Preventing Violence in Our Children by Gloria Rothenberg, PhD
(Reprinted from The Nassau Psychologist, December 1995)
We are constantly bombarded with images of violence: the war in Bosnia, terrorist bombings, the Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman murders, gang wars, guns in schools, action films and superhero cartoons. Many parents are concerned about the rising incidence of youth violence that parallels these trends in our culture. How do we protect our children from the influence of such ever-increasing violent images? The evidence indicates that it is best to start very early to help your child acquire nonviolent means of problem solving. It is vital to provide children with love and attention. This creates security and trust and sets the stage for the development of positive self-esteem.
Children need to be properly supervised at all times. They need our guidance in learning how to make decisions and in developing good judgment. When they play with peers, observe how they interact and what strategies they use to settle disputes. When they hit others, intervene to demonstrate other ways to settle problems, such as negotiation, compromise, and taking turns.
One of the most important ways that children learn is through observation. This means that your actions affect what your child learns to do. Parents who frequently fight with each other or who hit their children when they are angry can expect their children to use the same methods to settle conflicts outside the home. Parents need to demonstrate communications that are assertive yet respectful of others. They need to model the use of compromise and cooperation to settle differences and the giving of compliments to others to show their appreciation. It is important to talk things through so that children learn to use words rather than actions to deal with conflict.
When discipline is needed, spanking and other physical punishments are largely ineffective. They may stop the unwanted behavior for the moment, but they do not produce long-term control of behavior. Moreover, they teach that aggression is an acceptable means of controlling others. Alternatives include withdrawal of privileges or treats, grounding, "time out" (making children sit quietly for some period of time), and correcting whatever mistakes they have made. It is also important to be sure that children understand why they are being punished. This again requires the parent to communicate his or her ideas and values to the child.
Even if you provide a constructive, nonviolent setting in your home, your child will be exposed to violent images in the culture. It is important to be available to your child to help them understand these images and to talk about them with you. Carefully screen what your child watches on TV and discuss the consequences of what they are seeing in realistic terms. Steer them towards quality children's programming that presents positive role models and constructive problem-solving strategies.
If your child has been a victim of violence, there may be traumatic reactions which need professional attention. Be alert for anxieties, depression, fears of school or being away from parents, emotional outbursts, sleep disturbances, changes in eating or toilet patterns, or avoidance of previously pleasurable activities. If these patterns persist, discuss your concerns with a professional such as a teacher, pediatrician, or school or clinical psychologist. Intervention at this point is needed to prevent future problems.