Do you find yourself consciously avoiding the local news or trying to keep your children from hearing too much of it? Is the steady stream of violence that is glorified in the media becoming much more than you want to tolerate or can even comprehend?
If so, you are not alone. Recent commentary indicates that violence has become endemic in our society, both in real life and in the way life is portrayed in television shows, video games, and other media. But the good news is that there are efforts underway now to address the problems that have contributed to this disturbing trend.
Although the violence we see depicted in the news or in the media may seem far away from our everyday lives, often our children are exposed to violence and aggression in their worlds through teasing and bullying, which in extreme cases can lead to children and adults who become overtly violent.
It may seem like a bigger problem than any one of us alone can tackle, but there are some things that parents can do to influence their own small part of the world.
Violence in Families
In terms of confronting the issue of violence, you can think in general about how you feel about aggression and violence and specifically what you want to teach your children about how to treat other people. Consider how your rules and interactions with your children reflect those values.
- Do you limit the hours of television and movies they view and video games they play that have violence as a primary theme?
- Do you have rules in your home prohibiting hitting, name-calling, or teasing?
- Are you consistent in following through with your rules?
- Are your children getting the clear message that violence is not acceptable and that you expect them to treat all people with respect?
- Do you encourage cooperation, compassion and concern for others?
- Do you teach your children alternatives to violence and aggression so that they can get their needs met in a healthy and direct way?
- Do you talk to your children about these values?
You are your Children’s Most Important Role Model
Because your children are watching you all the time, modeling is the most powerful way that parents influence their children’s attitudes and behaviors. Do your children see you watching programs that contain a lot of violence? How do they see you treating other people, whether it be the checkout person in the supermarket, your neighbor, your friends, your spouse or your in-laws? Most importantly, how do you respond to your children when you are angry with them?
Do you refrain from physical punishment? When parents hit their children, they inadvertently teach their children that it is all right to physically attack another person when angry; that a bigger person can use physical means to get what they want; that there are not other, more peaceful ways to respond when angry or frustrated. Studies show that children whose parents use corporal punishment are more likely to become violent and to use physical means to respond to frustrating situations. These children are angrier and less respectful toward others than those children whose parents use other means to discipline and generally treat them with respect.
Self-Esteem is a Buffer Against Violence in Families
Children with healthy self-esteem are less likely to revert to violence or bullying. They are confident in their abilities and in their feeling that they are loveable and capable. They don’t need to intimidate or put down other people in order to feel good about themselves. They can accept their limitations and have the confidence to work to improve themselves without becoming discouraged. Here are a few things you can do to help your children form a healthy, yet realistic, image of themselves:
- Find things to praise about your children. Catch them being good, and be sincere with your kind words. But don’t overdo it; kids can sniff out insincerity.
- Identify their areas of competence and interest and build upon those strengths.
- Teach your children the skills of everyday living so they develop the confidence that they can become independent, well-functioning people who can handle themselves in the world.
- Present them with challenges that stretch them beyond their comfort level while offering support as they venture into new areas.
- Have standards that are high but that your children can realistically achieve.
- Hold your children accountable for their behavior and for meeting your expectations and rules.
A Positive Relationship with Your Children is Key
The relationship you build with your children will be the foundation of all other relationships they develop in their lives. If you are respectful, kind, and compassionate; if you listen to them without judgment when they are upset; if you discipline in a fair, firm, and consistent way, you will become a source of support for them so they can turn to you when they are struggling. This warm, accepting relationship will also be what they come to expect in their other relationships and will be the prototype which will determine how they relate to other people.
By being clear about your values and intentional about how you raise your own children, you can be a potent force of change in reducing the amount of violence in our society. By raising your children in a non-violent, respectful environment where they feel loved and capable, you can help them become people who are loving, considerate, and compassionate. One child, one family at a time can stem the tide of violence that has been growing in our society and can instead build a culture of caring that can spread to others throughout your community.By Audrey Krisbergh
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