I'm a single parent of 2 kids ages 11 and 9. 16 months ago, I started dating my current girlfriend. She has 4 boys ages 6-11. Her and her ex have been divorced almost 5 years and they share custody so the dads still part of the equation.

My girlfriend told me that her youngest would wish he was dead and give detail of how he would kill himself. This started at 4 and he's almost 7. I never witnessed it until we moved in together.

In the last year, I have heard him say how much he hates himself, hates his mom, hates my kids and hates his brothers and now hates me. He's threatened to kill him self several times, threatened to kill his brothers, threatened to kill my daughter and my son.

He wishes he never lived with us and wished we didn't exist. His older brothers do antagonize him but most of the time he is the instigator by calling names and slapping his siblings. He also goes into a complete shutdown mode when he is reprimanded or punished.

The mom does the punishment and it usually involves taking away something. His dad is very lenient and basically when he is with him, there are no rules. We always try to do what's best for all the kids. We always see a difference after with him and his siblings after there week with the father.

She has called several psychiatrists and seen one but nothing was ever resolved. What could be wrong with him?

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    Hi and welcome. "What could be wrong with him?" is a bit broad; over the internet and with the little bit of information we have been given (and can get), it's anyone's guess. Whatever it is, it sounds pretty painful for him. He needs a good child psychiatrist/therapist, one he can stick with. This won't be resolved in one or even a few visits. Family therapy might also be beneficial, as well as a more effective method of disciplining (not the same as punishment.) I wish you all the best. Feb 23, 2017 at 6:41
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    After reading through I have to agree with @anongoodnurse. I think a child psychiatrist/therapist would be a very good idea. To get to the bottom of this we would have to see it from the child's perspective and unfortunately on this platform we can't. You have to find the right one and it takes time. One visit is not enough.
    – Bugs
    Feb 23, 2017 at 8:20
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    These are very real threats and at some point (maybe not right away) he'll start trying to carry them out. Please take him to a therapist or psychiatrist.
    – L.B.
    Feb 23, 2017 at 13:27
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    I am sure you are worried, not only for the child, but for the other children. From my pov, we did see kids with 'problems' in school and the solution was always getting professional help. We can guess at what the possible problems are, but we can't know and nor can we make suggestions other than to get help. I hope you'll come back and share the process with us and perhaps we can help with the day-to-day concerns for a diagnosed issue, and with ideas for discipline and so on, but not until we know what is going on. We might be able to help with 'little' bits, but not the entire issue.
    – WRX
    Feb 23, 2017 at 14:14
  • @L.B. OP says, very clearly, that they have taken the child to several psychiatrists.
    – user19912
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


I was not sure if I should answer this because as anongoodnurse pointed out, this sounds like a complicated situation with many possible interpretations, even for professionals who are on site. Obviously a lot is going on around this kid, so the first thing is really to decide if this is more than childhood tantrums, emotional transitions etc etc. As your gf has contacted the psychiatrist, I am guessing her parenting instincts tell her that yes, this is something more and she needs help with this.

I decided to bite the bullet to put down some links on childhood depression: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-children#1

Lifted from the link: most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance.

I want to emphasize that depression can show up differently in children and adults. https://www.mindwell.us/differences-childhood-adult-depression/ A loss of interest in things that they usually take pleasure in is also a red flag in children.

Because this has been going on from 4-7, it will be helpful if she can recall earlier events to see if there was a transition point and possible trigger events. This history will also be useful to any professional who sees him subsequently.

Bear in mind that depression usually signals something deeper. When that something deeper is identified and addressed, the child will get better.

On professionals, I am surprised that she contacted psychiatrists rather than psychologists or even counsellors. Is there a particular reason why? They are related but they do different work. A psychiatrist can rule out that his behavior does not stem from biological causes (e.g. chemical imbalance). He cannot offer much help beyond that partly because of the child's young age. A psychologist cannot test for chemical imbalance, but he can do personality profiling, socio-emotional developmental profiling, and locate any missing or delayed areas. A competent one should also provide you with tools and strategies to help the child develop in those areas, or refer the child on for further help(eg with occupational therapist, audiologist) as he thinks may require.

Here is more on their differences: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/psychologist-or-psychiatrist-which-for-you#1

I will also very much encourage approaching the school counsellors and any other trusted adults for assistance. There can be things going on in school that we at home cannot be aware of. It can be social issues, or it can be undiagnosed learning disabilities that show up most in school if you are not actively coaching the child. Both of these can wear a child down and make him feel like a failure every day, over and over again. He may also feel more able to open up to another adult when discussing his feelings towards school and home.

If the situation is revolving mainly around home, I will consider if he is being treated like the runt of 4 brothers among other things. It will be good to put aside 2 time slots a week: a 1-1 with him (appreciation time), and a family activity to improve bonding. If weekly is too difficult to achieve, try every two weeks instead. To squeeze the maximum returns out of this time, consider using tips from the 5 Love Languages of Children. https://www.amazon.com/5-Love-Languages-Children/dp/0802403476.

Regarding discipline, given that he is already very negative, try to gear towards positive reinforcement, setting achievable targets in tandem with teaching him strategies to cope with negative emotions. E.g deep breathing to calm down, go for a walk, go to his peaceful corner (you have to make one for that) etc. So if he manages to moderate a meltdown halfway and walks off to his peaceful corner and starts howling there, that is progress. (1 sticker) I may also be more old-fashioned in the sense that I will require the older children to hold back during a provocation and give me the space to deal with this instead of adding oil to fire. This does not mean condoning his behavior, but it means keeping a lid on the situation. Mum can make it clear that she appreciates their help with this.(1 sticker) Put up individual reward chart and family reward chart. Stickers go on individual AND family chart and the family bonding outing can be the reward for all their combined "goodness" (patience, understanding, self-control).

All the best!

  • I'd bet it depends on where the OP lives. In Canada for example, a psychiatrist is covered by government medical insurance and a psychologist is not. So it could be as simple as what they can afford.
    – WRX
    Feb 23, 2017 at 14:06
  • +1 for distinction between psychiatrists and psychologists --- an important difference Feb 23, 2017 at 15:42
  • @Justus In Canada where I lived, a social worker (which is covered by government insurance) could be used instead of a psychologist. My degree in social work had a large psychological component. If expense is an issue, there are many charities that can help. Your local government should have lists of city services and charities.
    – WRX
    Feb 24, 2017 at 14:46
  • -1 for how at least one psychiatrist didn't practice medicine that way. An actively suicidal person should be seeing a doctor.
    – Stu W
    Feb 26, 2017 at 20:52

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