There's no simple way to reduce violent impulses in your child. Kids who are violent may have attention deficit disorder or impulse control problems, or they may have simply picked up violence as a way to handle conflict from the society at large.
No wonder. Human beings are violent (no other animal species has organized wars), plus, we are a culture that celebrates violence. Our heroes are boxers, action fighters, soldiers, and police with drawn guns. Playground politics often promote the toughest kid to the ruler of the roost.
Whether or not your child has had a “violent episode,” even if the level of day-to-day violence in your household is only physical fighting (“Ben and Jerry! Stop punching!”), if you are trying to raise reasonable, well-behaved kids, you should reduce the violent influences in your child's life. Stress other ways to resolve conflict. Just because human beings struggle against violent tendencies doesn't mean violence is acceptable in your child or in your household.
Reducing a child's violent tendencies is difficult, but one direct and effective thing you can do is to reduce her exposure to violence. (This is tough and it requires strong personal commitment. Raising gentle human beings is tough.) Here are two suggestions:
Violence escalates, and only creates more violence.
You can think what you like (and sometimes thinking “I'll hit you so hard you'll sail all the way to China” might even make you feel better), but never threaten violence out loud. It can feel extremely threatening to a child, and damage the trust and respect between you.
- Model nonviolent behavior. This is one area where behavior modeling is highly effective, as shown in many studies. Discipline your child without resorting to corporal punishment. Violence of any kind escalates and tends to create more violence. A child who is hit may well take out her frustration on another child. A person who is exposed or subjected to domestic violence as a child very often becomes an abuser as an adult. If you or anybody in your household is having trouble with rage control, or there is any physical abuse going on, you need support to change the situation. It's not just for your sake, it's for the future of your child. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800/799-7233. Now!
- Between Saturday morning cartoons, video games, and violent movies, your child is exposed to visual violence far more than is healthy. Experts estimate that by the time an American child is 14, she'll have seen 11,000 murders (and that's just on TV!). The more violence a child sees, the more desensitized she is to it. And the more likely she is to turn to violence as a solution to her own problems. Am I saying “turn it off”? Only kinda. TV is such an established part of American life that most people aren't ready to take this step. I am saying, “Screen what your child sees, and reduce her television watching time.” Bonus: Less TV means more exercise, more quality family time, a less passive child, and a more creative one.