Mental Health

Raising non-violent children

February 14, 2018

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As our society traverses the seismic cultural shift that is the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and as we become more aware of sexual harassment and abuse happening in our schools and workplaces, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to address these issues with our kids earlier in their lives. We need to teach our children to be unafraid to speak up, stand-up for themselves and others, as well as the importance of equality, respect and valuing everyone in their lives. Here are a few tips for parents looking to foster sensitivity, empathy and compassion in their children.

Let them show their feelings: First and foremost, it's important to allow our children to express their feelings. Instead of saying, “Don’t Cry” (even in comforting way), try asking your children about their feelings. Let’s break stereotypes that men don’t cry or that women cry too often and allow our children to be compassionate and show their feelings in a safe environment, good or bad. Educate your child that sensitivity does not equal weakness. Praise them for not being afraid to be vulnerable.

Talk about what being a “good person” really means:  As a parent, our words do matter to our kids, even during those infamous eye-rolling moments. Don’t be afraid to share with your children what you really think and the characteristics you value in people who treat others with respect and dignity. Ask them what they think a “good person” is and what they can do to break cultural stereotypes

Encourage non-violent games, movies and safe play: Video games have taken over the lives of many children, especially teenage boys. Whether your child is playing video games online with other gamers, is interested in sports games or games killing zombies, find out what they are playing and why. If violent games are predominant, look for opportunities to encourage different types of games and movies with more peaceful outcomes or cut back on the amount of screen time altogether. Talk with your child about dealing with conflict during a game. If they get hurt by another player, how do they handle their emotions in a constructive way? Help them understand the importance of using their words in a positive and constructive way versus using violence.

Raising non-violent kids

Teach them empathy and compassion: Caring for others isn’t always at the top of the list for many teens. Provide opportunities for your children to learn how to nurture themselves and others. Whether they are baby-sitting, helping with the neighbor’s dog or volunteering with a local non-profit, encourage them to give back. The trick is to not make it a chore, but something that improves and expands their self-esteem. Anything that helps your child connect and care for others is the best option. You can also talk with your children about your own struggles to extend compassion to others and how you may deal with certain situations. Helping your child understand what exemplifies empathy and compassion and how to demonstrate those characteristics, are important learning opportunities.

Show them diversity: Talk to them about the importance of “different”. What can you do together where they are involved with a diverse group of people? Talk to them about different cultures and find ways to celebrate those differences.

Embrace beauty: Expose them to art, books, music and nature. Help them to see the beauty that exists in everything around them-not just in people. You can also talk to them about what beauty means to different people and how each person they meet exudes beauty.   

Make learning more friendly:  Be interested in how things are being taught at school or how your child likes to learn. Children respond to teaching methods differently. For example, most children gravitate more towards lessons that incorporate movement, games and stories. When you’re reading with your child or using examples in your story-telling, include stories of all people who are heroic by being courageous, caring, and helping others.

Disrupt Gender Stereotypes When You See Them:  Be aware of how gender stereotypes show up in your life, your thoughts, your friendships, and how you respond to them in front of your children. Don’t be afraid to speak up in the moment when you hear harmful gender stereotypes. If you feel you can’t speak in the moment, talk to your child later. Use media as conversation starters about this topic. 

Talk about violence: Don’t be afraid to talk about violence, when it’s appropriate, using age appropriate examples. Help your child understand the value of using their voice, as well as listening to others. As they get older, discuss consent, relationships and valuing and respecting others. Using examples of healthy family, friend and dating relationships are an important educational tool that can be part of a continuous conversation.


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(Thank you to CARES Northwest staff for contributing to this article.)

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