My Child’s Violent Threats

threaten with pencilBullying and violent threats are top concerns for many parents. There is a lot of info about what to do if your child is bullied or threatened  but look at the flip-side. What should you do if your child is the bully or makes violent threats? This mom of a kindergartener gets more details.

Question: I am the mother of identical twin boys, age 5 but soon to be 6. I’m not sure if you can help me, however perhaps you can direct me to someone who can. My boys are in the Early Intervention Kindergarten Program. The reason they are in this program is because they were speech delay when they were younger. Today I got a letter sent home stating that one of the twins was threatening the teacher.

What triggered this may sound silly, however the teacher asked him to change a Capital letter to a lower case letter. He became angry and told the teacher “I’m going to bring a weapon to school tomorrow”. The teacher spoke to him about what a threat was and told him he would go to the principal if he made any other threat. He then held his pencil in his fist, aimed it at the teacher, and said “I’m going to stab you”.

On Tuesday there was an incident that two substitute teachers were in, and he told the classroom assistant he was going to bring his stapler to school to get her. He was sent to the principal’s office. I don’t know what was said at the principals office, however there was note that said if he continued with threats or physical aggression it may result in an out of school suspension. Needless to say this is very disturbing to us. Any advice on this kind of behavior would be greatly appreciated.

Concerned about “Homeland Security”

Answer: Dear Concerned,

I feel as though I am only getting a small piece of the picture, and it is challenging for me to give advice without knowing all the factors. For instance, you write that your son is a twin. I do not know how his brother reacted to any of this, or if he contributed in any way. You write about some scary behavior at school, but do not say what his behavior is like at home. I also can’t tell if this is the first time he made such violent threats, if he ever acts on them, or what is his baseline frustration/ tolerance level?

Despite this, I will provide some general guidelines.

The boys are five, almost six years old. At this age behavior is often modeled from others in his environment. When I hear of a young child behaving aggressively there are a few questions that come to mind. Is he exposed to violence on TV, movies or video games? There are many studies linking observing aggression, and learned behavior. One of the most famous studies is by Bandura a classical learned behavior theorist. He observed that children behaved most aggressively after watching aggressive cartoons, more so than other TV aggression or even a short segment of real life aggression. Keeping this in mind, I would take a second look at what he is watching, and limit him to more child-friendly shows and video games.

I also would like to know if anyone is bullying him. Kids who were victimized this way, may turn the tables in order to feel strong and in control.

How is misbehavior dealt with in your home? Children who are punished with corporal punishment, are very likely to behave aggressively in school.

You mentioned a speech delay. Is your son better able to express himself now? Unfortunately, kids who have difficulty communicating verbally may become very frustrated. It is not unusual for a child like this to lash out, out of anger and frustration.

Last but not least, what about his twin? Identical twins are very close and often share feelings and experiences. If this behavior is apparent with only one of the boys, it may be indicative of a unique situation that he faces, as apposed to something more innate in their wiring.

Certainly, your son needs to understand that this sort of behavior is harmful, and that people can get hurt. I agree with the zero tolerance attitude in today’s schools, even with young kids.

Sincerely,
Odelia Schlisser

Odelia Schlisser is a life coach with a Masters Degree in Sociology and a Masters Degree in Education, and is trained in Family Therapy. She currently lectures about Psychology and Behavioral Science at Mercy College and has spent the past several years counseling children, teens, as well as their parents and teachers. She can be contacted for coaching at odeliaschlisser@theroadto.net

Comments

  1. It is a frightening world that we live in, where we truly have to take seriously threats made by school-age children. Obviously, young kids will joke about serious and potentially dangerous topics. On the other hand, you can’t be too careful these days. There are no easy answers here.

  2. Terri Torgesen says:

    I have a child who is proned to angry outburst and says things in his fits of rage he wouldn’t normally say otherwise. Do you see this behaviour at home ever??? If he is in a fit of rage look for a medical reason (my son has a form of epilepsy that triggers aggressive outburst when frustrated and he gets frustrated easily.) If he is calm when he is stating these things maybe the social worker at school can get involved and help with some therapy or maybe even outside therapy to help him more appropriately express his frustrations. Hope this helped.

    • I also have a child that did have outbursts at a young age and she does have medical issues. We did not allow violent TV nor speak in that manner at home so what she said, contrary to popular belief, was not learned at home. We had to identify the triggers that exacerbated these behaviors and what was rewarding to her. Does he have sensory issues (bothered by noise in the classroom or being jostled by students)? Fine motor delays (slower at completing assignments which makes him frustrated). Difficulty with transitions? Is going to the principal’s office rewarding for him as he gets out of doing his work? Is he being teased by classmates or bullied? Can a school psychologist do a functional behavioral assessment where they evaluate his behavior in the classroom to identify his individual needs? They should be able to formulate a plan that will allow him to STAY in the classroom. Best of luck!!!

  3. So… you didn’t answer how she should deal with this behavior now that it’s here. I understand that he likely has been exposed to this type of language/action in some way… but how does that parent correct the behavior?

  4. Melissa says:

    I think that communicating that this behavior is not acceptable is the place to start. Explaining that it is okay to feel angry about something, but giving him appropriate, healthy ways to diffuse the anger would also be helpful. Eliminating violent video games and televison/dvds/videos which can include cartoons is also appropriate and perhaps might be what is feeding these behaviors.

  5. Beverly says:

    I am a mother of a child who although had no speech delay, suffers with anxiety and many times acts out because he is unable to manage his feelings better. I am also a school social worker. I would suggest not only looking at what television or media he is exposed to, looking at how you and your family manage any issues at home, but also would request a meeting with the teacher and the principal to see how you can all work together to address your son’s issues. Many speech delayed children have underlying anxiety and sometimes the simplest request can boil them over and they react innapropiately. He may have used the violent talk as a tool to push away the demand being made and express his upset. Have the school work with you together on solutions and let him know to use his other words that do not hurt. Good luck.

  6. Beverly says:

    I have a child who suffers with anxiety and I am a school social worker to. Not only look at the media he is exposed to, how your family handles situations at home, but also have a meeting with the teacher and principal to address his issues. Many speech delayed kids have anxiety and can react poorly when demands are made. Tell him to use his other words that don’t hurt as well.

  7. I too struggled with violent threats when my children were younger. A few things were going on: a) depression, both of the children who made threats like that had it, medication helped a lot (they both even threatened suicide while still in the single digit ages), b) one was very bright and so, very bored in school; he was a real school and social problem until late middle school when he was finally challenged properly, it was a very long haul but he is doing great now in his late teens, c) one was very bright but also learning disabled “twice exceptional”, his inability in the face of his obvious intelligence was read as laziness and he was regularly treated as lazy or belligerent rather than his teachers (and parents) understanding that he needed a different learning pathway. He finally switched to a school for kids with learning differences in 7th, that should have happened years earlier and he would have fared much better. He is doing okay now in HS with good anger control skills. d) one struggled with the constant translating required in his dual curriculum, his language skills never got him to a point of comfort and ease, that lead to pretty disastrous interactions with teachers and subsequent mistrust, dislike, anger and distancing from what they were teaching both in text and practice. Making sure that young children can read and translate well is imperative. All of this was particularly distressing as we have a safe and warm home with a strong marriage, no media in the home, so no tv influences, and calm parenting strategies. Look for underlying causes of distress and be willing to change teachers, schools, and parenting techniques when necessary. And pray for help and calmness!

  8. I’m wondering if there has been any recent trauma in this child’s life that could be triggering this behavior. Or perhaps an underlying anxiety disorder. If it was my child, I’d get professional help and FAST.

  9. The sociologist is right. My 17 year old son is diagnosed with everything in the book from pddnos to bi-polar it goes on and on. If you are dealing with a 5/6 year old, now is the time to get real with your parenting skills. Take away the tv…I mean un-plug and give it away. Take away the video games; they are doing you no good. Your child needs to hear it loud and clear…this is NOT ok behavior. If you are not a strong parent now, you will regret it for a very long time. He needs to know who is boss and have no questions about it. This behavior is not cute and it is not acceptable. Clamp down and make sure he knows the consequences if he does it again. Cleaning bathrooms should be in his very near future! Trust me, I know what I am talking about. Don’t raise a bully, fix it right now.

  10. It is difficult to find a correct response for the parent without knowing all of the variables. Surely it will be important to examine the relationships and environments the child is living in and then take measured to modify them. However I believe the scenarios sounded like a child who lacks social skills relating to correction or critisism. Most young children do not have these skills and many just withdraw when faced with correction they cannot understand. Your child’s response is anger and using words to protect himself. Keeping this in mind I would suggest setting up some play opportunities that directly teach responses that are more appropriate. Young children often need words to help them through theses situations. For example..play school let your child be the teacher He will correct your mistakes in the way he feels his are being corrected then you can model to him the way you want him to respond. If he says your letters are wrong you can say. Teacher I am trying but it isn’t working can you show me? When he escalates the citicism you can say I will talk to my daddy about this or Mommy or grandpa.. You need to help your child understand that it is OK to do things one way and then to change them when the teacher asks.

  11. These threats cannot be tolerated..the children need prfessinal help and FAST. Suspending them is a method to prevent a disaster,but there is some SERIOUS anger issues going on. I see it every day and work with a set of twins that are in pre-school for the same reason yours are …Speech delays…they are NOT violent ,however,and have NEVER threatened. You need to nip this in the bud,before.someone gets seriously injured.
    There are a couple of 3 year olds I know that bite and kick….it is NOT pleasant!

  12. My son has done this sort of thing on occasion, and I have learned that for him, the precise meaning of what he said at that age was not nearly as important as the “bigness” of the words he says. Cliff (my son) is nine now, and these episodes began at around five or six years of age, similar to your boys. Children at that age don’t have a clear concept of what “kill” means. Whether it’s exposure to video games where the characters return in a subsequent game or level or inappropriate TV, where all the characters are back in a later episode, children only understand that the violent words are really BIG.

    I’m often amazed at how we recognize deficiences in pronouns or pragmatics, but not in expressing emotions. Teach him more appropriate ways to express his anger and frustration. I’ll bet you a dime that this violent language will subside.

  13. A great resource for understanding why a child might be having such difficulty with frustration and problem solving is a book called The Explosive Child by Ross Greene.

    Highly recommend,
    Vicki

  14. I’m rather surprised at the teacher & administrator’s response, given the child is in a special education setting. Review your legal rights as a parent of a child with identified special needs. Best practice for the educators in this setting should include data collection–that is observing and recording what occurs in a systematic way.

    I would suggest the teachers and staff keep an ABC chart. As a parent you can keep a similar chart at home if you are seeing this kind of behavior. This kind of chart is filled in immediately after an incident occurs to help determine what happened and why. The ABC’s–A stands for antecedent–what happened immediately before the incident, B stands for behavior- what behavior did the student demonstrate in response to the antecedent, C stands for consequence–not how did the teacher punish him, but what response did the student’s behavior elicit in the classroom or what was the result of the incident.

    In the parent’s example we might see a staff member write up:

    A-Antecedent: the child was writing his letters and had erased and re-written several letters. He showed some frustration with writing on the lines, the teacher came and told him that he needed to write in lowercase not in capital letters. First the child shook his head. Then the teacher told him he had to make it correct. He kept shaking his head. The teacher said, “If you don’t follow directions we are going to have a big problem.”

    B-Behavior: The child stood up and yelled at the teacher “Arrg! “I’m going to bring a weapon to school tomorrow” The teacher spoke to him about what a threat was and told him he would go to the principal if he made any other threat. He then held his pencil in his fist, aimed it at the teacher, and said “I’m going to stab you”.

    C-Consequence: The child went directly to the office. His work was left behind. He seemed much calmer when he was in the office.

    After the staff collects a few of these incident samples, the next step is to evaluate what is common to the antecedents, the behaviors and the consequences. Is there something in the classroom environment or is there a transiton or time of day that is always the trigger or antecedent? Who are the players, what is the setting of the behavior? What is the function of the consequence in meeting the child’s needs? In this sample, it is pretty clear that the child needed a way to escape a frustrating demands from his teacher. When the the teacher let him know that additional threats would remove him from the undesirable activity, he used that information to his benefit. Smart kid.

  15. Terri O'Connor says:

    If these boys are in early intervention then there is likely to be a behaviour analyst that is part of the school staff, or district that can be called upon for this type of situation. Ask the school for a behavior observation and consult. They often make a behavior plan for children in these situations that has the goal of changing the behavior and protects them from simply getting thrown out of school. It is very likely as described by a previous post that the child is very frustrated and hasn’t been taught an appropriate response to elevetad stress and frustration. This type of performance social stress in school is often not experienced at home and thus the skill to deal with it needs to be taught at the moment in the environment. A behavior plan will map out exactly how to do it.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with Tina – the question of what to do now was skirted. Obviously eliminate the violent cartoons and corporal punishment if either were in the kids environment.

  17. My first thought, as a kindergarten teacher myself, is remove the frustration that is causing him the anxiety to the extent that he would feel he needed to make these threats. Could it be that the classroom expectations are not appropriate for this child? Maybe his small motor skills are such that he is frustrated with the thought of having to redo something that was already difficult for him. In a developmentally appropriate environment the teacher should have a rapport with the child and be in tune enough to know how far to push and what type of activities to plan for the children. It sounds to me like the child was pushed too far by the teacher and perhaps others.

    In addition, although I know it is important for the threats to be taken seriously, it is playing right into his power struggle to make such a big issue of it. I would suggest that you get to the root of the problem (his frustration) and then provide him support so he feels successful rather than threatened himself. If I were his teacher I would certainly put my arm around him and in a calm manner explain that he is talking inappropriately and there will be consequences to his actions but first I want to know what is going on with him. Why he is feeling upset to begin with. I’m also confused why you as the parent weren’t called in to problem solve before it went to the principal. I guess there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers until those questions can be answered.

    But, in my experience as a teacher of children this age, his threats are a byproduct of an inappropriate environment and inappropriate expectations either at home or in school. Once the environment and expectations are changed to meet the developmental needs of this child I would guess the threats will become a non issue.

  18. I found help through training for AFNIC. Association for Neurologically Impaired Children. AFNIC.org. I have seen what they taught me work at home and at school. Good luck and God Bless.

  19. I went to a parenting class and that’s when I discovered Kirk Martin from Celebrate Calm. His way of
    helping parents parent these type of situtaions is very unique and his methods work. If you can’t get to one of his workshops then purchase his cd’s. They are worth every penny and more.
    Try emailing him he always answers. Check out his website at
    http://www.celebratecalm.com/

  20. Suzanne says:

    If I were you, I would have my son tested for Allergies, ADHD or Asperger Syndrome, etc.. You will have to ask the school or Family Doctor to have any testing done. It would be worth it.

  21. Jennifer says:

    It has been a while since I have participated in this parenting site and am a bit confused as to the format. Is there no more of the forum that use to be here. The one with all of the catagories and threads? I don’t see the link that use to be here. If this is the new forum I have to say I find it a lot more intimidating and impersonal to interact on.
    I am not trying to be negative, just trying to figure out the changes.

    As to this thread, I so understand the shock associated with violent talk from our children. I have a 9yo that is EOBP, ADHD and ODD. Between the impulses and wiring in his brain he can threaten big violence. I agree with the therapist in that the info given is sketchy. I always look at behavior falling in certain categories. What is the frequency of episodes, what the intensity of the behavior and how long does each episode last. With my son..especially in the younger years all of that was off the scale. My suggestion would be that if this behavior continues and starts interfering with his success I would talk to your Doctor.
    Best wishes.

  22. I completely agree with Terri’s comment…children will say things in anger that they would not say at any other time. As a school social worker myself, I have seen children make comments like this. They are not even fully aware of the impact of their words until they see the huge reaction they get from the adults around them! Of course we need to respond, but in a calm competent manner, not condemning this child forever. I agree that a referral to the school social worker is appropriate, so that the parents, school, and counsellor can all have a cohesive plan for how to respond. And to learn about some of that missing information that Ms. Schlisser discusses. The adults in this boys life need to respond with firm, yet reassuring, messages. However I doubt that any five year old will understand an “out of school suspension”. Teach him how to express himself, his frustration (which clearly is present in the classroom), and then further assess his emotional and academic needs. Something is creating extreme frustration for this little boy. I would want to know what that was (learning disability? health issue? emotional issue?) and work with the family/school team to intervene.

  23. My six year old son had similar behavior in Kindergarten and the first half of first grade and I am now home-schooling him for the remainder of first grade. It has been such a painful process, both for him and for our family up to this point. Homeschooling has made a big difference in his behavior and overall disposition. It has given me the chance to monitor all of the input so I can better understand the output. The violent threats and behavior have virtually disappeared. I believe for him that it is a maturity issue of becoming easily overwhelmed with the social and other demands of being in a traditional school environment. I plan on homeschooling him for second grade for sure and will consider integrating him back into school when I feel he is emotionally mature enough to be successful. I will be praying for you and your family. This is not an easy road to travel.

    • Laureen says:

      Rachelle,
      I just wanted to contact you because we also decided to homeschool our 6-year-old son. We are also seeing incredible strides in his behavior, however, there are still challenges when he’s with his peers. I would love to correspond with you on how you handle certain social situations. Is your son your only son? Due to our son being an only child, we also run into the complication of trying to find just the ‘right’ friend(s) who can be understanding enough to want to play with him again. It’s been a hard journey for us as parents since we grew up with siblings and our son has no one but us. I look forward to hearing from you if you have the time. I totally get the schedule you have.

      Laureen

  24. I am the mom of identical twin boys that also had delayed speech. I really think they were so in tune to each other that they didn’t need to communicate with the rest of us. First off, congrats for getting them the help they need with the speech. You are on the right track.

    As parents, we often have to decide to look for outside help to make our kids become stronger. I would encourage you to look for help with this too. Please take your son (or both) to see someone that can help you deal with this issue. Make tough decisions, like NO violent tv shows, movies, video games or computer games. Even cartoons like Ninja turtles and Batman are too violent for pre-schoolers. Be over protective when it comes to all of these things. I also think you need a policy of no violence at home. I’d go so far as to say no wrestling or horse play for a while too.

    And pray. I pray for guidence and for patience from God to help me make the right decisions. It helps.

    If you are not in a safe place, get yourself and the kids somewhere safe. Kids often see things we don’t realize they see. Protect them and yourself if you need to.

  25. Delayed speach development along with violent outburst (and possible anti-social behavior, though it wasn’t mentioned) would imply testing for autism spectrum disorder or fragile X syndrome might be in order.

    THough very little information was given, this behavior is consistant with ASD and ADHD and a consultation with your doctor is the first step to take. Good luck.

    • I think that is a far fetch from speech delay with aggression to fragile x syndrome and autism. I’m guessing the children have been evaluated by early intervention professionals, given that they are in the early intervention kindergarten. Perhaps additional testing with a behaviorist or developmental ped. might be the next step. Some aggression is normal at this age. Try making him powerful in the things in which he can control. Everyone wants to be powerful, adults and kids alike. Sometimes the nature of parenting/teaching, strips the child of these feeling. Try to let him make as many decisions as possibe, and make a big deal out of it. Imagine how we would feel being controlled all of the time. It would be hard to keep our spirits up. Say yes as much as possible. hope it works.

      • I would also recomend reading “how to talk so kids will listen, and listed so kids will talk.” I am approaching this in a two prong approach. First, get the proper evaluations and support, and concurrently increase the positive input so the child may become more internally motivated to gain your respect and approval by doing the things he knows will please you