Children and Violence

Talking to our Children about Violence in General

Denise Ann Bodman (Bustamante), PhD
Bethany Van Vleet, PhD

Talking to our children about violence in general is very similar to talking to children about other touchy subjects, such as sex or death. This type of talk is something that is best handled in everyday life and should be considered a "constant conversation." For example, we rarely as parent sit our children down and have a discussion about manners or friendship. Rather, we constantly instill "mini messages" as appropriate in daily situations. "Don't chew with your mouth open," "Let's write Grandma a thank you note," "Kiss Grandpa goodbye," and "Why not share your toy with your brother?" are examples of these constant mini-lessons we give our children. Our conversations about violence (or even sex/drugs/death)should be similar. Avoid one "tell all" sit down conversation or discussion in a highly emotional setting.

Often, our talks on violence are more talks on the OPPOSITE of violence. For example, when we talk about kindness, patience, thoughtfulness, we are indirectly talking about violence. Parents should look for examples of these positive behaviors in their children and praise them (something we too often forget to's easier to reprimand them when they are being bad).

Should you find yourself in a position to talk about certain violent acts, keep your comments age appropriate, short, and to the point. For example, suppose you and your child see someone hit another person on the playground. A simple response could be, "That wasn't very nice. If he was angry, he should have used words or asked a grown up for help." How we treat our pets, our siblings, our parents, and our friends all have unintended (and some intended) lessons about violence.

As parents, we should also look at the role violence plays in our lives and our homes. Do we allow siblings to hit, spit, scratch, or even yell at each other? If we want to prevent violence, we need to start early. Sibling violence is the most common form of domestic violence, yet, for too long we have accepted it. We don't need to. As parents, we can enforce a strict "no violence zone" in our homes.

Our examples are far more powerful than our words. We all know the saying, "A picture speaks a thousand words." This totally applies to our actions in front of our children. What types of television programs, movies, and video games do we embrace? Getting rid of ALL violent imagery might not be appropriate or desirable, but putting things within context and keeping these age appropriate is.

All of us can improve our parenting. The most difficult part about good parenting is being honest with ourselves. We can't change things we aren't willing to admit. There is not time like the present to make changes, though, and provide our children with a more positive future.

Read more: Talking to Our Kids About Violent and Traumatic Events


Dr. Bodman teaches about child abuse, children and violence, human development, and family relationships at Arizona State University. She has two grown children (including Bethany Van Vleet).

Dr. Van Vleet teaches about human development, gender, statistics, and research at Arizona State University. She has two young children (age 1 and 4).