I have worked as a violence preventionist for about 9 years and I have formulated a lot of opinions on how to educate a child that will rarely use violence as a means of solving conflicts.
When I use the word violence, I mean it as a word in a broader context than most people realize. Words can be used as violence; when someone is yelling and using obscenities this can make people afraid, especially children. When the words and the anger are directed towards a child, the child may shut down as a means of coping with the feeling of being unsafe.
I cringe inside when I hear caregivers tell their children to “shut up,” or add a few swear words. By doing this you have the makings of a violent encounter for the child. If a child is exposed to this kind of behavior by the caregiver day in and day out, the child will begin to use anger and swear words as a means of controlling a situation or as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Yelling and swearing is a way that people can cope with the feelings of frustration that is going on inside of them. This type of behavior is what is called an unhealthy coping skill.
From the time we are born we respond to negative experiences in an unhealthy, or healthy way. For instance, some people will use alcohol as a way of coping with the difficulties in life. This is not necessarily a bad thing if alcohol is used in moderation. I myself have come home after a difficult day at work and have had some drinks to “take the edge off.” This can be a way of dealing with the feelings of frustration, anger, and hurt that has happened throughout the day.
The drinking becomes unhealthy when it negatively impacts you or those that surround you as you drink. Children learn the most from what they see rather than what is “told” to them. If as a caregiver your main coping strategy is to drink until you pass out, then the child will learn that coping strategy also. It may not be alcohol that they child uses as they get older. It could be any substance: cigarettes, marijuana, pills.
The same thing goes for physical violence if the child witnesses or is the receiver of the violent behavior, then they learn that kind of behavior is a way to cope with the frustrations of life. Violence can also be used as a way of controlling a situation. If I do not like the way you talk to me, I can hit you to stop you from talking to me that way. Of course, this happens over a long period of time, but this kind of behavior becomes a part of the child’s coping strategy.
How do you help your child learn healthy copings skills? By making sure that you as the caregiver have a large selection of healthy coping strategies to offset the unhealthy ones. Everyone has unhealthy coping skills, biting your nails, overspending, yelling, you name it. The goal is to have more healthy coping skills that you use then unhealthy ones. It is important that your child see you use your healthy coping skills and that you educate your child in skills that they can use that they are comfortable with.
You can go to my first post in my blog and there should be a list of over 50 different ways that you can use to cope with the ups and downs of life. The major healthy coping skills:
- Exercise, this one is especially important if you or your child suffer from depression. When you begin to exercise the body will release all of the “feel good” chemicals, like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin. Exercise has a way of distracting our thoughts, instead of thinking about all the bad things that happened in the day, exercise can clear your mind and give you a fresh new outlook on what is happening in the day.
- Meditation/Prayer is like exercise, it gives you the chance to clear your mind and think of good things rather than focusing on the negative things that happen to us in life.
- Reading for me was a way that coped with my childhood. I had the ability to transport myself into the story and away from the dysfunctional events that were happening in my home. I could literally be transported for hours at a time, enjoying the events of the book and forgetting about the things that made me sad inside.
- Spending time with healthy friends, people that you can trust to tell your innermost secrets and know that they will be kept in confidence.
- Spending time by yourself, and enjoying the solitude.
All of the above items are things that you can easily model for your children and help to give them ways that they can cope with the negative aspects of life.