What to Do When a Third Grader Threatens to Shoot His Friends?

In Lifehacker’s first ever Parenting Advice column, I jump straight to a topic that kids and parents should never have to deal with – and yet here we are. What do you do when one third grader tells a group of other third graders (including your own child) that he will get his father’s gun and “kill everyone”?

Here is the email that came from Parenting, which is very complex:


Last week I checked my son’s backpack (he is in 3rd grade) and found an envelope with a note inside. It was clearly from a child. Here’s what was said:

“Dear W,

I said something very cruel that shouldn’t have been said. It was because it probably scared you, so I give this to you to know that you are a very caring person and you have a good brain to know that you are a very smart, caring and loving person.

Regards, K “

I asked W what K said was “cruel” that made him write this note. Apparently, at the dinner table the night before, the child told the children at the table that he was going to “get his father’s gun and kill everyone.” W said that after lunch he informed the teacher about it in private because it scared him.

Neither the teacher nor anyone else at the school received calls or messages to me. I wrote to the teacher with a request, and she gave very little comfort or told about the situation. All she said was, “We take this very seriously.”

Can I push this to the teacher? Can I go to the director? Am I insisting on details of how the district / school is addressing “similar” problems? Can I just ignore it, believing it was just stupidity that a young child said? How / what can I teach my son? In the modern world, such an event is quite possible.


Parenting is difficult.

Dear parents, this is hard

It really is, isn’t it? It hurts my heart to think that a third grader might conjure up such a threat, and another third grader must be so afraid. My own son is in third grade, so I sincerely sympathize with you while you figure it out.

If I were in your shoes, I would 100% expect to hear about this incident first from the teacher, and not the next day from a note that K. wrote to your son. I received messages from my son’s teacher on the way to less important topics and I have always appreciated that. We cannot help our children cope with problems if we do not know that this is happening, and this is very important. If my child ever tells his teacher that he is afraid of something or someone, I definitely want to know.

But I’m also trying to put myself in his teacher’s shoes, and I’m wondering if she was honestly confused about how to deal with it. While high school teachers may be better prepared / prepared to handle this type of incident, I’m sure a third grade teacher could never have imagined that her eight- or nine-year-old student would threaten other students in this way. So I want to give her the opportunity to doubt that she is taking this seriously, but perhaps she is also excited and does not want to do or say the wrong thing.

This is one of those times when a phone call or a face-to-face meeting is a good idea, especially because you are still not happy with her answer (and rightly so). In some cases, our written words tend to sound short and formal, while body language conveys something completely different. Perhaps she knows more about Kay’s past or his family life than she can tell, and that’s okay. I would like to reiterate your concern to her, but in a way that recognizes her difficult role in this. It might sound like this:

Mrs. X, thank you for meeting me to talk a little more about this situation. I appreciate that you have developed a relationship with W that made him feel safe enough to come to you when he was scared. Thanks for this. I spoke to W about the incident, but since he is very young, I wanted to get a little more information directly from you about your conversation with him.

Then just listen and ask clarifying questions. You can ask if she observed the dynamics of interaction between W and K in the days after the threat. Ask if she thinks she handled the situation as well as possible. I guess the answer to that is yes – she clearly talked about it with K., hence the letter he wrote. But if she is tormented by the feeling that she should have taken one more step that she has not yet taken (for example, talking to the headmaster or calling his parents), that may prompt her to do so. I would believe her opinion if you have no other reason not to trust him.

Finally, it bothers me a little that she may have singled out W instead of K as the person who told her about his comments that were told to the entire classmates table. I don’t know if this is so – she might have told him that she had heard it somewhere else and asked K. to write notes for everyone at the table. But this is what I would like to mention during your meeting – it is important for our children to feel that they can report these types of threats anonymously without affecting their interactions with peers.

At the present time, unless his teacher categorically refuses to talk to you about this further, I see no reason to tell the director about it. If W has another experience with a boy making such statements, I would make an appointment with both the teacher and the principal at that point.

As for the W … man, that guy did a really good job of going to his teacher. You should be so proud of him! Some time ago I wrote an article on how to teach our children the difference between “chatting” and “reporting”; what W did was a “report,” which is great. Praise him for that and encourage him to report anything that makes him fearful or uncomfortable. Of course, you can encourage him to tell you if something else happens to this or another child, but I would not stop there – he told the responsible adult, as he should, and this is the main thing.

Do you have a parenting dilemma? Send your questions to mwalbert@lifehacker.com with “Parental Advisory” in the subject line, and I’ll try to answer them here.


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