18 thoughts on “The Child That Wants To Hurt Others

  • October 4, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Dr. Mongelluzzo,
    I enjoyed your article. I was hoping you might offer some advice on how to help my 4 year old with his anger desire to hurt others. My previously sweet but stubborn child has begun to physically poke, pinch, kick his classmates. He knows it’s wrong, says he feels bad about it, then does it again the next day. This goes along with pretending to be a good guy who kills all of the pretend bad guys. I’m just not sure what else to do about his acts against others. Timeouts and removal from situations have been the game plan so far. Any advice would be much appreciated!

    • October 5, 2016 at 11:50 am

      Every presenting issue in childhood is one to be considered individually.
      It is not necessarily a warning sign when otherwise good-tempered children take a turn toward being aggressive.
      As parents we ask ourselves what may have changed? Take a look at subtle changes at home or elsewhere. Also, keep in mind that children your son’s age are moving through developmental stages. Review the developmental stages of childhood to see what I mean.
      It is also mindful to start giving young children tools to talk about what they feel versus acting out physically what they feel. What feeling did he have prior to kicking a classmate? What thoughts were skipping through his mind? If he could say something to one of these kids what would he want to say?
      Wishing you the best.
      Dr. Nanette

      • April 5, 2017 at 8:10 pm

        I’m a single mom with a 5 year old daughter. Her father is not involved in our lives and my daughter does sometimes say she misses him. We have a big loving family and she has strong loving male figures in her life (grandfather and two uncles) she recently began hitting my nephew who is 5 months older than him sometimes she hits him for no reason or for something as minor as finishing breakfast first. I’ve talked to her and her response is “it’s what I do I like to hit” I don’t know what else to do please help

  • October 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Nanette, for your response. I am more convinced we are on the right track. We have been trying to help him identify what he was thinking or feeling at the time of his offenses and have always valued and tried to teach the use of words in any situation. Again, thank you for your response. I will have to review the stages of development.

    • October 6, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      You are most welcome!
      Do take care!!

  • November 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    my 3.5 year old has always been aggressive. Would go out of his way to hurt a child with out being provoked – from a very young age. My earliest memory of concerns was watching him deliberately cross a large sand-pit to wack a chlid over the head with his shovel for no reason at all. THis child was not even facing his direction. This has been an issue at childcare and they are saying, and I have noted that he seems to lack any empathy at all for the distress he causes. There was an incident today where he hurt a child quite badly for no reason, they child was very distressed and he just laughed and laughed. Even when they are speaking to him about it after to say that is not nice he was just laughing and smiling. He does speak of killing people – I want to kill whoever – but not in fits of rage just in conversation, the other day in the car he was pretending to shoot people we went past. We are no gun family and have strict tv viewing rules. I says things like I want to hurt him for know reason. He is very aggressive to his older sibilings espically his 6 year old brother – and this can come as a response to a conflict or unprovoked. The childcare has suggested I take him for an assessment of some sort as they have been trying to work with him all year – there has been little improvement. In all other areas he is fine with great language skills so this is not the problem. I am getting very concerned that there is something more sinister going on as there seems to be no improvement as he gets older.

    • November 9, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Hi Catherine,
      Thank you for your post.
      I would think going for an assessment is a good thing. You will get a baseline, some understanding, and some tools to help you help him. This is scary for parents, but all things can be understood if we take time to seek out good folks to help us. He is young and that is the good news! Likely, an assessment will begin with ruling out any physiological issues that could contribute to all of this.
      Wishing you the best.
      Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

  • November 14, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Dr. Mongelluzzo,
    Thank you for your article. My highly intelligent 11 year old son has always been a sensitive soul, but very even keeled. Always the one to mediate fights or arguments between friends. Very mature. He just told me last night he’s been very very sad lately. He doesn’t know why. And he said he wants to hurt/kill someone. No one specific. He’s NEVER acted violent – just the opposite. Are these suicidal thoughts? He’s very open with me and he came to me with this. I can’t stress enough what a good, kind kid he is. Nothing has changed in his life lately. I sent him to school today – but need guidance as to the next step. What can I do in the immediate? Take him to his pediatrician to be assessed?

    • November 14, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Dear Mom,
      Thank you for your post.
      Whenever we see a change in a child from loving and good natured to a communication around feelings such as you described we want to seek assistance. In medicine they ask the public to notice for changes in appetite, the size of a mole on the skin, changes in bowels, changes in weight, sleep, socialization, and mood. These can be a sign of a health problem. The same holds true with mental health. There can be connections between physical health and emotions and mood. We start first with your pediatrician and go from there. It is important to rule out any physical issue first. This is your immediate first step.
      Wishing you the best!
      Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

  • December 3, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Dr. Mongelluzzo,
    Wonderful article! Just a few quick details to better aid the understanding of my question.
    The child has no memory of parents being together, only has a memory of father and stepmother and then mother by herself.
    Child has always experienced erratic and demanding behaviors from BioMom but has primarily lived with father and stepmother. When mother is angry she keeps the child away.
    Mother assaulted father in front of child
    Now that a custody case is in motion, mother keeps child away more often that way to support her case.
    Child is now very angry with mother.
    He expresses:
    1. that he does not love her and she does not love him.
    2. Hates her
    3. Wants her to die and wants to kill her: in detail and knows the repercussions

    He is not older than 7. And has never been hateful anywhere other than with her and those that attempt to “sneak” him to her.
    Has been seeing therapist and is at a stand still (he doesnt open up to them) mainly only to stepmom.

    Has a strong attachment to stepmom over anyone else. Im assuming because she has played that main caregiver role for as long as he can remember.

    My question is… in relation to parental alienation, does that sometimes backfire on the parent attempting to alienate? When is it that court systems find these emotions within children vital? How can you assure your child that you can protect them from this hurt that they feel when the sources around you are created to support the mother (even if she hasnt been the mother)? I feel like he is losing trust and hope in someone to help him so he is wanting to take it into his own hands.

    • December 4, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Confused Parent,
      Thank you for your comment.
      First off, I am sorry for all the pain and frustration that is in front of you at this time.
      There are many things going on and all of them are important. I hear you about issues related to parent alienation, the court process, and the biggest concern being the child and the obvious confusion for him.
      I would imagine that the parents are working with a parenting coordinator?
      I would also imagine that a custody evaluation has been ordered?
      The role of the therapists is not that of determining custody. At best they would be able to understand the stressors and the effect on the child. Again, at best, they could give the child tools for how to manage during this difficult time.
      You cannot protect a child when multiple influences and multiple stressors are at play. I know this sounds simply awful and likely the last thing you wanted to hear. I feel the same way as a child therapist. Very often the child is trusting me with all information, but what happens if the parents or others cannot change? I cannot protect that child either.
      If the child’s parents are involved with a parent coordinator and a custody evaluator the outcomes may be better. If the child has a guardian ad litem (an attorney appointed for the minor child) this can be enormously useful.
      I am sorry I cannot be of more assistance.
      Wishing you the best,
      Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

  • March 4, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I take care of my five year old niece and 8 month old nephew. My niece has always been very physical with people. Even before her brother came around she would tell me to get out of her life or she would make me. She would try to choke me, hit me or throw a toy at me. I would never give her a big reaction I would tell her in a calm voice that it wasn’t nice to hurt people or if I got out of her life I couldn’t hug her anymore or tickle her. Most days it would work some days she would say I don’t care. Now that her brother is in the picture I have noticed little things here and there that are setting off little warning lights. Oh I am a mother to a nine year old. She has also pulled hair out of my son’s head to the point of his head bleeding and it took me smacking her hand and screaming loud to get her to let go. My son was crying and punching her by the time she let go. She was three and he was six. My mom would yell at him and say you are bigger and older so you should know better. So he didn’t push her off right away. Anyways the little things are pushing her brother away from me and sitting in between us and playing with toys he can’t have. I move her over and say we can all play together but it last for five mins and she does it again. She loves all things “dead”. Like zombies, vampires etc.(they let her watch Scooby-Doo at two years old). I know she watches things that aren’t age appropriate at home but with me that’s a big no. Yesterday she took a toy axe, it goes with a fireman toy and said I will kill you all with this. I will get you in your sleep. I didn’t yell I didn’t smile I just said that isn’t nice why would you want to hurt people. Her response is what is bothering me. She said in a very calm voice because it would be funny. I left it at that. I don’t know how to respond to it, neither do my parents. I know she wants more attention because that shows from pushing her brother away from me. I try to make a point of putting him in his jumper and giving her my full attention, but he is teething so it’s tough. I guess my question is this. How do i talk to her about killing people? Or how do i handle it. I know she can have outbursts cause she has had them with my son, so I worry about leaving her alone with her brother to get her a snack or something. I haven’t said anything to her parents because my sister in law is very physical too. My niece was sitting on a round pillow and fell forward at the same time my nephew fell forward (trying to walk) and they hit heads. Like you heard the hit. Her mom grabbed her by the shoulder and pushed her while yelling why did you do that and picked him up to comfort him. My niece was a little shocked and didn’t know what to do. Luckily her dad was there to comfort her. I think he realized mom over reacted. But even after he said it’s OK it was an accident mom said she could have seriously hurt him. So I try not to bring things up with her because I worry about how she will take it. Anything at all, anything would be awesome. From just how to take it to something I can say to her. My son never went through this, someone has told me it’s just a phase, but everything in my mommy head is telling me things are building up to her having another big outburst and she is so much bigger then her brother. Sorry this is so long but nobody I know has given me any advice.

  • September 30, 2017 at 12:45 am

    This is very helpful. I have a neighbor who have a 3 year old daughter and she’s exactly the same as you describe. According to her grandmother she was slapped once without any reason. I even heard the child’s mother complaining that her daughter poked her in the eyes. The child recently started school and would always start a fight with her classmates.I came to a conclusion that the parents don’t spend time with her. Because both are too busy with their business. I pity the child because my son never experienced that. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom eversince I gave birth to him. So I was able to monitor him. No regrets of giving up my career for him.

  • October 24, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    My son’s 12 year sports team has a kid who is constantly disruptive. At first I thought it might be immaturity. After several months of watching the child it seems like more than just immaturity. His teammates do not like him, disruptive during drills, and when the kids want to concentrate and get ready for the game. He has taken out teammates during a game being overly aggressive on tackles. Doesnt listen to adult authority despite numerous calls to his attention. I also thought he might be SIMPLY frustrated when he plays as he usually will commit fouls on the opposing player when he loses the ball. This pattern is seen week after week and many times a game. He hits players to knock them down, runs to the opposite side of the field and does the same thing to another player – but will turn and smirk. Doesnt care where or when he fouls, even if it will put our team in a bad situation – even after its been brought to his attention. His parents have had meetings with coaches – so they know of the issues. Dad relayed he once coached him and was the worst child when it came to behavior. Other parents recently told me the parents omitted information such as the child having issues at school, with other children at school and being out of control. The father seems to only focus on if the child is playing enough on the field or not (which isnt promised at competitive level) – seems to ignore the kid not listening to game instructions or the child’s over aggression. The father gets to the point where he is yelling at the top of his lungs if the child is going to play. His mother seems to be the one who wants to divulge info, the father not so much. So as part of a staff, and a parent, trying to keep our own kids safe and children on the opposite safe. Thinking sports might not be a priority at the moment and needs emotional help. Trying to get some tools on how to bring this issue to the parents – since it doesnt seem like one really comprehends the issue. worse given the fact the father is in medical field.

  • February 20, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    As a therapist, you should know that it’s not always as simple as just spending more time with a kid. Many of these kids are too sick and psychotic for it to make a difference anyway-they are born missing something upstairs that normal people have, call it empathy, compassion, whatever you want. Not all wackos come from broken homes with neglectful or abusive parents. Some of them come from families like yours.

  • March 11, 2018 at 3:54 am

    Hi, i stumbled across this article.. my son just got really upset when he had to do the dishes & i was a bit short with him. He eventually told me he sometimes gets bad thoughts in his head, wanting to kill me. He said he imagined stabbing me in the back with a knife. He was very emotional. I was completely shocked. We have a great relationship, hes smart, has friends & is a kind caring boy. Am i missing something?

  • May 16, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    My sweet 13 year olds son suffered acute liver failure and suffered brain swellingas a result. At the age of 15 he contracted whooping cough and as a result almost died from lyrangaspasms. Twice he was died. He is now 18 years old and my sweet confident son is now depressed, angry and confused. He says he’s filled with anger for no apparent reason. He has started that he thinks about hurting others. He’s in therapy, taking vitamins and im constantly talking to him. The therapist says he’s compartmentalizing. No physical sexual or mental abuse has gone on in his life. I’m terrified. Trying to be reassuring and helpful. I have clear boundaries and he understands consequence. He is still empathetic but says he feels urges. Any advice would be helpful and appreciated

  • December 10, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    I have a child who is angry and sad and often says these things. Mostly at school where it causes a host of other issues. We’ve talked, nonstop, about every feeling and situation he’s had since he was able to talk. He is under the care of a psychiatrist, a counselor, and multiple school professionals and medicated, and it doesn’t stop him from blurting out about self or other person harm.

    Where do you go when you’re doing everything you can, but the solution never arrives?


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