Parents are very concerned about violence these days and with good reason. While the evidence shows that our schools are still some of the safest places for our children, any incidence of school violence is very disturbing. When we send our children off to school each day we have every right to expect that they will return to us safe and sound. And, of course violence isn't just at school. Many parents are concerned about the violence within their own families. There is probably nothing quite as upsetting to parents as the children they love beating up on each other.

While parents and educators strive to prevent violence, it is easy to seek answers in the wrong places. Most of the focus seems to be on monitoring the television programs and video games available to children. Violent entertainment is not at all my preference and I can certainly agree that some things just are not suitable for children. However, I doubt if the Three Stooges or the old cartoons and fairy tales (which were often quite violent) incited many children to seriously and maliciously hurt others. It would be quite handy if the solution were that simple -- if we could just blame it all on the media -- but it's not.

Children are most likely to learn how to be violent by experiencing violence first hand: either by being attacked or witnessing someone else being attacked - not by just watching it on a screen. However, if a child is already angry and has violent tendencies then the violent games and television can certainly exacerbate them. I do not believe anyone - of any age - can commit a true act of violence unless they have the accompanying rage to fuel it. When children are treated with love and respect they are much less likely to feel such rage.

Therefore, the real key to preventing violence is minimizing the rage in our children as much as possible.

Here are some practical things parents can do:

1. Learn how to deal with and express your own anger in healthy and appropriate ways. Your child will learn these skills by observing you.

To do this a better understanding of anger is essential. We often mistakenly try to avoid anger, but that is an unreasonable expectation and can lead to serious problems like depression and explosions of rage. Anger is a very healthy feedback emotion which alerts us to the fact that things are not going the way we want. There is nothing at all wrong with feeling angry. It is how we often choose to express it that gets us into trouble.

Here is a valuable two step approach to healthy anger management:

First, validate the angry feelings without judging by simply saying "I'm angry!" or "You are angry!" This recognizes that it is perfectly normal and reasonable for people to get angry. The second step is to ask "What am I wanting?" or "What do you want?" This step affirms that we all have a right to want what we want. It also infers that our wants are important. It does not necessarily mean that we will or should always get what we want, but it still validates our inalienable right to desire.

This two step approach usually diffuses the anger immediately because you or the other person will feel heard and acknowledged. Then attention can be constructively directed toward dealing with the unmet desire.

2. Avoid the use of violence or even the fear of violence as a disciplinary tool. This means using love, respect, negotiation and cooperation to get what you want from your children instead of fear, intimidation, humiliation and punishment. Sometimes a spanking or slap of the hand has quick results but the price we pay for those results is never worth it in the long run. We need to look at what we are really teaching our children when we do this.

Children start to learn about violence the first time their hands or bottoms are hit to get them to stop undesirable behaviors. They quickly jump to the conclusion that using violence is an appropriate tool for getting what you want from others and for resolving differences. Then if they are punished for hitting siblings or friends they learn that violence is only OK as long as you are bigger than the other person and can get away with it. This creates even more resentment because they feel denied the very tool you have used with them.

3. Encourage children to take responsibility for the quality of their own relationships. What I am recommending here may seem strange, but I hope you have the courage to try it.

Focus on the pain of the bully -- not the victim.

For example: If a child has hurt another the traditional response is to punish the bully, demand an apology and probably ask them how they think the other child feels, etc. I suggest instead asking the bully (in a loving, non-punitive and nonjudgmental way) how it felt to them when they hurt the other child.

To give you an idea of why this might work, think back to a time when you hurt someone else -- perhaps you hit or yelled at your child. How did you feel? Probably not very good. And this is what you want your child to get. You want them to connect their own uncomfortable feelings with their own hurtful actions. You want them to understand that they can prevent such uncomfortable feelings by treating others with more kindness and respect. Conversely, when they treat another kindly also ask how they feel. How do you usually feel when you treat others well?

4. Teach respectful conflict resolution skills. Here is a simple yet valuable conflict resolution model that is relatively easy to use and teach.

Step 1: State the problem and own it.
Step 2: State how you feel about it.
Step 3: Ask the other person how they feel.
Step 4: State what you want.
Step 5: Ask the other person what they want.
Step 6: Negotiate an agreement.

5. Monitor violent messages. Try this little exercise. For one day keep a running tally of all the violent words and phrases that we use daily to talk about nonviolent situations. For example how often do we hear about a "war" against this thing or that thing? We fight poverty, disease, injustice, etc., and we battle each other to win games and contests. Children are even urged to "go out there and kill" (or at least maim) their opponents in Little League.

What if instead of a "War on Drugs" we talked about preventing drug use and/or meeting the challenges of drug use? What if instead of fighting poverty, disease and injustice we talked about overcoming or preventing them? What if we encouraged children to go out there and have fun by playing a good game?

This is a big and important topic and these few paragraphs are just scratching the surface, but here is something to think about. Perhaps violence -- just like peace -- also begins in our hearts and in our homes. If so, we really can do something about it!

Author's Bio: 

Tammy Cox, LMSW, CPE is the owner and director of The Redirection Connection an educational and personal growth company based in Austin Texas. She is a certified instructor and trainer for the International Network for Children and Families, and Global Relationship Centers, Inc. For more information on parenting or relationship issues, or to receive the free Redirection Connection e-newsletter, Tammy can be reached at phone:512/329-8806, e-mail: redirectioncon@aol.com www.redirectionconnection.com