Raising Non-Violent Children
By Beth M. Kolb
Printed in a previous edition of the PRES NEWSLETTER
The number of violent acts among children has increased and the nation is looking for ways to help prevent such events. Schools promote safe environments through different avenues such as peer mediation, social skill groups, school rules and consequences. Violence is a topic that can not only be addressed at school; it needs to start at home when children are very young. Children grow up learning to deal with difficult situations through examples set by their parents when they are young, to other significant adults as they get older. As parents, you have great power in shaping your children into strong, proud, honest individuals. When they are young, it is important to begin teaching them that hitting, pushing, kicking, etc are not appropriate ways to solve their problems. Teaching them problem solving behaviors at an early age will teach them positive ways to handle their emotions rather than a more physical method. It is very common for children to be physical with other children or their siblings in play or fighting situations. These are crucial opportunities to stop your child from the physical transgression and offer alternative solutions. Praise them when they do attempt such alternative solutions.
A common punishment used to be "spanking" or "hitting" a child in order to stop an unwanted behavior. You may remember experiencing a "spanking" when you were growing up. Today, it is advised to not use physical methods as a form of punishment. This sends children messages that it is okay to hit or hurt someone, even if you love them. Physical punishments have not been found to be effective methods of eliminating unwanted behavior. Some alternative solutions to physical punishments are: discussing the problem, have your child problem solve with you, talk about potential consequences, and talk through difficult situations you experience so they can hear how to help themselves.
One crucial yet often overlooked prevention strategy is regulating children's media exposure. Since we know that children will often model what they see, the types of television shows, movies, and video games children experience also need to be monitored. Although children may indicate a preference for their favorite TV show, video game or a show that "all their friends watch", you as the parent should watch the show, movie or video game to be sure it is appropriate for them. Some children do not appear to be affected by the violence they watch at the moment, but it is most likely being reinforced into their minds. Many children often see violent events on movies, video games or television shows, yet do not have the maturity or experience to understand the violent information. They will organize it into their own mental frameworks to make sense. Sometimes, it is inaccurately organized which leads to unrealistic ideas about the world around them. If your child does see violence, discuss it with them. Help them to make sense of the information in a positive way. You will also be teaching them good problem solving, listening and resolution skills.
Children also benefit from consistent rules and discipline. Children need structure and limits in order to learn appropriate behaviors. As they get older, they will test the waters and see if they can get away with some behaviors. If you set rules and then follow through with your consequences, children will learn there is a consequence for their behavior (Both positive and negative consequences). Children are more invested when they are part of the process in developing rules and consequences. Involve them with the process as much as possible.
Finally, teach your children ways to stay safe and stand up against violence. Going over safe ways to walk home, how to behave in busy environments, staying with a buddy rather than being alone, and using calm, firm words if someone says "bullying" comments are some positive prevention strategies you can discuss with your children. Teaching children to accept people with diverse backgrounds also promotes positive relationships rather than negatively focusing on the differences among people. Together with the school and community, we can teach our children to be responsible, safe, and non-violent individuals.