Violent Talk in Young Children

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Violent language from preschooler

Jan 2008

My 3.5-yr-old started preschool last fall, and I have noticed increasing violent language from him. He has always been very sweet and obedient--to a degree that other parents comment on how well behaved he is. Now he comes home from school, talking about superheroes and bad guys, and saying ''I will shoot you'' or ''I will cut you''. He calls me and others ''stupid'', says ''I hate you''. I'm very strict about his TV viewing habits, so I know he's not getting this from TV. I've talked to him endlessly about it. He always says that he hears these words from a certain boy in his class. I've talked to his teacher about it, and she says that it's probably not just the one child, but several children, mostly those who have older siblings, and she does her best to discourage it. I know they're just words, and other people have said that he doesn't even really know what he's saying. But... he recently got angry at another child and sliced her with a play-doh knife, and said ''I cut her''--so he clearly knows what he's saying. His latest statement about his baby sister was ''I will poke her eyes with a knife''. I was absolutely shocked! I scold him every time he says these things, and I make him say 3 nice things for every mean thing he says, but I'm not sure what else to do... Do I punish him? Time-outs? Is this a typical boy thing? Will he outgrow it? Peace-loving Mama

Well, little kids do have a lot of natural aggression and it's a gradual process of learning in what ways they are allowed to express or not express it. I wonder if maybe you are OVER-reacting a little by ''talking endlessly'' about it? When kids realize something gets a big reaction, they tend to keep pushing that button. Maybe try a low-key reaction like, ''hmm, we don't use words like that at home'' and then just moving on, so he doesn't get so much of your attention with this type of language/behavior. Another tack you could take is the whole ''choices'' route, talking about what IS okay to say or do if he's feeling mad or frustrated (hit a pillow, for instance, or say ''I don't like that'' or ''I'm MAD!'').

Even peace-loving mamas like us get angry sometimes. But we have learned appropriate ways to express it. Rather than making your son say something nice when he expresses his anger, steer his words toward a more appropriate way to express himself. Something like... ''Sounds like you feel mad at your sister. Do you need some time with mama? It is ok to feel mad and tell me so but I don't like to hear words about hurting someone ok?'' Or if he is saying these things when he is not mad (liek he is curious about your reaction), you can ask if he would like to talk about why someone would say those words. ''Sometimes people talk about hurting someone when they are mad. I wish they would learn a different way to talk about being mad.'' Another approach, depending on the scenario is to play with what he is saying and take the power away from the words. There is a section of the book ''Playful parenting'' where every time a boy shoots him with a pretend gun the author calls it the ''love gun'' and chases the boy around to give him hugs. Mix it up and try different approaches depending on what works. Just remember he is little and is curious about power and all kinds of feelings and how they work in the world. Peaceful mama who sometimes wants to throw something. ;-)

I'm constantly put aback by my sons' violent language and play, but have come to understand it as hormonal/normal. With violent language it has really worked wonders to state calmly an alternative. Like my son says ''I'm going to cut your head off'' then I say ''Do you mean that you're angry about XXX?'' he almost always says ''yeah'' in a sad tone then we can talk about that... I read about this strategy somewhere (Parenting magazine maybe?) and they said to do this up until they're 5 or so. When they reach 5 or 6 you can start talking directly about the violent language and working on that (with consequences.) Hope this helps! gentle momma of boys

This is so totally normal you wouldn't believe it, and I think you are making waaaay too big a deal out of it. I found these things really disturbing coming out of my kid's mouth also, but by basically ignoring it or saying things like, ''Wow, that sounds like it would really hurt!'' but not taking it past that to punishment or obvious and extreme disapproval, the shock effect seems to have worn off, and he has now, at age 4 1/2, found new and different ways to be annoying. anon

You mention a baby in the house. I have seen the formerly lovely elder child of several of my friends become angry, aggressive, and even violent after the birth of the second child. What I have seen is that the older child gets a big chunk of their parental attention from the ''bad'' behavior, reinforcing it, and doesn't get ''private time'' with each parent every day anymore. My second is due this year, and I'm sure I'll face the same challenge. Good luck

This is a normal, developmentally appropriate preschooler thing, especially in boys, and yes, he will outgrow it. Eventually. (My preschooler daughter now says this sort of thing more often than my first grader son.)

There's no point in punishment as far as I can tell. And I would save the timeouts for when the kid has actually hurt someone, or is out of control and on the brink of doing so; in that case the goal is to separate the combatants and for everyone to take a breather and calm down. This is different than calm verbal experiments about violence (and power), which is what he's actually doing when he talks about killing or hurting people.

It's hard to find the right balance between clearly disapproving of this sort of language and helping him express himself in more positive or peaceful ways (obviously a good thing to do), and just ignoring it so that he won't keep doing it simply to provoke your reaction and gain your attention! But that's what you need to do. anon

Yes it's a phase. Yes, he will grow out of it, though it might be another year or so. And yes, this seems typical of boys in this age group. Pick up these books: Bad Guys Don't Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four, and Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful. (3.5 is close enough.) Believe me, I was mortified when my child started this behavior. Thought there was a serious, deep, psychological problem on our hands. His preschool teacher, utterly unphased after decades of observing 3 and 4 year olds, pointed me in the direction of these books and after reading them, after observing every other child we know go through a similar phase and now starting to watch them move past it, I have to tell you that it's all going to be ok. You're sending the message that this kind of language/behavior isn't appropriate. And after that you mostly can ignore it. (Because paying attention to it just makes it that much more interesting to them.) Once they outgrow the interest in it and the need to express it, it won't be a problem. Four is whacky

Well, there are those (like me) who would recommend that if you want to rear a non-violent child, that it is important to find an alternative to reward/punishment forms of discipline, as these are violent in of themselves.

A wonderful child-rearing ''expert'' that my husband and I consulted said something that I thought was very wise ''focus on the feelings and the behavior will take care of itself.'' I think this would be particularly pertinent when your son talks about poking your daughter's eyes. You scold him, but do you talk with him about how he's feeling? Kids feel resentment and aggression toward their siblings (particularly younger interlopers). This is perfectly normal. Rather than scold your son and focus on his behavior, you might try focusing on his feelings, saying something like ''I know sometimes you may feel angry toward your little sister, and that's okay, but I feel really sad when you talk like that. It's never okay to hurt other people, even when we're angry at them. I know you love your little sister, too, and you wouldn't ever want to hurt her for real.''

It is really challenging to shift the focus. Most parents (including me!) tend to focus over-much on behavior, but when we stop and remember that these are little people who need our compassion, patience and understanding, I think we take a vital step toward rearing compassionate, tolerant, loving kids.

This kind of thing won't change anything over night. Some of this stuff really just requires a LOT of patience and CONSISTENCY. Continually acknowledging and validating feelings, and repeating what behavior is acceptable as a response to what we feel (that includes modeling appropriate behavior, as well as requesting it, of course). Your son is only 3.5, it will take time, but he'll be fine! Anonymous

I'm also struggling with violent language from my 4 year old and I found myself thinking today: if he wasn't in preschool would this be happening? And what are the other parents allowing? And what a difference it is to have peers who have older siblings who teach this stuff. It seems to be a direct result of being in a social environment and not the protected environment I may fantasize he would have at home - but I'll never know how my child would have turned out if raised in a social void because that is not an option. Everything I've read says this is normal 4 yr old (boy) stuff and girls also have a version of it. I am very frank with him that I do not like the way he is speaking when it is directed at me or other adults, children, baby sister etc. I ask him to try again, restate his requests in polite/kind/gentle language. We've talked about respect, hurt feelings etc. The competition is fierce though because his peers think it is funny and they compete to outdo each other with version of potty talk or some of the more violent talk. Some advice I've received is that he is learning how to be social and how to be funny so this is where parents can inject with constructive positive suggestions of what is funny and how to be effective socially. What is most difficult for me these days is I really don't like him when he behaves this way and I get angry that I feel this way about the child who used to be so sweet most of the time. So I work it from both fronts: understanding it as a developmental stage that I need to work with skillfully and disapproving of it as a place where he can linger with me - we just don't talk this way in our family. Thanks for your question. I had a break down during bedtime tonight and had to leave to have a good cry. It's hard for me to keep my composure in the face of continued sass and violent language from my little baby. looking for peace too

Normally I would say that kids at that age explore different roles through fantasy play and talk, and this also involves them making sense of the ''bad guys'' by play- acting. My son did the same thing in preschool when he was three or four years old, and there was a slightly bigger, older ''tough kid'' in the class (who also happened to be the preschool director's child) who had a much bigger older brother. My son seemed to obsess over this kid's behavior and language because he was trying to make sense of it. Eventually that phase passed and now that my son's in elementary school, it's not as though that kid's behavior or language has had any lasting effects on my son's behavior or values.

That being said, though, if you don't feel that the preschool teachers are doing enough to curb this kind of language and actions in the classroom to the extent that this has become a class-wide epidemic, I think it's time to switch preschools. Anon

Just let him know what language is unacceptable in your house, and stick to it. Leave it at that. My sweet kid did the same thing, but she understands now what is ok and not ok. Give him language to express himself. (''we don't use such awful language. You can say that you're frustrated, or you're angry, but we don't use bad language here.'') I count those nasty things (which do usually come from the older siblings) as ''bad language.'' If he keeps doing it, a quick time-out is appropriate. (extended if he keeps using the bad language...) Making him say ''nice'' things won't help. He's angry or frustrated or feeling adventurous. Doesn't truly know what he's saying. Help him learn to be appropriate.

I have a 3.5 yo boy in preschool and am also an early childhood educator. My kid and many others I know all engage in this type of talk. I recommend ''Dead Man's Skin'' by Jane Katch for an interesting read on children and violence, and I also recommend not reacting so much to his violent talk. One strategy I often use to say something that makes it okay. When my son says he's shooting me, I ask him what he is shooting, bubbles? rainbows? flying fairies who want to tangle my hair? Usually he enjoys the playfulness and the game changes out of the violence. We also have a few rules, ''no shooting in the house'' and that sort of thing. I try to respect his urges without making him feel wrong for having them. The violent talk is a way that they feel powerful and try to make sense of the world. They are developing the sense that they can hurt people and be hurt, and doing that through play is a safe way to learn. Stephanie

3-year-old's violent talk

March 2007

Do I have a psychopath? My son is almost three and a half and says scary things: ''I want to take a big knife and chop you into pieces and eat you,'' ''I want to take my car and smash that woman and make her dead.'' Sometimes these are said in anger and malicious (when we say no about something, he wants to cut open our stomach), sometimes they seem to just be random. He doesn't want to hurt animals, only people, and I'm not always sure he wants to inflict pain and injury on them. He's never been exposed to any abuse; he's never seen TV. Is this some kind of normal phase? Any advice on how to respond? He seems interested in getting a response, so we try to keep it low-key and talk about how that's not nice, that would hurt, etc. But he recently told his babysitter that he wants to cut her with a big knife and eat her. She was disturbed. He also told her he was going to slap her. I don't even know where he's heard this - at the park? Not sure if I should be concerned, or how to respond, or when he'll really freak someone out.

My son began his ''violent'' play and language at about age 3, and it totally freaked out my partner and me, because it was so incredibly intense. It was horrifying.

It took us a long time to come to the conclusion that he [who feels everything intensely, including his own lack of power in the world] was letting us know in no uncertain terms exactly how truly powerful he was. His words and play were never going to really hurt us. In fact I think that in using that method to exert his power and control, he was [and still is, to a much lesser extent, at age 6] figuring out how to conquer all of the anxiety and fears in his sensitive little self.

We stopped telling him that we didn't like that kind of play, or story, and we turned his need to destroy us in some gruesome way into play-acting experiences, and things became a lot less stressful. He also got less angry and intense, and more playful, about it.

He's still working it all out, but meanwhile, he's also a really sweet, sensitive and thoughtful little kid. -Jean

Your post made me laugh out loud as my son has said nearly all of these things and more (lots of head chopping off, cutting into pieces). Its scary but seems very normal for some boys with strong emotions. You don't have a psychopath. anonymous

If it's any comfort, my nephew was the same way when he was younger. One time his sister did something he didn't like, and he told his mother that he hoped that all the windows in the house would break and that the glass would gouge out her eyes and kill her. Very dramatic! He's always been very smart and imaginative but emotionally immature. He used to lash out physically as well as verbally. But now he's almost 7 and seems to have calmed down a lot. --yup, sometimes they can be scary!

I know that what you hear can be quite distressing, but I think it's normal for 3.5-5 year olds to say things simply for the ''shock value''. My 4 1/2 year old son started coming home from preschool wanting to shoot and kill me, kill daddy, etc. It was all about killing, shooting dead, killing name it. There is a lot of fantasy play in this age range. One time he pretended to shoot me and I fell over dead. He was overjoyed. If he says something like in your post, ''I want to take a big knife and chop you into pieces and eat you,'' try responding in a conspirational/fun voice with ''Oh my goodness! I wonder if I taste any good. What kind of seasoning should we put on me?'' See what kind of response you get.

I think it's normal and age appropriate fantasy play with shock value. Read ''Superheroes in the Doll Corner'' to help understand how boys in this age range play. With that said however, it is appropriate to explain that certain behaviors are unacceptable. He may also have something going on which is disturbing him and he's saying these things as a way to get attention/help from you. anon

No, you don't have a psychopath. Your son has no way of understanding what he is saying, he's just found these words have power and is trying them out. He's also beginning to find a way to understand the concept of death - he won't know of its permanence until he is much older. At three, my son talked like this as well. Almost the same kinds of things your son is saying, even saying he wanted his best friend to be hit by a train. I was very concerned when it was happening, but since it tapered off, I realize it was a phase. I can't say it's common behavior for the age, but I don't think it's abnormal. I think our culture has a tendency to effuse about the innocence of childhood when in reality children more likely to possess those darker, unchecked human impulses. I wouldn't worry

My son tells very dark tales when he makes up a story....people getting smushed by railroad cars, eaten by wild animals, etc. And when he's angry, he might say something about chopping or punching that sounds totally grotesque. He's a homeschooled lovely child who doesn't watch television. I'm with him almost all the time, so I know he isn't picking this stuff up anywhere. I think it's just a way for him to explore and try to understand accidents, feelings, and death. Unless a child is actually behaving violently toward people, animals, even bugs, I wouldn't worry about it. anon

This sounds disturbing! I would be upset also. I'm sure you will get many responses, so here is another one. If you are open to it, you might try hypnosis with your child to see what's going on. I read a book called ''The Past Lives of Children'', and it describes children who have irrational fears or behaviors that are leftover from their past life. The author says these behaviors appear starting at around 2 years old and can be very upsetting for all involved. Once the hypnosis started, it sort of brought things to the surface that could then be talked about and resolved. It might be worth a try. I can't recommend a hypnotist, but you could look in the free magazine Common Ground. Therapy might help also, with a gentle, experienced therapist, your son might be able to work out what's behind all the gorey talk, of course on an unconscious level. Maybe play therapy would help him to rid himself of the thoughts. Lots of luck. anon

When my daughter was about 3-4 she would say similar things to my husband. Among the things she wished on him were that he drink salt water and die, that she would kill him, put him in a garbage can and dance on his grave. I think she may have said once that she would chop him into pieces. We had NO CLUE as to where she got these ideas and often laughed at how sophisticated they were (how does a 3 y.o. know that drinking salt water is fatal??), despite the vehemence with which she often shouted them. I am happy to report that it just eventually went away, and today she is a very well-adjusted, normal 12 y.o. who loves her father very much. -- don't sweat it

Hi- After reading your posts, I think something must be going on. I have a 3.5 year old son who is not a TV watcher (maybe Sesame Street on occasion) and is in preschool F/T as we work. But, even through all that exposure at school with older kids, he has no idea what a gun is, or death in regards to people, and most of the items you mentioned.

What sort of childcare situation does he have? Is he picking up something there? Do you and your hubby watch TV loudly once your child goes down for the night, maybe hearing something? What sort of books does he read? Does he have aggressive toys, friends, family members? Think of everyone person your child sees and can be/has been influenced by.

I can see how a sitter would be creeped out by a 2 year old saying such things. I think you need to do some serious inventory and figure this out -- bottom line, is a child can't come up with ''I want to cut you up and eat you'' all on their own, someone or something has to plant that seed. I don't think your child is a psychopath, he has just learned some bad behaviors and needs to be redirected. Might be good to help him express his anger more constructively as well, since a mommy or daddy ''no'' shouldn't leap to ''I want to kill you.''

Good luck. This may take a while, but should definitely be addressed. hope it works out

Hey there, I just wanted to chime in that not only does my 3 year old also say horrifying things from time to time, but she's a girl, so it's not just a boy thing. Her latest is to talk about how terrible it would be if our upcoming new baby were to be eaten by a 'thing that eats eyeballs'. She also wants to know if she (the new baby) will fit in the oven. She and her four and a half year old sister also threaten to kill each other dead (which I inform them is redundant, but do they listen?) cut each other into bits, blah blah blah. Occasionally I close my eyes and shudder, but mostly I chalk it up to the intoxicating power of the english language, and try to throw in some extra vocabulary (I knew I was...uh...helping when the younger one threatened to pulverize her sister, who responded 'oh yeah, with what', to which the rejoinder was 'a pulverator, of course'. Look, she's only 3.).

I would be more worried if I came in and found one of them silently pulling the wings off something -- at least if they're talking, they're communicating about their feelings and inner thoughts, however weird and intense they might be.

Mind you, maybe I shoudl be sleeping with a pulverator under my pillow, just in case. Abbi

I don't think you have a psychopath. I would only worry if there is aggression with menace aimed at you accompanying the words. My daughter has an imaginative mind that has caused me some embarassment around others, as she will draw all kinds of weird pictures with blood in them - a bird could be hurt, a knight following a battle, etc. Again, very little media exposure and no older siblings. I have gotten used to this over the 2 years now (7 y/o), and it has never been followed up with any dangerous behaviors. Anon

I am not a child psychologist, but I would definitely advise you to have your son see one. It is not normal for a child to be talking that way. It could be a phase he is going through, or it could be something more serious. Psychopathic behavior is tricky to spot and the psychological disorders underlying it even harder to diagnose and treat. If caught early, however, it usually can be cured through therapy. Anon

5-year-old playing violently with dolls

March 2007

I'm writing about my 5 year old niece, Sonia. My sister called this morning upset because she found Barbie and Ken bound and gagged and hidden behind Sonia's toybox. When she asked Sonia what this was about, she was not able or willing to say anything about it. My sister says that her daughter does not watch T.V. other than American Idol and her kiddie videos, and the parents don't watch it either. My sister and I both played violently with our dolls as children, in ways that probably would have freaked out our parents had they known, but we were much older than Sonia is (incidentally, we both turned out fine!) Sonia is not displaying any sadistic or violent behavior anywhere else, as far as my sister knows. The only source my sister can think of is that there was a child abuse case in the local news back in the fall which involved a child being bound, but can't think of how Sonia would have known about it, as all my sister's news comes from the internet, which Sonia can't read. Is this normal behavior? Is this something my sister should be worried about? She doesn't want to talk to my neice's kindergarten teacher or to other moms, afraid of what they may think of her daughter. Concerned Aunt

Your sis is in for a rude awakening, as now that her child is in school she no longer has control over everything she sees and hears. It is amazing what other kids are exposed to and believe me they tell each other. When in first grade my son's teacher even discussed that dog mauling case where a pit bull mauled a little girl. He hadn't even known about it! Anyway I don't know development but it seems important to not make her feel ashamed so she feels she needs to hide it. I am sure others with more knowledge will respond. Anon

This sounds to me like not-too-unusual 5-year-old play. Five year olds are very imaginative and can dream up things out of the blue that their parents can't imagine where they got. I have boys, and my 5-year-old definitely has friends who are into this kind of play with Legos, Playmobile people and action figures. These are kids from families who are very careful and conservative about TV, books, and violence. But I know girls do this too because my sisters and I did TERRIBLE things to our Barbies (and to our brother's GI Joe) at this age. I can distinctly remember planning all sorts of nefarious scenarios in first grade for Barbie that could have easily accommodated a bound and gagged Barbie behind the toy chest! I turned out normal and boring. I don;t think it's anything to worry about. But American Idol, now that's another story ... ;-) Ginger

You are both right to be concerned. But, I think you should approach a professional in addition to hearing what us BPN-ers have to say. I won't even venture a guess since I don't know at all - but red flags are shooting up all over the place for me. -Good luck.

I wouldn't worry about her... Maybe she just has some really complex storylines going for her dolls! And trust me, any kindergarten teacher has seen and heard of much, much worse. I'd worry if she were three, but I know that at five my dolls were already going through high drama. Maybe her hero and heroine were kidnapped! I would also worry if it were, say, the cat that she bound. In this case though, I would say there's no need to fear. Never assume a five-year-old's motivations. If she dismembers her dolls, maybe she was just curious as to how they fit together... yeah I did that too. Eva

As a parent of an intensely imaginative child, I just want to add that my 6 year-old son, who has explored the far boundaries of so-called violent play for several years, is also an exceptionally sensitive and sweet boy. I think that the abuse he's heaped upon his characters [both the playthings AND the ones in his stories] is partly how he deals with having normal childhood fears and also his feelings about having so little control in his world. When he gets to be the bad guy who dismembers the prisoner of the moment, well, he's in charge and no one can tell him what to do. And the girl/guy he's just slaughtered is always there in the next round. Always. It really seems to speak to a child's way of working out fears. Plus, it's kinda fun. -Jean

Violent-themed conversation from 5-yr-old

Sept 2005

I have a 5-year-old who seems to be obsessed with violent solutions to problems - verbally, not in actions. First he hypothesizes all kinds of situations...what if a bee stings me, what if a robber robs our house, what if that kid takes my lunch...then launches into ''If that happened, I would just: take a gun and shoot him, create a trap and fill it with poison, call the police and throw him in jail...

Is this normal and how do I deal with it??? We don't have violent themed toys at home, don't watch TV with any violent content, certainly don't talk violently or threaten or conduct violence ourselves...where is this coming from? How do I deal with it?

A couple of thoughts on origins: He is just starting to learn to read and is very interested in warning labels - the three words he can read most consistently are ''danger'' ''warning'' and ''caution.'' Hence, we spend a lot of time reading warning labels on EVERYTHING and therefore immersed in all the violent outcomes that come from not follow warning instructions...also, part of me thinks that as his world is becoming more complex, he is seeking solutions to problems and scary things and these sure seem like nice easy ones to him (again, in theory, not in action)

But I'm worried that he scares his new K teacher, other kids, and other kids' parents with this talk. Should I just forbid it and give a consequence whenever it happens? Or try to redirect -- any tips? Thanks for any help anyone can provide. Anon

Yes, it's normal. At five, kids really start to think and worry about danger and mortality. For the first time they are thinking about the questions ''what if I get hurt?'' and ''what if I die?'' and ''what if mom dies?''. Your son is dealing with it the best he can, assuring himself that he can protect himself from harm (''I'll shoot the robber if he comes in the house.'') He is cataloging all the possible things that could go wrong, and trying to figure out solutions. It sounds like you're recognizing this is what he's doing. I would just go on reassuring him when he brings up all these scenarios. I'd say ''Don't worry - we will take care of you. That's the job of the parents.'' Maybe even inject a little humor ''Wow, you sure can think of a lot of ways to get hurt! I've never heard of anyone getting hurt in so many ways!'' If it seems like he is getting obsessive about it, maybe reassure him briefly as usual and then change the subject or divert his attention. By the way I have three boys and they were all into this violent imagery. People say that when little boys engage in weapons play, good guy/bad guy games etc. they are working out their fears about getting hurt, being out of control, etc. It doesn't mean they are violent people. G

As disturbing as the conversation may be to you, it sounds totally normal to me. My 5 year old is saying some of the exact same things - shooting a bad guy, having the police lock up the bad guy, hitting and kicking a bad guy himself, etc. Also, those endless scenarios about ''What if this happens or that happens....'' is pretty typical at this age. I think it's just a normal ''boy'' thing and so long as he is just talking about violent what-if's (as opposed to exhibiting violent behavior), I wouldn't be concerned. I either laugh at my son and tell him he has a ''crazy'' imagination or I start the ''what- if's'' myself and say things like ''What if there was a bag of marshmallows as big as my car and it exploded and we were all covered with sticky goo?'' It's so ridiculous that he loses interest in the violent scenarios and the conversation becomes silly and fun. Give it a try! In your shoes

Your thoughts on the origins and inspiration for your son's violent-themed conversation sound extremely plausible. This sort of talk is relatively common among boys his age and is generally a sign of healthy, maturing psychological processing.

Most Kindergarten teachers should be familiar with this type of conversation. Nonetheless, your son will have an easier time with his teachers (as well as other children and their parents) if he can curb his violent talk. In my professional opinion, consequences will only serve to either escalate the situation or to suppress your son's thoughts in a less than helpful way.

I do, however, have some thoughts on how you might re-direct him. First, you may find it helpful to explain to your son that you are very interested in his plans for keeping himself safe and, at a set time every day, you will make a point of hearing all his thoughts on the subject. If/when your son begins his violent-themed talk at a time other than the designated time, remind him that you have set aside a special time for discussing that, and now you would love to hear about something fun he did today (or any other specific topic.)

Then, you may find it helpful to take your son to talk with his teacher. In front of your son, ask his teacher if the class is aware of all your son's plans to keep himself (and maybe the entire class) safe. Let him hear the teacher express her interest in his plans, and (if she is willing) let her suggest that at a specified, appropriate time every day, you son tell her his most important safety plan for the day. Gently but firmly, make it clear that the teacher will hear only one plan each day and that any other ideas will get shared at home.

This pattern will take time to establish itself. But it will also set a useful precedent for future negotiations with your son. With this approach, your son will understand that his thoughts and feelings are very important and, that when things are important, we set aside specific time for them. I hope you find this helpful. Nechama

I don't really have advice, but I take comfort (and thought it would give comfort to you) in knowing that your son is doing the same thing my son is doing. We have exactly the same situation. I generally just ignore most of the violent talk (except when he talks about killing someone, in which case, I intervene - his response is always, ''But, it's a bad guy, so it's okay.''). Sometimes I try to redirect the behavior into another type of physical activity (sports-related), but not always possible when making dinner, etc. I look forward to hearing what other advice you get, but hope it helps to know that you're not the only one! Let's just hope it's a phase... boys will be boys?

4-year-old's violent talk and threats

June 2001

I read through the archives and now am realizing that it is not uncommon for preschoolers to begin using violent talk and roleplay. My son for the past few months has become more interested in goodguy/bad guy play, and I've noticed with turning 4 is FEELING a lot more anger, short-fused in particular not getting what he wants. Fine. Normal right. Well then, how come I feel so sad when it's directed at me. Today I set a limit that literally enraged my son, which led to a hurl of threats in order to fulfill his wish. I heard things I never heard directed at me that were so full pain and anger and hatred and yes, violence. Rationally, I understand that he is pulling every straw out of his pocket, by emotionally it cut right through me. I'd love to hear from other's who struggle to be objective and not get slayed by their child's strong emotions and unkind / hateful language. too sensitive

The best advice I can give you I think you know already-- never take anything a kid this age says personally. He doesn't know what he is saying--not really. He may say that he wants to kill you or he hates you, but he can't truly conceptualize kill or hate. He has feelings that are bigger than he is, and he doesn't know what to do with them. Kids this age need help regulating their feelings.

It's important to separate the feelings (which are normal) from the behavior (which may need to be adjusted). We have a rule: it's okay to feel angry, frustrated, grumpy, etc, but it's not okay to act mean. With my 3-year-old, I try to be patient (not always easy with a raging pre-schooler) and remind her of this rule. I tell her what she is doing or saying hurts my feelings. I then ask if she needs help to feel better. If she says no, then she needs to be by herself until she can do the rule and stop being mean even though she feels bad. But she usually says yes, help me, and then we figure out what will change up her mood-- usually something silly, like carry her through the house upside down. Think of how hard it is sometimes for you, a mature adult, to come down from anger at your spouse-- these little guys need to learn how to do that, and they need help, because it is not easy.

Just remember how big these emotions are, and how little he is, and try to help him navigate through it. you know he loves you