When children kill their parents.

The book currently at the top of my “to read” pile is Kathleen Heide‘s Understanding Parricide. Twenty years on from her first book, Why Kids Kill Parents, this book builds on and develops the understanding from the earlier work. In this comprehensive tome, Heide relies on accounts from the literature and her own significant clinical experience, to answer the questions everyone wants to know: who, how often, what weapons, is it increasing and most of all WHY?

Her work has led her to propose three main typologies: the seriously abused, the seriously mentally ill, and the dangerously anti-social, while recognising also the influence of drugs and alcohol. There seem to be differences between those who kill as adolescents and those who kill later; and it has been suggested that there are different issues to those found to be prevalent in child to parent violence. When your child pushes you down the stairs, tries to strangle you or is coming at you with a knife, this may be small comfort. Certainly many children make threats to kill and parents talk about fearing for their lives.

With this in mind, I was interested to come across this piece in the Conversation this week, which gives a brief but clear and succinct overview of parricide. When a parent is killed: family tragedy is often a mark of our broader failings discusses the situation in Australia particularly, and accepts that there seem to be some differences with other western countries. Nevertheless, the conclusions drawn: that we should pay significantly more attention to early intervention in the mental health needs of young people in working to combat this phenomenon, applies across the world.




Filed under Book review, Discussion

2 responses to “When children kill their parents.

  1. I’ll have to read Heide’s new book. I agree that most Parricide is either reaction to abuse or linked to mental illness. However, both the past abuse and the mental illness are sometimes diagnosed after the fact with a good chance that prejudice and parent blaming will sometimes colour this. Some of the accounts of parent killers seem to assume that the parent must have deserved it and the murderers version of past events is sometimes taken at face value. The dynamics of children’s violence towards parents and parricide are mostly quite different but I am sure there is a small overlap and a few parents are probably innocent victims of over-entitled violent children. It saddens me that many people mention that children have been abused or exposed to domestic violence without mentioning that the violent parent is not usually the one who the child is violent towards. Thus those parents, almost always mothers, who have been doubly victimised are blamed by implication.

    • Thanks for this Eddie. You make some important points. I think the overlap issue is a problematic one as the risks posed to parents when young people are extremely distressed and out of control are immense. I also look forward to reading the book in full!

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