Early warning signs that your child might be dangerous


If you’re asked to imagine a dangerous person, you’re likely not going to imagine a child, but childhood is actually the time when most issues regarding violent behavior set in. Plus, some children can become dangerous from a young age.

Warning signs that predict violent behavior in children start to show up quite early, but when left unchecked these children can grow up to become adolescents and adults who are abusive to others or even end up in the headlines for mass shootings. As parents, it is of utmost importance to keep a careful eye on the development of your child, and make sure you nip these potential problems in the bud—for the good of yourself, your child, and anyone that crosses their path in the future.

Fortunately, researchers have long begun to identify how to spot young children who pose a risk of harm to others, either now or in the future, as well as methods for how to deal with them. Click through to see the early warning signs of violent behavior in kids.

It starts younger than we think

Because of our mental conditioning, it’s hard for us to believe that children can be violent. But according to Richard E Tremblay’s paper, ‘The Development of Physical Aggression’ (2012), studies show that most children actually start to use physical aggression before their second year after birth.

Examples of dangerous kids

The world’s youngest serial killer was alleged to have killed three people, the first one when he was only seven years old. In Japan, an 11-year-old girl killed a peer with a box cutter, before calmly returning to her own classroom. These cases are rare, but it’s proof that violence can begin young.

Potential of becoming violent adolescents/adults

One of the biggest concerns is that unchecked aggression in young children will turn into an exponentially greater violence in adolescents or adults, which is becoming ever more prevalent when you consider things like how many mass shooters are young, antisocial men.

What causes aggressive behavior?

An article called ‘Understanding Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents’ (2011) lists several factors that can cause children to become aggressive, including being a victim of violence or sexual abuse, which is one of the most tragically common causes.

What causes aggressive behavior?

The factors also include watching violence in the media, or being exposed to it in real life. Additionally, poverty and hunger are two commonly cited causes of aggressive behavior.

What causes aggressive behavior?

And, of course, a child’s temperament and relationship with their parents plays an important role in whether they’ll develop violent behavior as well. The following are behavioral signs parents should watch out for in their children that may indicate dangerous potential.

Severely aggressive outbursts

If your child is always getting extremely upset with other kids or adults very quickly, even over minor issues, these out-of-control temper tantrums are often an early sign of violent behavior in the future.

Cruelty to animals

Harming animals or insects is one of the most well-known signs that a child is demonstrating sadistic traits and likely will demonstrate other violent behavior if not mediated.


Paul Tiffin and Carole Kaplan observe in ‘Dangerous Children: Assessment and Management of Risk’ that impulsive traits—children acting without thinking about the consequences—often enhance a child’s risk for developing antisocial and aggressive behavior.

Detached attitude

Take note if your child doesn’t mingle with their classmates, stays away from their siblings, and even stays away from you. This social isolation at such an important development phase is not a healthy sign.

Shows interest in violent content

It’s so important to be screening what media your children are consuming because whether it’s movies, TV shows, or video games, they are potentially at risk of developing violent behavior from it.

Insensitive to the feelings of others

Another bad sign is if a child hurts others in some way and doesn’t appear to feel any guilt or remorse about it. A lack of empathy can be a huge signal that there is work to be done.

Aggressive behavior

Children who destroy property, steal, or exhibit behavior that is hurtful and aggressive to others is another sign. This includes aggression that is online as well, like cyberbullying.

Hanging out with violent kids

Though your kid might seem docile when you pick them up from school, if they’re hanging out with kids who display a violent nature, it’s likely they are also participating. It’s important to get to know your kids’ friends.

Exhibits self-injurious behavior

Though one of the rarer signs, it’s one of the more alarming. Children who hurt themselves have often been hurt in the past and will tend to escalate their violent behavior in the future.

Difficulty in disciplining

If you’re finding it impossible to discipline your child—in everything from telling them it’s bed time to discussing their poor performance in school—it may be a sign that they are developing some aggressive and antisocial tendencies.

Disruptive behavior

Maybe the child is always ruining the games of their peers, they’re always causing disturbances in classes, they’re destructive at social events, or they’re lying with their siblings—if this behavior is consistent, it’s a problem.

Displays feelings of rejection

A huge part of violent behavior is also social isolation, which is why adolescents who don’t have supportive families or role models are at high risk of developing aggressive emotions, emotions which begin at the feeling of rejection.

Threats of violence

Kids or teens who make threats, either verbally or on social media, as well as warnings about harm coming to others, should be seen as major red flags.

What can be done?

While mental health issues can complicate your action plan, many sources suggest behavioral interventions that can be used in combination with pharmaceutical or therapeutic treatment.

Behavioral modeling

As Wendy L. Patrick writes in Psychology Today, “Children listen to what we say, but model what we do.” That’s why it’s so important for kids to see the adults in their lives exhibiting level-headed, productive ways of dealing with tough emotions and conflict.

Stay calm

During times when the child is exhibiting violent behavior, do your best to stay calm, and don’t try to punish the child. Resist the impulse to get caught up in the heat of the moment.

Use an authoritative tone, but listen

Use authoritative tones, phrases, and gestures to let the child know that what they’re doing is wrong. At the same time, it’s important to make space to also listen to the child’s point of view and try to understand them.

Distract the child

When the child is still caught up in the aggression, try to distract them and get them to move away from the scene. Redirect them towards something else until they are no longer fuming.

Get the timing right

Communication is most effective when both parties are calm and collected, and ready to actually absorb what is being said. Create a peaceful, quiet environment where they feel safe, so that you can both have a productive conversation.

Teach self-calming techniques

Childhood is the most impactful time to learn alternatives to physical aggression. Breathing techniques and other self-calming strategies that can help children feel in control of themselves are essential—not to mention lifelong gifts.

Give them enough time and attention

It’s no surprise that neglected children tend to show the most aggressive behaviors, especially as there’s no one around to catch the signs. Give children enough time and attention, and you’ll find it’s much easier to help them develop a healthy self-esteem as well as empathy for others

Reward good behavior

Instead of focusing on punishments when a child exhibits the previous behaviors listed, shift the focus onto rewards. Rewarding positive behavior is a strategic method that balances incentive with instruction.

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