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by Abigail Van Buren

Boy's Treatment of Animals Causes Alarm Among Family

DEAR ABBY: My 3-year-old grandson hurts animals. He's intelligent and articulate. He understands many concepts about all kinds of things. Frankly, I'm scared. It's because he is so intelligent and high-functioning. I feel he should have more empathy than he does.

He has been doing this off and on for the last couple of years. My daughter, my husband and I have been discouraging it the whole time. He gets timeouts, stern talks and toys taken away. It doesn't work. My daughter has started swatting his bottom or his leg hoping he will understand it is unacceptable. She isn't comfortable hitting him and neither am I. My grandson knows better. I know he does.

My daughter called me this afternoon, upset because he hurt their dog again. Must we get rid of these pets? No one wants to do that. When is it too much? How can we make it stop? -- AGHAST IN ALABAMA

DEAR AGHAST: It is already "too much." Your grandson's behavior isn't normal. Because he seems unable to appropriately interact with these helpless animals, he shouldn't be allowed to be around them without constant supervision. For the dog's own safety, another home should be found for it before it's hurt again.

Your grandson may be acting out of anger, because he has been physically or sexually abused himself or has witnessed domestic violence. This is why it's extremely important he be seen by a licensed mental health professional, who can advise his parents -- and you -- about how this should be handled. Without intervention, the boy's behavior could escalate, and he could seriously injure another child.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Mental Health | Abuse