6yr old son uses threating language at school

by worried mother
(Northern, CA)

My son came home today with a zap card "kids get them at his school for being bad"! He got in trouble for telling another class mate he was going to kill him. I stressed the fact that he could be kicked out of school for this as well as face criminal charges. "I told him he could go to jail"! Is this a sign something is wrong with him? His father & are married and he has an older sister and a younger brother. We dont use that kind of talk in our house. Should I be worried??

Ben's Answer:

I certainly would not make light of this issue... but... when I was a six year old kid me and my friends probably said "I'm going to kill you" at least several times a day. For us it meant "I'm gonna get you." It all depends on the context. If it's during play, it may mean something totally harmless. Most 6 yr old boys barely have a concept of death and to say "I'm going to kill you" does not mean he literally intends serious violence.

There are signs in children that are red flags for serious problems. One is a child that hurts or kills and animals; Another is an obsession with fire setting; And another is a pattern of actual violent behavior towards other kids or adults, intentional destruction of property and total disregard for authority. If your son is not doing any of those things, then this is most likely a minor thing.

I would want to find out if he's bullying other kids - or if he himself is being bullied. Bullying is rampant in public schools, teachers often look the other way or don't notice all of it, and sometimes a child who is picked on can retaliate in an extreme way that has disastrous consequences. So these are all things to figure out.

Six year old kids shouldn't have to be worried they're going to be hauled off to jail for saying "I'm doing to kill you." But, having a rule that it is inappropriate to use the phrase is completely reasonable; I just wouldn't shame him or scare him about it. Ask him what was going on when he said it and try to understand his own perspective. If he did say it in anger, then teach him a more appropriate way of expressing anger or hurt without using the word "kill."

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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