This is the end of the anger road. The behavior
has become an end in itself. Your child’s hurting someone because he was angry
with them was a serious problem; but hurting them just to see them suffer is
very disturbed behavior.
Although a little teasing and tormenting among
children usually are only good fun, too much is a serious problem. It works
like this. When children are about five or six, they begin to see things as
others see them. It is as if they momentarily become the other person and feel
what they feel. This is called empathy. By grade school, they do this fairly
automatically most of the time. One value of empathy is knowing when other
people are hurting physically or emotionally. If they are, your child feels
badly and wants to help. This is how he tells when enough teasing and tormenting
are enough. When it stops being fun and starts hurting, enough is enough.
Knowing just when to stop is a problem; but most children know about where the
line is and respect it.
Children who are intentionally cruel and get
pleasure from the behavior are across the line. They want to see the other
person suffer. Empathy or the pain of the other person does not stop the
behavior. Usually, children showing this sign have themselves been victims of
abusive behavior and have well-learned what they were taught.
Be sure no one in your home torments your child
physically or emotionally. Further, keep teasing to a minimum and assure no one
tries to retaliate against your child when he does something for which others
may want retribution. Neither you nor anyone else in your family should try to
teach him a lesson by hurting him. He needs gentleness, firm guidance, and a
predictable family. Your primary approach needs to be talking with him about
his behavior, the feelings and pain of others, and about his angry emotions.
A related sign involves sexually aggressive
behavior. This is usually perpetrated by boys on girls but may involve children
of either sex with children of either sex. Typically, the behavior involves an
older or bigger youngster forcing sexual involvement with a younger or smaller
child. The key is the element of coercion and the inability of the victim to
stop or prevent the behavior. If this type of behavior comes up with your
child, take it very seriously. It is not a “children will be children”
kind of thing and often indicates a serious behavior disorder requiring
immediate, specialized attention. At a minimum, discuss the behavior with a
specialist in the area of children’s sexually disordered behavior, keeping in
mind most “therapists” are not experts in this area. Similarly, the
victim of sexually aggressive behavior needs specialized help too. Most
therapists who work successfully with children have expertise with victims.