7 Ways to Stop Your Child from Becoming Violent

Seeing an image of a violent adult, it’s hard to imagine the innocent baby he or she once was. Is there such thing as being born violent? Are there really “bad seeds” when it comes to human life? Like so many qualities, violence involves a real interaction between genetics and environment. We may not be able to alter the DNA we are born with, but we can strongly influence how these genes are expressed. With all the factors proven to contribute to violence risk, we can no longer say that violent individuals are just “born that way.” There is a lot we can do to prevent violence, and hardly anyone at any age is hopeless or beyond help.

Violence is the result of a combination of biological, social and psychological factors, especially those that increase exposure to vulnerability, shame and humiliation. Preventing violence must involve the opposite: making sure people feel safe, cared about and connected, while ensuring they have a healthy and realistic sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

On November 12, I will be hosting a free Webinar with violence expert Dr. James Gilligan on why violence occurs and how we can prevent it. As this presentation will highlight, many environmental factors can contribute to violence. These include adverse childhood events such as abuse, neglect, trauma, loss and abandonment. Victims of poverty, children who are missing basic necessities and who struggle with poor healthcare or nutrition are more likely to encounter or engage in violence.

A mother I knew raised twin boys who lost their father at a young age. Working two jobs to scrape by to support her family, she had little choice but to frequently leave her sons on their own. One of the twins buried his head in books and found education as his refuge. The other boy turned to a gang for companionship and violence as an outlet for his inner turmoil. This combination of trauma and neglect, though unintentional, became a breeding ground for violent behavior. Without a constructive outlet (like school, counseling, or an available parental figure) one of her sons faced a heavy social and emotional struggle and followed a path toward violence and crime, while the other was able to channel his struggle into something positive.

So how can we prevent children from becoming violent? Here are some of the “do’s” of stopping violence among children, adolescents and teens. This list is addressed to parents, but it truly applies to any influential figure in a child’s life.

Forming an Attachment

Make sure children have caring adults in their lives. Research has shown that kids need a minimum of five caring adults to help them grow up happy and healthy. It isn’t just parents who have an impact on their kids. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, counselors and family friends can serve as positive role models to our kids. Parents can hurt themselves and their children by creating an isolated environment around them. Encourage kind, compassionate and ethical people to be involved in your child’s lives from the get go.

Developing a Conscience

Help your children develop a conscience by A) Being attuned to them, B) Not being violent toward or in front of them, C) Providing a secure, safe base for them and D) Repairing when you slip up. We all make mistakes as parents, but openly admitting and apologizing for these mistakes shows your kids that you are human, that they are not to blame and that they too, should demonstrate care and concern.

Developing Empathy

Help your child develop empathy. Imagine the scene of your child hitting another child in the park. In that moment, you’d probably insist they say “sorry,” but what do you do to make them feel empathetic? Saying sorry can be meaningless if a child doesn’t mean it. At these times, ask your child to describe how he/she would feel from being hit. This helps the child to feel compassion and sympathy while understanding what it really means to hurt someone.

Getting Attention

Give kids attention; never give them the silent treatment or avoid them. Adolescents acting up need more attention, not less. In juvenile correction facilities, they’ve found that solitary confinement is the worst thing for a teen who is behaving badly. Depriving a kid in need of services and contact hurts them; their behavior indicates they need more adult contact. By isolating them, when their acting out is to seek attention, albeit negative attention, we continue the punishment cycle. Intensifying treatment when adolescents act out breaks the punishment cycle, while reducing their likelihood of becoming violent. This has proven to be effective even in adolescents with psychopathic tendencies.

Building Self-Esteem

Help your child find something they are good at and offer real praise for those achievements. False praise inflates a person’s vanity but does little to enhance their real sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Yet, acknowledging children for honest accomplishments and true abilities helps them to know their value. Vanity has actually been found to contribute to violence. Conversely, children given the opportunity to gain a sense of value by building real skills and abilities has highly positive results.

Avoiding Harsh Punishment

Don’t punish a child harshly. When we are violent, abusive or insensitive to our children, we lead by example. We teach them to be unsympathetic, out of control and at the whim of their anger. We must be attuned in how we discipline our children. Make sure our punishment comes out of care and concern for how they feel and behave, and not from our own emotional issues.

Learning Calming Techniques

Teach your children good ways to calm down when they’re upset. The best way to do this is to lead by example. It’s important to demonstrate your own resilience, problem solving and coping strategies in front of your children. This does not mean acting tough or hiding your feelings. It means demonstrating healthy techniques for handling conflict and emotion in your own life and encouraging them to do the same.

As parents, caretakers and educators, whether we are aiming to prevent a child from becoming violent or to steer a child away from a life already touched by violence, we must foster our own compassion and faith in a human being’s goodness and potential. Dr. James Gilligan wrote in his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic:

The self cannot survive without love. The self starved of love dies. That is how violence can cause the death of the self even when it does not kill the body. The two possible sources of love for the self are love from others, and one’s own love for oneself. Children who fail to receive sufficient love from others fail to build those reserves of self-love, and the capacity for self-love, which enable them to survive the inevitable rejections and humiliations which even the most fortunate of people cannot avoid.

The solution to the problem of violence is never to turn our backs, but to keep our hearts and minds open to how we can individually affect change. And that change starts with how we raise our children from the day they are born.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

Related Articles

Tags: , , , ,


Lulu Loomes

I can’t agree at all with talking to a child about how they are feeling just after that have punched another child in the face, all this seems to do is create excuses and give more power to the violent child without setting firm and clear consistencies that are carried out every time.
If they haven’t reveloped empathy they soon learn it because when they get to primary school, inevitably they get their lights punched out and finally start to learn how their behavious has affected others.
But in saying all this, tolerating a violent child with demanding behaviour is not healthy for anyone. Teaching kids to communication without aggression of any kind is so important.

Lucy K

While I agree with the communication portion of the comment above me, I disagree that it is giving violent children excuses. There are reasons behind everything. If a child is violent there are reasons why. I think it would just be amazing if all parents could step back from a problem they are having with their child and talking about it with them could be oh so beneficial. No one is tolerating a child who is violent. This article is merely giving a new perspective on how to deal with a kid who is resorting to violence.

Sonia Mukherjee

Thanks a lot!

This article is eye opener. I prayed and prayed to GOD to help my adopted daughter to give up extreme anger associated violence. I will implement the suggestions. God answered my prayers through this article.

Cherie Doherty

We have a 5 year old son that we adopted from our daughter when he was a year old. He is so pleasant at home, though typical stubbornness can happen now and then, but when he is at the park with a play group or at school or any social place, he gets violent. He has chocked 2 kids I. The past 6 months in different settings. He is so loving and nurturing but then this and other violent things happen. We have a living and stable family and home life and this is baffling us as well as his teachers. HELP

Michelle Simms

Hi Cherie, your situation sounds identical to mine and my 4 yo son. As you posted this in June, I wonder what sort of help you’ve had so far?
Hope to hear from you

Alisha Doby

My 10 year old son has alot of mental issues. He has had alot of things to deal with at such a young age. He doesnt know how to let things go even though our situation is much better. He has outbursts when someone has an attitude or raises their voice at him in the least little bit. He is very dramatic and exaggerates alot. He has meltdowns that involve him throwing things at me, throwing things at the wall, slamming doors, screaming, pulling back to hit me, beating his head on the couch, rocking back and forth, etc. I am at my wits end and I dont know what to do. I love my son with all of my heart and I want him to get the help he needs. He has had some trauma that hss left him feeling some things. I dont know what else to do except pray and keep him in his therapy. He is on Intunive for his anger but it seems to be leveling out and not working anymore. Please help!


Of course the environment is a factor , I can be a mess as well , with all that’s going on in the home with relatives .. I’m on edge my kids on edge ? Is what I’m getting from this article ..
Now what’s next .. 🙁 pray for us .. Mom and 1st born !

Leave a Reply