Q: Should we be concerned about our son’s abusive behavior? We’re constantly on him about hitting his younger siblings, and lately he’s also been hurting the dog.

Jim: Our counselors recommend that you first look for stressors that might be causing your son to act out in this way. Is there tension or dysfunction at home? Conflict between Mom and Dad? Recent or impending divorce? Is there trouble at school, bullies in the neighborhood, a death in the family or some other type of trauma or loss? Circumstances like these could touch off the angry, aggressive behavior that you’re describing. In cases like these, it’s essential to deal with the underlying cause first. Only then will it become possible to deal directly with the abusive acts that are causing you concern.

Consider whether your son’s actions can be traced to outside influences. Is there another boy in the neighborhood who treats his pets cruelly? Has your son recently been exposed to a lot of violent television or video games? Are there others in his life who display abusive tendencies? Remember, children learn by imitation and often copy what they see in the world around them.

If none of these seem likely, we suggest sitting down with your son and seeing if you can get him to pinpoint a reason for the cruel treatment he’s been dishing out. Don’t raise your voice or blow your top. Instead, draw him out gently and question him patiently. Do your best to encourage him to talk.

We’d also encourage you to contact us at 855-771-4357 for a referral to a child psychologist or family counselor in your area. This is especially important if you feel your son’s behavior indicates a pattern of abuse. Trained therapists will have many tools at their disposal that can provide you with the help you need.

Q: My wife and I have been married for six years, and overall, we have a good marriage. But her impulsive spending habits are a source of constant stress. Every month, we have the same argument when the credit card statement arrives. She cries and apologizes — and then keeps spending! What can I do?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We probably all fit that definition to some extent! But it’s clear from your description of what’s happening in your marriage that your current strategy is in need of a different approach.

Money is a very emotional topic. People spend and save for a variety of reasons that are often rooted in needs like security, comfort, relational power and validation. So, when you and your wife have your monthly credit card confrontation, you’re not just discussing dollars and cents.

Instead of reacting to the bill every month, I’d suggest you be proactive in addressing this issue. A good place you can turn to is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. His course will help you and your wife work through a budget based on principles that you both can agree on. You can find out more information by visiting daveramsey.com. Our “Focus on Finances” web page can also equip you with additional tools and resources (focusonthefamily.com/alliances/finances.aspx).

Because financial issues involve emotions and relational tension, you may also want to enlist the help of a wise and caring marriage counselor. Yes, this requires an investment of time and expense up front. But with financial stress and disagreement consistently listed as a leading cause of divorce, it’s an investment that will give your family’s finances — and your marriage — the best chance of staying on the positive side of the ledger.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.