How many stories of school shootings are in your recent memory? What about recent terrorist bombings or riots or incidents with police brutality? There’s no doubt about it: We live in a violent world.
While every parent’s natural inclination is to protect their children from aggression and violence, the reverse is also true: We need to raise kids who are themselves non-violent and peaceful; who know how to resolve their conflicts maturely.
Here are some simple things you can do right now to make sure you’re raising a kind, peaceful child.
- Don’t beat them! It goes without saying that we can’t ask non-violence from our children while showing them violence ourselves. Angrily spanking a child only teaches them that violence is OK if you’re really upset. I’m not saying a kid doesn’t deserve an occasional spanking – but beating them senseless with an electrical extension cord (really happened when I was a cop, along with garden hoses and anything else you could probably imagine) isn’t the way.
- Supervise their TV habits. It’s not completely true that violent movies will turn your kids into bloodthirsty monsters, but you want to make sure they’re not routinely seeing senseless violence glorified without any real-world consequences. Ask them to reflect on what they see, and keep things age-appropriate.
- Take fights between siblings as a teaching moment. Refuse to tolerate any violence here and reward behavior that focuses on verbally coming to agreements and working out differences with a sense of fair play and level-headedness.
- Speaking of what you will and will not tolerate – as with all parenting, stay consistent. Don’t condemn behavior one day and find it cute the next. Stick to your guns.
- Express yourself and encourage them to express themselves. You don’t want to create a tense, passive-aggressive household where kids learn to repress their anger or manipulate others. There’s nothing wrong with being angry – but teach your child that it’s what they do with that anger that counts. Don’t lose your temper when a child is having a tantrum – calmly demonstrate the ways an adult deals with frustration instead.
- Help kids express themselves verbally by giving words to their feelings and suggest alternate outlets for negative emotions. Say, “You’re angry right now because we have to go home. That’s OK. But we don’t hit others” or “I can see that you’re upset that you can’t finish that puzzle. Let’s not bang the table, though. We can go outside for a walk and come back to try later.”
- Show, don’t tell. Your kids learn more by watching you than from anything else. Show them that you can tolerate frustration and disagreements with others respectfully. Treat your spouse well and don’t get overwhelmed with emotions – your children will only learn to do the same.
- Encourage cooperative behavior. Choose games for the family that focus on teamwork instead of conflict, and reward your kids for finding peaceful, creative solutions to their problems.
Social workers will tell you that violent, aggressive children typically come from violent, aggressive households. Because kids are like little sponges, they’ll quickly observe and mimic the behavior of the adults around them.
Whether you’re mom, dad, aunt, uncle or something else to that special kid in your life, recognize that you have a special role to play in teaching them just exactly how adults resolve conflict. We may never solve the world’s problems, but we can definitely raise children that are respectful and non-violent.
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