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Raising Non-violent Children in a Violent World

Updated on March 15, 2013

Non-violence in a violent world

Raising non-violent children is becoming more and more difficult in our increasingly violent world. Everywhere we look it seems that violence has found its way into our culture. Our schools, our malls, our churches. Teaching our children healthy non-violent communication skills is more important now than ever.

The adults in a child's life are their first and greatest examples of how to live a non-violent life. When we choose to practice peace-centered parenting, we are really telling our child that we see them as human beings too. Being human is a given, but being humane is a choice.

Where it comes from...

Parenting is an adventure that none of us really understands fully before we enter into it, and it doesn't get any better as it goes. Just about the time you have one of your child's phases figured out, they enter into a new one.

People always say that children should come with an instruction manual, well that is part of the problem. There are tens of thousands of manuals out there and all of them say different things.

Even in the new millennium the experts can't quite agree on the "right" way to raise a child.

The problem is, each of us has our own idea of what defines successful parenting. Sometimes those ideas change from day to day. Experts can't agree, and we can't agree.

For me, my parenting philosophy came from many sources. My own childhood was a huge factor but so was my fascination with psychology, with finding out what makes the human mind tick.

When I realized how easily we can damage our children for life, how careful we must be with their fragile minds I actually scared myself. As parents, we have one of the most important jobs on earth, shaping a future generation.

Our children spend less than 20 years with us, then go on to spend another 60 years, 70 years, 80 or maybe even more on this planet. What goes on in our home with them today seems so small it hardly even matters in the grand scheme of things. We aren't raising children at all, we are raising future adults and we only have 20 years to do it!

What we do in our home can affect society for many years to come.

That sort of puts your parenting goals in perceptive doesn't it? When we are just trying to make it through today, it is hard to focus on that far away future. What do we really want for our children in the future? What are we doing now to get them there?

When I looked at my ultimate goals for parenting I had to wonder which direction I was really headed with my children. The first few years of my children's lives were filled with constant fighting and anger, after the divorce it just wasn't fair to them for us to continue on that path.

Then something happened that forced a change in the way both my husband and I parented. My youngest daughter was taken advantage of by an older child. My son witnessed the event and did nothing. My husband and I both overreacted and in the process my son received his very last spanking ever. As were were advocating non-violence, we both reacted violently to my sons behavior.

All I really intended to do in the beginning was remove the hypocrisy from my parenting. I refused to ask something of my children that I was not willing to demand from myself. I didn't realize I had become an advocate of non-violent parenting until well after the decision had been made. I just began wondering why people hit their children and then tell them not to hit. Why they are disrespectful of their children yet demand respect from them.

We are our children's first and best models of expected behavior. Our children are going to do what we do, not do what we say. When we lie to someone saying we aren't feeling well so we can't attend that birthday party, our children are watching us. The person on the other end of the phone might not know we are lying but our children do. They are learning from us even then.

This actually didn't come from any specific book or source, it just came from a lot of deep though on the subject of parenting, a lot of trial and error, and continuing doing what worked, while dropping what didn't.

What developed was my theory of non-violent, peace-centered parenting.

When forming our parenting goals, many of us look at our own childhoods as examples. We take those things learned from our own parents into our new families, but we don't really stop to question if they truly worked or not.

We must ask ourselves what we did and did not learn from our parents methods.

My mother and I had constant power struggles throughout my childhood, but looking back not one of those power struggles convinced me to do as she wished. In fact most of the time I was more determined to do whatever it was I was not supposed to do, I just got better at hiding it.

I did learn a great many things from her, but some of her methods just plain didn't work, and I didn't think they would work with my own children. I knew I needed to change things with my own children, and non-violent parenting turned out to be that answer.

I know many parents who don't hit or spank, but when you observe them closely it seems some have just chosen not to deal with their child's behavior at all.

A child who is allowed to do anything usually does, but eventually they will be adults and adults are not allowed to to anything they wish.

Parents who are always making excuses for their child. Who refuse to believe that their child could ever be at fault. Parents who are at the school screaming that Johnny isn't being treated fairly when Johnny is disciplined in school.

Each parent has that right, but they aren't doing their children any favors later in life either. When you deprive your children of the consequences of their own actions, you are also depriving them of personal responsibility.

You are teaching them that no matter what happens in their life it is someone else fault.

Prisons are full of people who have had many bad things happen in their life, but rarely is it their fault, so are public assistance programs, domestic violence programs for abusers and talk shows. Not everyone in those places thinks that way, but we all know people who do.

We are all responsible for our own actions, where we go in life is not determined by some malicious outside force out to get us. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, it is a law of nature, and depriving our children of the many opportunities to learn that lesson before adulthood is depriving them of adulthood.

Parents often demand respect from their children, but are they modeling that respect first?

When parents are constantly putting others down in front of the child, they are encouraging disrespect. For some reason they believe it is fine to disrespect someone they don't like, but they are forgetting one very important thing.

Eventually, your children are not going to like you, and you have already given them permission to disrespect those they do not like. All kids have moments when they do not like their parents, and when it does the idea that you only have to respect those you like is going to blow up in your face.

Last year I had the opportunity to witness a situation where some children had major problems with their teacher. The teacher was eventually fired, and though I really liked her, that wasn't really where I had a problem.

When the parents discussed the teacher in front of the children, it was in horribly derogatory terms. In turn I heard the children referring to the teacher as "a dirty old rag," and "the bitch." Some of the parents were even encouraging the children to do so.

While parents had a problem with the teacher, it was between the parents, the teacher and the school staff. Venting about it in front of the children made an already bad situation worse, and encouraged disrespect for others among the kids.

I had to work very hard with my own children to help them understand that being disrespectful of another person, even if we don't like them or what they are doing, is always wrong.

I didn't do it just to protect the teacher, I did it to protect myself in the future as well.

If I am going to demand respect from my children, I must demand it in all situations, not just situations of my choosing.

What goes on behind closed doors often transfers to public. Respect is important in public, but even more so in private. When parents are openly disrespectful to their children, or even towards one another they are encouraging the cycle of disrespect to continue.

It isn't always blatant disrespect, name calling, labeling, and shaming are all forms of disrespect. Parents who are mad at one another and pass that anger on to the children, parents who are angry with one child and pass that anger on to the other children.

We don't always mean to be disrespectful, but calling a child fat, lazy or stupid serves no purpose but to harm. If I expect my children to be respectful of me, I must always be cautious of the words I use with them.

You can't expect a child to be respectful of you if you are not first being respectful to the child.

Many times when a child (or an adult for that matter) becomes angry, it is because they are feeling frustrated, frustration in turn often stems from feeling misunderstood.

Sometimes we have to tell our child no, and it is never really easy, especially when it is something that is important to them.

Before you say no, take a moment to really hear your child out, and then explain why you have made the decision you have. Perhaps you feel it is too dangerous, too expensive, too mature. You can validate their feelings without giving in to your child.

The word no is going to put your child on the defense, so save it for later. Instead begin with the words "I understand how you are feeling. I am just concerned because..."

Not everything is a serious matter, and not all problems are created equal.

I actually knew a parent who threatened to send their child to military school for smoking cigarettes, I didn't dare tell them what else the child was smoking. It seems that no matter what their child did, they were always jumping to the extreme route first.

I know some parents who react more violently to a child writing on themselves than they do serious signs of emotional trouble.

I've never quite understood it to be honest, kids come fully washable. It affects a very short period of their life when you really think about it.

I'm more concerned with the decisions they make that will last, maybe even a lifetime. If I have to spend the energy, I'd rather spend it where it counts.

I don't mind my oldest dying her hair now and then, and I don't mind her mega-gothic-emo-individualistic look. A few months, or even a few years of oddness out of her life aren't going to ruin it, it makes it just a little more colorful.

I'm more concerned with how she feels about herself, her life, and her future. I'm concerned with her making it to the destination she has chosen for herself without being derailed by drugs, alcohol, or an unplanned pregnancy.

That is where I am going to spend my energy.

I was a pretty smart kid, and something I figured out early on in life is that my Mom tended to react to all situations with the same intensity. She had a temper, and she wasn't afraid to use it.

I was going to get into the exact same amount of trouble if I took one dollar out of her purse or one-hundred.

I was going to get in the same amount of trouble whether I stayed out three hours late, or three days late.

I was going to get into the same amount of trouble whether I made a small mistake, or a huge master epic f**k up.

Since I was a logical person, it only made sense to take the grand prize. If I was going to screw up I was going to go full force, and I was going to enjoy the hell out of it.

Now, my kids are just as smart, if not smarter, than I was. They were going to figure this out too and I knew it.

So my approach to parenting had to include different levels of reaction.

If they write on themselves, it doesn't deserve more than a millisecond of my time. If they have major personality disorders, or suffer from depression that deserves most of my time. Those are things they could have to live with for the rest of their lives.

One of them considering having sex, that's a pretty big deal. It certainly deserves attention. Drugs, alcohol, getting married young, things like that are serious.

Their grades, well they are somewhere in between. If they get good grades, that's great, they'll do well in life. If they don't get good grades, they'll still do well with their life. I'd like to see them do well in school, and for the most part they do.

I want even more to see them do well in life. If I am going to spend energy directing them anywhere in life it is towards happiness, to me that is success.

I wandered a little bit there, but all I'm really saying is that I try not to make a bigger deal about things than needed.

Some kids like me, we will figure it out and use it. Before you freak out when your child makes a mistake, stop and think about your reaction and where it is headed.

A juice stain on the living room floor really isn't that big of deal when you think about it with regard to the rest of their life, is it?

Pick a positive thinking program, it doesn't matter which one it is and you will often find a reference to 1:5

The most important point in any PMA program is focusing on the positive. Many of us strive to us positive thinking in our lives, but fail to put it into practice when it comes to relationships.

When we focus on correcting our children, we are focusing on the negative. When we yell at them for slamming the door, we miss the ten times they close the door quietly. When we focus on the negative, we miss the positive.

We also teach our children to focus on their negatives instead of their positives. None of us wants to instill a sense of low self-esteem, but when all our child can see about themselves is the negative, self-esteem plummets.

Children light up when they receive a compliment. It's not just something I do with my own children, but with all of the children in my life. Praise is food for the soul, it brightens their day and gives them a starting point for future success.

Children always react better to praise than criticism, people in general do. Always strive to compliment five times for every one correction you offer.

You know the routine, your child says please, you say no, they dig their heels in, you dig yours in. The voices begin to raise, the whining starts, and before you know it you are involved in a full blown power struggle. We never mean for them to start, somehow they just do.

So what can a parent do to end the power struggle, especially with teenagers?

Refuse to participate in the first place. At the first hint of whining, arguing, or defiance the conversation is over. Explain that you would love to discuss it further when you child has themselves under control, but until then it will not be discussed.

Suggest that they go to their room and think it through, but make it clear they can return when they are ready to talk rationally. Then walk away.

I suppose I learned this when my children were toddlers, when they threw temper tantrums in the store I left them screaming and crying on the floor. I stepped over them and continued shopping (staying nearby of course) the tantrums stopped, and shopping became much more pleasant.

They don't throw tantrums very often anymore, because I don't give them a reaction. It really is all about your reaction, as long as you are reacting, you are rewarding bad behavior.

When they can pull you into a power struggle, you are giving them power over the situation.

Remove that power and the tantrums once again cease.

Nobody should feel hopeless or helpless in any situation, not even a child.

The best way to empower someone is to stop making decisions for them, and offer them options instead. Options empower, and the more options a person can see the better.

This is the corner stone of victims advocacy, and it works wonders in parenting as well. My children know that they always have options, and each option has a consequence. They don't HAVE to do the dishes, but if they choose not to they have also chosen to be restricted in their activities until they do.

In the adult world, we must make decisions all day, every day. Those decisions can be good or bad, but we always have to deal with the consequences of our own actions. By teaching your children to make decisions on their own, you are teaching them to be responsible adults.

Hopefully by the time they are teenagers, your children are capable of making great decisions on a regular basis, will they screw up from time to time? Yes, but all of us do. It isn't the one bad decision that builds a life, but the overall picture.

Not everyone agrees with my parenting philosophy, but that's okay. I really don't feel the need to seek the approval of others when it comes to my own children.

None of us should.

Sometimes when I mention that my children are also my friends, people give me strange looks as if I said something inappropriate.

Parenting is a relationship, and a true relationship requires equality. My children really are my friends. I'd rather hang out with them than be just about anywhere else on earth. They are pretty cool kids, and I enjoy being around them.

My children are not subordinates, but equals. That doesn't mean I allow them to run the house, it just means that I allow them equal say in what happens in their life.

So, does it work?

My children's disciplinary records are for the most part free and clear, both in school and legally. They have never been in serious trouble, only one has ever been in a fight. My daughter hit a boy who was being inappropriate with her for years. One day she had had enough and she defended herself. The boy stopped and my daughter learned that it is okay to stand up for yourself.

Their teachers tell me they are a joy to have in class, and parent teacher conferences have never been a negative event. They choose non-violent solutions to problems even when other children are choosing violence. Most people who spend time with my children comment on how polite, compassionate, and helpful they are.

It feels good to hear people praise my children, because if they have failed in society then I have failed as a parent. I don't take all of the credit though, I had good kids to work with.

So if any of these ideas appeal to you, I hope you can find a way to use them, if not then thank you for reading.

Whatever you do, however you choose to parent. Remember a child is a precious gift, childhood itself is precious. It is a time when they should be safe and secure enough to make mistakes, knowing we will catch them if they fall. It is their trial run for adulthood, we are just the training wheels.

We only have a short time with our children, but we were never really raising children in the first place. We were merely raising adults, and were given 18 years to do it in.

P.S. In case you were wondering about the image credits, like it isn't obvious... I did the graphics myself. *Smiles* I know, silly huh?

Peaceful parenting at Amazon

I haven't had the opportunity to read all of the books listed here, but I have read and memorized "Making Children Mind without Losing Yours"

It focuses on a real world approach to parenting, with practical and useful examples.

I love hearing reader feedback so please share.

PS if you liked this lens, please consider rating it.


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