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NGonzalez, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 56
Experience:  15 yrs of clinical experience, relationship issues, marriage & family therapy, eating disorders
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My 2 1/2 year old son has been showing agression towards animals

Customer Question

My 2 1/2 year old son has been showing agression towards animals for about a year now. This is mostly towards our pet cats. He chases them, hits them, kicks them, lays on them, etc. Recently he cut a pet cat at his dads house on one of their paws with a pair of scissors. This has caused major concern and I'm looking for advice. We reinforce all the time that we don't hurt animals and that it's not ok. He has shown this aggression towards people as well. When someone tells him something hurts he is more likely to do it again (and harder) rather than stop and apologize.
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  NGonzalez replied 7 years ago.



Thank you for your question. I can certainly understand why you feel some concern about your son's behavior. It sounds like you have tried some age appropriate techniques and I would encourage you to continue to use them. An immediate intervention for his own safety and for animals is to either supervise all contact with animals, or either limit the contact or stop it until the behavior changes.


Children between two and four years of age show aggressive outbursts such as temper tantrums and hurting others or damaging toys and furniture because they are frustrated. This behavior can escalate to animals and may be an indication that the level of frustrating has intensified and he is struggling with managing the intensity of the feelings. Children may go through a brief period of aggressive behavior if they are worried, tired, or stressed. If the behavior continues for more than a few weeks, parents should talk to pediatrician to rule out an physical problems that result in feeling frustrated and also consider taking them to therapy. Therapy can help children learn appropriate ways of managing their feelings. If the aggression becomes a daily pattern for more than three to six months, it could be a serious problem.


Parents can control the aggressive child is various ways. For example, you should intervene quickly but calmly to interrupt the aggression and prevent the child from hurting another person or animal. Younger children may need a time-out to calm down and before rejoining a group(one minute per age). You may need to repeat the time-out many times to give the message that you will not tolerate this behavior. It can be very tedious but its important to not surrender to your own frustration or buy into the notion that it is not working. Children will test limits which means poor behavior or refusal of accepting consequences could last for hours, days or even weeks. However, if you consistently provide the consequence they will eventually accept them and behavior will change.


Simple rules about appropriate behavior are easier for a child to understand than lengthy explanations. For example, we do not hurt animals rather than explaining why that is so important. Parents can affirm feelings while stressing that all feeling cannot be acted upon. "I know you are angry but its not okay to hurt animals, please use your words and tell me how you feel."


It is important to remember that parents should not expect the aggressive child to be reasonable when he or she is upset. The child may need time to calm down and may need adult support. Encourage you child to come to you when he is upset, hopefully, before violence occurs.


Finally, consider therapy if the behavior continues despite your intervention and if his aggressive behavior intensifies. Its important to get support from a professional to ensure that this behavior does not get reinforced and becomes a serious problem later.


I hope this information is helpful. Best wishes to you and your family.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
What could be the cause of this agression? I believe this to be more than just the average two year old testing the rules/limits considering he got so violently upset with a cat to go get scissors and cut the cat's paw because of it.
Expert:  NGonzalez replied 7 years ago.

Thank you for your follow-up question. I agree that it may be more than typical 2-year-old aggression but without actually talking to your son and knowing more about your life circumstance it's impossible for me to really know the cause.

Sometimes its related to changes in the family that although they may seem minimial to adults are significant to children (recent move, new family member, death, changes in daily structure, illness in the family). It could be as a result of personality and temperament, as a result of an interaction with someone in the family in which he felt neglected, jealous, or another intense feeling. Sometimes is about an interaction with extended family, neighbor, other child, mimicking something he saw or heard, whether on TV or in other children.

In other words, there are many possible reasons, including something more serious as a conduct disorder. I'm sorry I cannot tell you something specifically but if you are willing to take him to therapy there is a good chance you will know what is motivating his behavior and whether its developmental, situational or more serious. I can tell you that you are right to be concerned and that its in his best interest that you seek some assistance to get a clear understanding of what is motivating his behavior.

You can try talking to him about his feeling, of which I think is important, but children tend to withhold their feelings when talking to parents because the fear of disappointing them or being "punished" is so high at this age. He think as a 2-year-old which means its very hard for them to understand that you will not be angry if he tells you what is motivating his behavior.

I hope I answered your question.