Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

"I am the mother of three daughters. My oldest is in fourth grade and has been struggling with a friend at school for a long time. They like each other, then hate each other. But recently their relationship has gotten out of hand. My daughter's friend physically hurt her, and the situation has escalated to where it's alleged that my daughter threatened to kill the girl. I have forbidden my daughter to communicate with her, but I am worried and confused."

A. It's imperative that you sit down with your daughter and discuss the seriousness of this situation. In the wake of kids killing kids, no threat can be taken lightly, even if you feel it was provoked or said out of frustration.

A fourth grade girl is almost biologically programmed for spats with friends. Girls at this age are trying to work out the rules of friendships - when to go along and when to resist; when to cooperate and when to be her own person. While arguing is normal, the intensity of these fights between your daughter and the other girl - not to mention the physical harm and the threats - is not. Though your daughter most likely would never follow through on such a threat, she needs to understand the consequences of these words in today's society. Even if your daughter didn't make this threat, it's clear that her relationship with the other girl is volatile. To help your daughter understand the ramifications of this troubling friendship, I recommend the following:

Ask open-ended questions.

Because your child is more likely to answer yes or no when asked a question, pose questions that will initiate a conversation and reveal whether her threat was real. Ask, "Why were you thinking about hurting her? How did you think you would hurt her?" If she insists she didn't make the threat, ask her about the physical violence that's already taken place. Ask, "What do you think about hurting someone?" It is critical to determine whether your daughter is likely to follow through on the alleged threat. If you feel her threat is legitimate, call a professional counselor at once.

Talk to her about threats.

Threatening language is very dangerous, inappropriate, and sometimes illegal. Many schools have adopted a Zero Tolerance rule, which they enforce by suspending and sometimes expelling students for making death threats - even threats made as a joke.

Teach alternatives.

Role-play the various scenarios your daughter experiences with this girl. Brainstorm together to find words or actions that can help her assert her need to be treated with respect and kindness. Tell her that walking away is okay, too.

Evaluate the friendship.

Talk about the pros and cons of the friendship. Remind her of her ability to form friendships and suggest she put energy into other friendships that make her feel good about herself. Take five minutes in quiet prayer together asking God for direction.

Call the other parent:

If this is the last resort, be at peace when you make the call. Anger and resentment will only fuel the fire. Be prepared with solutions for a positive resolution.