Very Bad Behavior

The Bug Crusher

You see the backyard as a refuge, but to your kid it's a place to explore, which sometimes may mean poking and prodding tiny creatures.

Who does it? Toddlers and preschoolers

What they're thinking Usually they're simply curious. "Kids are really interested in cause and effect--they don't understand that what they're doing causes pain," Dr. LaRocque explains. It could also have to do with his perception of bugs, she adds. "If a child has seen adults killing them, he may view them as pests."

How to deal It's your job to instill in your child respect for all living things (even if the fact that you swat flies or set mousetraps makes you feel like a hypocrite). When you catch your kid in the insect-killing act, start by acknowledging that you know he is just having fun; then explain why it's not okay, says Michelle Maidenberg, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in child-development and parenting issues. "Say, 'I know you like stepping on the ants--but they are living creatures, just like we are. They have a body and blood just like we do, and what you're doing could hurt them.' " This important lesson helps teach children impulse control and to consider how their actions affect others, which can carry over to how they treat schoolmates and siblings.

When to call an expert You should be worried if your child is truly torturing the little creatures, especially if he's taking pleasure in it. Doing something like abusing an animal such as a cat or a dog, which is more common among older children, can be a sign of future antisocial behavior.

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