Warning Signs of Behavioral Problems

For a lot of you this will be old news but I just wanted to give a quick reminder of warning signs that we as staff should be on the lookout for.  The first group is early warning signs which may indicate a potential future behavioral issue. If you see a pattern of these warning signs, start documenting and notify school administration.  This data can help prevent future problems. The second group is immediate warning signs, and action should be taken at once.


Excessive Feelings of Rejection – Children who are troubled often are isolated from their mentally healthy peers. Without support, they may be at risk of expressing emotional distress in negative ways, including violent acts or seeking out aggressive friends who, in turn, reinforce their violent tendencies.

Being a Victim of Violence – Children who are victims of violence, including physical or sexual abuse, are sometimes at risk of becoming violent toward themselves or others.

Feelings of Being Picked On and Persecuted – These children may initially withdraw socially, but if not given adequate support in addressing these feelings, some children may vent them in inappropriate ways, including possible aggression and violence.

Low School Interest and Poor Academic Performance – Poor school achievement can be the result of many factors. In some situations, such as when the low achiever feels frustrated, unworthy, chastised and denigrated, acting out and aggressive behavior may occur.

Expression of Violence in Writing and Drawings – An over-representation of violence in writing, drawings and music that is directed at specific individuals consistently over time, may signal emotional problems and the potential for violence.

Uncontrolled Anger – Anger that is expressed frequently and intensely in response to minor irritants may suggest potential violent behavior toward self or others.

Patterns of Impulsive and Chronic Hitting, Intimidating and Bullying Behaviors – Some mildly aggressive behaviors such as constant hitting and bullying of others that occur early in children’s lives, if left unattended, might later escalate into more serious behaviors.

History of Discipline Problems – Chronic behavior and discipline problems, both in school and at home, may suggest that underlying emotional needs are not being met, which may be manifested in acting out and aggressive behavior.

History of Violent and Aggressive Behavior – Unless provided with support and counseling, a youth who has a history of aggressive or violent behavior is likely to repeat those behaviors. Research suggests that children who engage in aggression and drug abuse before age 12 are more likely to show violence later on than are children who begin such behavior at older ages.

Intolerance for Differences and Prejudicial Attitudes – Intense prejudice toward others based on racial, ethnic, religious, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability and physical appearance, when coupled with other factors, may lead to violent assaults against those perceived to be different.

Drug Use and Alcohol Use – Substance use reduces self-control and exposes children and youth to violence, either as perpetrators, as victims or both.

Affiliation with Gangs – Gangs support anti-social values and behaviors, including extortion, intimidation and acts of violence toward other students, cause fear and stress among other students. Youth who are influenced by these groups (i.e., those who emulate and copy their behavior, those who become affiliated with them) may adopt these values and act in violent or aggressive ways in certain situations.

Inappropriate Access to, Possession of, and Use of Firearms – These youth not only have an increased risk for violence, but also have a higher probability of becoming victims of violence.

Serious Threats of Violence (also an imminent warning sign) – Detailed and specific threats to use violence should be taken very seriously.


If you see any of these signs contact school security first then school administration and  school social services.

  • Serious physical fighting with peers or family members;
  • Severe destruction of property;
  • Severe rage for seemingly minor reasons;
  • Detailed threats of lethal violence;
  • Possession and/or use of firearms and other weapons; and/or other self-injurious behaviors or threats of suicide.

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