Larry P. McDougal
Larry P. McDougal - Attorney at Law
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When to take a child's threats seriously

Your child threatens another child. Maybe it happens at school. Maybe it happens in the front yard, while playing with a neighbor.

How seriously should you take this threat of potential violence? Your child certainly seems serious, but you know how children are. Their emotions get the best of them. They're impulsive and they say the first things that come into their heads. Is this just a case of your child being a child, or could it be something more?

Case by case

It's an important question to ask, and there is no perfect way to answer it. Every child is different. You need to know your child and react appropriately based on that knowledge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Carefully consider the situation, the potential ramifications and the next steps you should take.

That said, it can help to look for red flags in the child's past behavior. These could indicate that the comments were more than an empty threat. A number of things to look for include:

  • Access to weapons or firearms that could make the threat possible
  • A history of aggressive and violent behavior
  • Issues controlling anger, perhaps resulting in uncontrollable outbursts
  • A criminal record
  • A violent family history with examples of aggressive behavior
  • A record of dangerous, illegal behavior, such as attempting to bring firearms to school
  • Past issues with suicide attempts or a family history of suicide
  • Recent rejection by peers or a significant other
  • Recent incidents that may have been humiliating or shameful
  • A serious loss in the family, such as the loss of a parent
  • Incidents of bullying or perhaps being bullied by others
  • A history of refusing to take responsibility for any actions
  • A willingness to quickly blame others for problems and hardships
  • A history of making similar threats
  • Seeing violent episodes in the home or with peers
  • Getting neglected or abused in any fashion
  • Struggles with mental illness -- examples include bipolar disorder, depression, psychosis or mania
  • The illegal use of drugs or alcohol
  • Incidents that resulted in animal cruelty or other crimes, such as vandalism, arson or property damage
  • A pattern of delinquent behavior at school and/or in the community as a whole
  • Discipline problems at home or at school
  • Involvement with peers who can influence violent action
  • A lack of friends and a life lived in relative isolation
  • A lack of adult support or supervision in daily life

Seeing any of these red flags does not mean your child will absolutely make good on that threat. He or she can get in minor trouble at school or get caught with alcohol and not become reckless and violent. However, it still helps to know about common risk factors so you can anticipate how the child will act.

If he or she does wind up getting arrested for any sort of criminal behavior, make sure you know what legal defense options you have. One act can change your child's life forever.

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