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What You Do Can Help Your Child Rise Above
Violence is a Social Problem
Why Little Boys Need Toy Guns
What You Do Can Help Your Child Rise Above Violence
If you are like most parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and others who take care of young children, you worry most about the youngsters safety. You dont want them to be exposed to violence, but in todays world, often that just isnt possible.
But you can do something about it! You can help protect a young child from getting involved with violence, and you can increase that childs chances for a safe and productive future. The same skills that help children avoid violence also lead them to better relationships, a more fulfilling life, and better careers.
Early Learnings is Powerful
Violent behavior is learned, and often it is learned early in life. But just as children can learn to be violent, they also can learn to be kind-hearted. They can learn constructive ways to solve problems, deal with disagreements, and handle anger. Children who learn these skills early in life actually are learning violence preventionsomething that will be valuable for the rest of their lives. With these skills, children are far less likely to grow up to be violent, or to be victims of violence.
Children need to feel safe and loved
First and foremost, a child needs to feel safe at home. There is no surer way to start children on the right path in life than to provide consistent, reliable, loving care. How you relate to the children inside your home is perhaps the most powerful tool for protecting them from violence outside the home.
Children are people watchers
Children learn how to behave by watching people around them. Your child learns by watching characters on television, in videos, and in movies. And, above all, your child learns by watching you. Think for a moment about how you react to difficult situations. How do you act toward your spouse? Your friends? Your neighbors? Other family members? You are teaching your child, by example, how to get along in the world. When you and others come together to solve your problems peacefully, your child learns how to deal with people in a positive way. But when you or someone close to your child is aggressive and destructive, the child learns to act the same way.
Just being exposed to violence is harmful
When children, even very young children, see a violent act, they are deeply affected by it. This is especially true if the violence involves a family member or someone they know in the neighborhood. What can you do to help? First, allow the children plenty of time to talk about violence they have seen at school, in the neighborhood, or on TV. Encourage them to express their feelings about it. Second, make sure your children get to see many more examples of people dealing with each other in a spirit of friendly cooperation rather than by threatening violence or hurting each other. The children will gradually realize that there are many ways to deal with people and resolve conflicts peacefully, and that violence is not the best way to get what they want.
When children are victims
Sadly, children themselves are sometimes the victims of violence.
A child who is being abused lives with constant fear and pain. And
while the physical wounds may heal, the emotional scars can last a
lifetime. If you know of a child who is being abused, or if you
suspect that someone may be abusing a child in your care, seek help
immediately. Otherwise, that child may grow up to become a violent
adult or may fall into a pattern of repeatedly being victimized.
Everyone gets angry at timesits part of being human. Anger is a normal feeling that can be helpful, because it signals that change is needed. But anger also can get out of control. Helping children learn to manage anger is a very important part of early violence prevention.
It is hard for very young children to understand and manage their anger. As your young child grows, gradually teach these principles:
Several things stir young childrens anger, and they show it in different ways. Here are some typical examples:
When infants, birth to about 9 or 10 months, feel bad because they are hungry, sick, or in pain, or when they are startled by a loud noisethey show their anger by crying and thrashing their arms and legs.
Older babies, up to about 18 months, still show anger with crying and fussing, but the reasons may be different. This tends to occur when they dont get an appealing object, when they cant be with the person they want to be near, when they are frightened, or when they feel bad because of illness.
From about age 18 months to 4 years, children are easily frustrated and will aggressively try to get or to keep what they want. They may grab a toy or take a cookie away from a friend, push a child away from the place they want to stand, or hit someone who takes something away from them.
Children from about ages 4 to 8 years old gradually understand more, and they get angry about what people say, as well as what they do. They get better and better at expressing themselves with words, and their understanding of the world expands dramatically. Their aggression often is aimed at hurting another personperhaps directly, by hitting or fighting, perhaps indirectly by damaging something the other person cares about.
Children can learn to manage anger
Young children who learn to manage angry feelings are more likely to make and keep friends. Also this skill can help prevent and resolve conflicts at home. Schoolchildren who are constantly arguing and fighting are the ones most likely to have problems in school and to have trouble making friends. And these issues can later lead to quitting school, having problems with the law, and abusing alcohol and drugs.
Importantly, helping a child to control angry feelings begins when you respond to the childs anger in a calm, respectful manner:
Calm an infant by holding and comforting the infant, as well as removing or changing what caused the fussing.
Encourage a toddler to use words to tell you what he or she feels, even in simple language. I mad, or Want doll, is a reasonable response from a little boy or girl.
Help preschoolers begin to learn and practice a self-calming methodtaking a few deep breaths, sitting down, counting to 10, or repeating, Be cool, be calm, for example.
Encourage kindergarten and elementary school youngsters to explain what happened and how they feel. After a child is calm, ask what is wrong and LISTEN to the explanation, without interrupting. Help the child think about and tell ways to change the situation that caused the anger.
If you have trouble controlling your temper, it can help you and your children if you get help through anger management training or by seeing a mental health professional.
Social problem solving
Problem solving doesnt just mean doing arithmetic or figuring out how to fix a leaky faucet. Many of the toughest problems, sometimes involving strong feelings, occur between people. Adults and children who can manage the strong feelings and resolve conflicts reasonably, without hurting someone, have good skills for social problem solving.
Start early to help young children STOP and THINK about different ways to solve a problem. Help them choose to act in a way that is nonviolent, safe, and fair. Around age 3, children are usually ready to begin simple steps of thinking and making choices which are part of social problem solving.
As children grow, they get better at solving problems. Around age 4 or 5, children can think of more than one way to solve a problem, and they can predict how people will react to their actions. (If I hit George when he wants my truck, he will hit me back. If we take turns, he wont grab it any more.) They also learn to name their own feelings and those of others. (I am mad because Sandra wont let me on the swing. Carlos is sad because his balloon popped.) Further, they begin to care about other peoples feelings and well-being (Mark, Im sorry you hurt your knee. Grandma will be happy when she sees the picture I colored for her.).
Children aged 6 to 8 can understand how others might see a problem differently, and they can talk about a situation more clearly. They also develop a conscience and worry about rules and fairness.
Be sure to praise a child who does any of these things:
No childs behavior is perfect all of the time, and some kids are harder to deal with than others. When you must act to stop a childs bad behavior, your goal should always be to do it with self-control and without violence. The goal of discipline is to teach children self-control, not to punish them.
Remember, the most important way to teach your child how to handle anger is for you to show that you can calm yourself, think about your own actions, and take reasonable, nonviolent steps to change a situation that made you angry.
The best way to get children to behave the way you want is to pay attention to them when things are calm and comment on their good behavior. Praise children for sharing a toy with a playmate without being told to do so or for putting their toys away when they are finished with them or for avoiding conflicts with other children. If children get attention only when they misbehave, they repeat the bad behavior.
Discipline is an important job and a young childs constant out-of-control behavior can:
You can teach a child self-control by:
Let children know what you expect, with simple statements.
Follow through with praise for following instructions or consequences for disobeying.
Sometimes a youngster's bad behavior can be so frustrating that a parent or caregiver strikes the child without stopping to think. Yet children become confused, scared, and angry when adults hurt themespecially the adults whom they depend on to love and protect them. And continual, harsh punishment can lead a child to become aggressive and out of control - just the opposite of what you want to accomplish.
Some discipline methods to try
Ignore some behavior that is irritating but not dangerous - for example, whining, swearing, or having tantrums. It may be hard to do this, but paying attention to such behavior may just encourage more of it.
Taking away a privilege can help to stop bad behavior. Once children are old enough to understand, tell them that something they like (riding a bike, playing at a friends house, watching a favorite TV show) will be taken away if they continue to misbehave. This sets up a choice: With self-control, they get what they like; if they continue to behave badly, they dont. This kind of approach teaches that actions have consequences.
Natural and logical outcomes can teach lessons. (A child puts her cookie on the floor, you warn her, she persists, the dog eats the cookie, and she has none.) Of course, this should never be your approach when safety is at stakefor instance, when a child plays with matches or walks into the street. If a child misbehaves, respond in a way that lets the child see the connection between his or her action and your reaction. (A child colors on the wall, her crayons are taken away, and she helps clean the wall. A youngster screams for candy in the store, the parent takes him home without the treat.)
When young children are fighting or arguing, place yourself between them. If possible, kneel to get to the childrens eye level. Let them know you understand that they are upset. If they are fighting over a toy or object, hold the object until the problem is settled. Ask each child to tell you what is wrong and listen to what they say. Ask both children to think of ways they might resolve the problem. Help them think about consequences (If we do this, then what will happen?). Help them choose a solution that is fair and nonviolent. Watch what happens: If it works, praise them; if not, have them choose another solution and try again.
If one child clearly has been hitting or picking on another, speak to the victim first, allowing him to say what he wants and how he feels. Encourage the victim to face the bully and say how he feels - perhaps something like this: "I dont like it when you push me. It hurts and makes me mad!" Be sure that the bully doesnt get more attention than the victim gets.
When a child ignores your warning about what might happen, sometines your best option is to let it happen.
Timeout is a method that some families use to give children (and adults) a short cooling off period. If you use it, keep the time short and follow these guidelines:
Choose a safe, supervised place where the child can be quiet and undisturbed.
Tell the child that at the end of the timeout, the two of you will talk about the troublesome behavior.
Tell the child to sit quietly, without talking to anyone, until he or she is calm and ready to have a discussion.
When timeout is over, keep your promise and talk with the child about what happened.
People have a variety of opinions about spanking, but the reality is that hitting or spanking your child sends a confusing message. It says its okay to hurt someone you love in order to control them or solve a problem. Repeated harshly, over time, it will train children to punish others with force - the same way that they were punished.
Media - especially television, but also videos, movies, comic books, music lyrics, and computer games - have a strong influence on children. On the one hand, such media offer powerful tools for learning and entertainment; on the other hand, violence in the media is damaging for young children.
Research shows that violence in the media has the following effects on children:
As children get older, those who watch a lot of television also have lower grades, especially in reading. After all, they are substituting TV for homework, study time, reading practice, using their imagination, and interacting with others. Start limiting childrens TV viewing while they are young to help prevent later problems in school.
The extent of childrens exposure to television violence is stunning. Violence also is a theme in many popular video and computer games for children, and new research suggests that those games may be more harmful than television and movies.
Here are some ways that you can prevent violence in the media from having such a strong influence on your young children:
Talk with children about violence in the media. In those discussions, you can teach some important lessons:
Caution about weapons
A childs curiosity about weapons can be deadly. It is heartbreaking to hear of accidental shootings and serious injuries by children who handle guns or play with them. Teach children to never touch a gun, bullet, or knife. Let them know that if they find one, they should not touch it, but should tell a trusted adult about it.
If you own a gun, never leave it out where a child might get it. Always lock your unloaded guns and bullets separately, in secure places that children cannot reach.
At home and in your community
The daily experiences you provide for young children are powerful, not only for preventing violence, but also for increasing their chances to have a productive, happy life. If you stay at home with your children, have a schedule and plan activities for them and with them. If your children are in a child-care program while you work outside of home, make sure that it offers chances for constructive play and learning opportunities, with well-qualified staff who promote positive social behavior. Research shows that high quality child-care programs can reduce behavior problems in later childhood.*
Teach your child a sense of community by being part of the community yourself. Participate in activities to keep your neighborhood safe and to prevent violence.
Give your children opportunities to play with other children and to interact with people of all ages.
Give children your time - play together, eat together, watch their activities, work on projects together, just hang out and share everyday experiences.
As part of a young childs family, you have a critical influence on that young childs development. What you teach children today will make a difference in who they are tomorrow. You are the best person to show a path to nonviolence for the children, for your family, and for your community.
*The National Association for the Education of Young Children accredits early childhood programs that meet its standards. A nationwide listing of accredited programs can be found at the associations Web site.
This brochure was developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as part of the ACT Against Violence project.
American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1426
The ACT Against Violence public service advertising campaign is produced in collaboration with the Advertising Council, Inc.
Several core principles serve as the basic tenets for preventing
Violence is a Social Problem
Young people are not naturally violent
Critical factors in a childs family, peers, school, and community are known to increase the likelihood that a young person will engage in violence.
Violence is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.
In most cases, young people learn at home, in school, from the media, and from their peers how to respond to conflict and other situations with violence.
Violence prevention strategies must be comprehensive.
Strategies for prevention should address each level of influence, including individuals, families, schools, communities, as well as societal initiatives such as policy and media advocacy.
No one solution works in every case.
Instead, violence prevention must occur within the context of individual lives. Effective violence prevention should be adapted to the specific cultural needs of young people.
Violence prevention requires many partners.
Effective prevention programs and initiatives must be developed with the broad-based participation of businesses, organizations, communities, and individuals, all of whose involvement is necessary for a large-scale impact.
Successful prevention is happening.
Many organizations, institutions, and communities are already responding to the problem of youth violence with a variety of effective strategies, programs, and services.
Youth involvement is essential.
Young people themselves are an essential part of violence prevention efforts and are an asset to the planning and implementation of prevention activities.
You can make a difference.
You, too, can get involved in preventing violence at some level, whether by talking to your children, volunteering in your community, or advocating for legislation.
Youth violence and strategies for its prevention are complex issues. Common definitions are often helpful to begin to discuss, plan, and act on potential solutions.
prevent v. 1. To keep from happening; avert. 2. To keep someone from doing something; impede. 3. To anticipate or counter in advance. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
violence n. 1. Deliberate acts or behaviors that threaten or result in serious psychological injury, physical injury, or death. (National Campaign Against Youth Violence Academic Advisory Council)
youth n. 1. Children, adolescents and young adults.(National Campaign Against Youth Violence Academic Advisory Council)
youth violence n. Not limited to youth against youth. May
involve a young victim and an adult perpetrator or vice versa. The
salient feature is that the perpetrator, the victim, or both are
under 25 years of age. (Adapted from the Centers for Disease
Video Games Numb Kids to Violence
How Can I Deal With My Anger?
Teen-Agers Who Watch More Television Are
More Prone To Violence
The Trench Coat Mafia
An 'R' Rating for Wrestling
The study, by Dr. Robert H. DuRant, a professor and vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University Medical School in Winston-Salem, N.C., followed 2,228 randomly selected North Carolina high school students for a year. For those who watched wrestling, the study showed a higher incidence of starting a fight with a date, being a victim of a date fight, carrying a gun, driving while intoxicated and nonprescription Ritalin use.
"It is another case of when you watch violence in the media, the chance of participating in violence is increased," Dr. DuRant said. "What you see in wrestling is a fair amount of men and women hitting each other. There are the large-breasted, scantily clad women who may help their guy out by jumping on the other wrestler or kicking him in the groin. Then there are the women who are hit by the wrestlers and even the announcers justifying that it is O.K."
A spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation called the study insubstantial and overblown. "Even Dr. DuRant admits that there are third variables that may influence his outcome," said Gary Davis, the spokesman. "There may be lots of problems in the home depression, divorce, academic stresses."
Mr. Davis called attention to a federation Web site (www.wwf parents.com) that asks parents to talk about wrestling programs with their children. Its home page reads in part: "We urge parents who allow younger children to watch our programming to explain that what our superstars do on television should not be emulated or attempted in real life."
But Dr. DuRant says the problem is that what the federation portrays on the screen reinforces tendencies to violence. Somewhat surprisingly, he said, young women who watch wrestling regularly are more susceptible to causing date violence than even those young men who watch though the number of women in the study was relatively small.
Dr. Howard R. Spivak, a professor of pediatrics and community health at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said he was disturbed by the findings about girls.
"That adds another dimension, but it is consistent with the gender elements that wrestling is portraying," he said. "Women are portrayed in a derogatory manner, as sex objects and violent people. It appears that this modeling is being picked up by teenage girls who are watching it."
Source: By Robert Strauss, www.nytimes.com/2001/06/24/health/24STRA-MH.html
Also Available Online:
Eron, L. D., Gentry, J. H., & P. Schlegel, eds. 1994. Reason to hope: A psychosocial perspective on violence & youth. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Glass, D.L., & B.A. O'Neill. 1994. Kelso's choice: Conflict management for children. Winchester, OR: Rhinestone.
Kaiser, B. & J.S. Rasminsky. 1999. Meeting the challenge: Effective strategies for challenging behaviors in early childhood environments. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Child Care Federation. Available from NAEYC.
Levin, D. 1997. Remote control childhood? Combating the hazards of media culture. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Levin, D., & D. Prothrow-Stith. 1994. Teaching young children in violent times: Building a peaceable classroom. Philadelphia: New Society.
Olweus, D. 1993. Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Riley, S. 1984. How to generate values in young children: Integrity, honesty, self-confidence, and wisdom. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Sandall, S., & M. Ostrosky, eds. 1999. Practical ideas for addressing challenging behaviors. Denver, CO: Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. Available from NAEYC.
Slaby, R. et al. 1995. Early violence prevention: Tools for teachers of young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Stone, J.G. 1978. A guide to discipline. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Warren, J.M. 1977. Caring: Supporting children's growth. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
How do Parents Matter? (July/August 2000)
Mix of Siblings and Parental Conflict Help Explain Aggression in Boys (Feburary 2000)
Book Order Information: To order an APA book call 1 800 374-2721 or visit www.apa.org/books. To order an NAEYC book -- call 1 800 424 2460, ext. 2001.