Moment Of Clarity

Falling Apart: Children Who Hurt Others

With the rash of children being killed by their mother's boyfriends, now is a good time to talk about the warning signs.
Credit: Thinkstock

“Surprisingly, when working with children with emotional and behavioral problems the hardest part isn’t holding them responsible for their emotional outbursts or behavior; it’s holding parents, communities, and society responsible for being consistent.” ~Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW, CHt.

When we hear stories of minors killing their guardians most people are surprised, saddened, and confused. Some examples include the 10th grader who admitted to killing his parents right before Christmas because they “took away his iPod and stuff” and the girl who allegedly poisoned her grandmother because she took away her cell phone.

However, when kids respond with such extreme behavior in response to typical and appropriate reprimands (e.g. grounded, losing privileges, etc.), people become afraid and wonder what sparked such rage – especially toward their caregivers.

The answer is simple: They fall apart.


You can’t necessarily tell just by looking at someone if he or she would harm someone as there are plenty of sane people who do shocking things.  While there are a number of triggers that lead someone to harm another, the main underlying reason is that he or she no longer feels connected to either the other person, group, situation, or himself or herself – even for a short time. This is different from situations where people harm others because they identify with sadistic cultures and phenomenon; we’ll leave that for another time.

Falling apart refers to feeling that the connection one has to those who matter is severed; when we no longer feel connected to someone or something that has once helped us to feel whole or strong. It isn’t until after the connection is broken that an individual learns how instrumental the person or situation was in helping us feel accepted and whole.

This is where the phrase, “My world is falling apart” and “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” comes from.

Most people have felt like their world was falling apart at some point in their life. For example, the death of a parent, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or discovering one’s mate was unfaithful, or unexpectedly lost a job.

While many of us have experienced moments of falling apart, very few of us actually go and do harm to or take the life of another. The question becomes: What is it that makes children react so harshly?


Emotional regulation is essentially the ability to manage our successes and disappointments. When we are unable to sit with and learn from the ups and downs of our life experiences, life can become quite challenging. The way people develop the ability to regulate their emotions is by learning how to perform different psychological functions for themselves such as delayed gratification, optimism, and trust.

Here’s why our relationships with our caregivers and environment become very important: we learn how to regulate our emotions from them!

Helping kids to grow and learn often requires one to be objective in the administration of punishments, consistent, and fair. When adults act out of anger or humiliation, and do not help the child to recover from the separation afterwards, this leaves the child to try to heal himself in ways that are often unhealthy.

There is a wonderful poem called, “Children Live What The Learn” by Dorothy Law Nolte, check it out HERE.


1) Tell your child what you notice he is good at doing and support his efforts.

2) If your child makes a mistake, try to reframe the mistake as an opportunity to learn something.

3) Temper your disappointment or anger by talking about the child’s behavior and not the child.

4) Punishments should be time limited and appropriate. Putting a child on punishment for the entire summer because she forgot to make her bed is unhelpful and over the top — what would be more effective?

5) After emotions have settled, talk with your child about why he was punished and what the lesson was behind the punishment.

6) Remind her that you will always love her, even if you disapprove of her behavior.

7) Let him know that there will be times in his life where things will seem to go against him. When this happens, these are gifts from above trying to help him learn something good. Once he learns the lesson, the sun shines brighter and all is well in the world again.

8) If you don’t know what else to say to your child, smile and try saying this: “I know this feels tough, but I promise the sky won’t fall. And, if it does, we ALL have a bigger problem.” It helps her build perspective and hold on.

I hope this was helpful to you and yours. Please share this with others as you never know who could benefit from reading it. As always, your comments are welcomed and I ask that you share them along with your wisdom in the section below.

With love and light … pleasant journeys.

Jinnie Cristerna

Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW, CHt

Do you have a question for our “Moment of Clarity” JET Therapist, Jinnie? Email us at We’ll be sure to keep it anonymous and confidential. 

Jinnie Cristerna, affectionately known as “The High Achievers Therapist”, works with talented people to help them release emotional pain and psychological roadblocks so they can achieve their personal and professional goals. Specializing in psychotherapy, heart centered hypnotherapy, vibrational energy, meditation, and personality development, Jinnie has a nearly 90% success rate with her clients.  Sign up for Jinnie’s High Achiever newsletter here or join her on Facebook and Twitter!