through this challenging situation.

A situation that is as serious as being cruel to animals should not be handled on your own.

Getting the help your family needs

You shouldn’t have to have fears about the safety of your family and your pets. Getting help is a crucial part of protecting everyone in your home. It is also important for helping your child to learn the right boundaries and behaviors.

Counseling can prove beneficial. School and family counselors can provide helpful resources. Anger management skills are important to learn as a part of therapy. Learning the appropriate coping skills and behaviors in adolescence can help to keep your teen from facing several issues as he enters into adulthood.

A therapeutic boarding school can offer the structure and help that your teen needs. Whether facing anger issues, a lack of impulse control, or mental wellness concerns, a therapeutic boarding school will offer treatments that are tailored to the needs of the individual. Call us at Liahona Academy to find out how we can provide the guidance your family needs.

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