It has been a tumultous few weeks here in the United States and I’ve been reeling. With the police killings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castillo, and the police shootings in Dallas on Thursday night, there’s been a lot of talk of violence in the news. How do you talk to your child about all this violence?
I was unsure of how to talk about all this with my 7-year old daughter. I initially took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to it. Probably not the best way to handle it.
I then decided I needed to lighten the mood and move away from all the violence, so I took her to see the Secret Life of Pets. I maybe should have read Roger Moore’s review in Movie Nation before going. He wrote: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how violent this pre-tween farce is. Slapfights, brawls, violent death and near death experiences abound.”
The characters, both “good” and “bad” all employed incredible amounts of physical violence and coercion towards each other. Especially after this sensitive week, I was slightly horrified. My daughter loved it though.
After the movie, I knew my daughter and I definitely needed to have a “teachable moment” talk and discuss the violence we had just seen depicted.
I did a wee bit of research to figure out the best way to have this discussion and in the end we had a talk that was very positive.
With all the violent media and news, I thought it would be helpful to share with you too, how you too can talk to your kids so they can better cope with the violence in media and in the world around them.
- Encourage your kids to talk about what they see and hear. After your child sees or hears about something violent, it’s a great idea to sit down with him or her and encourage them to talk about their feelings. Give any needed information at age appropriate levels. Also, for real occurrences, reassure them.After the movie, I sat down with Aliza and we started talking about how she felt. At first she said “It was good. I really liked it.” I then asked specific questions like: “That movie we just watched seemed pretty scary to me, what did you think?”. And I asked her “How do you feel after watching so many animals fighting and getting injured?” I listened for her feelings and shared mine as well.
- Limit exposure to violence. Research has shown that children who watch a lot of violence on TV, movies or video games feel more anxious and less safe than those that don’t and also may be desensitize them to violence. So it’s always a good idea to limit the amount of violencec they see. When they do see violence, remind them that the characters they see in the movies or on tv are acting. Also talk about the consequences of what would happen in real life.In the Secret Life of Pets there’s a little dog named Gidget that got laughs because she seems sweet and then slaps around a cat to get him to talk and later single-handedly beats up all the “bad guys.” Aliza and I talked about what would happen to Gidget if she did that in real life. We both agreed she would get in a lot of trouble.
- Reassure your child. Kids who see or hear about violent acts can become fearful and anxious about a similar act happening to them or a loved one. Reassure your child by telling them they are safe and lots of people are here to watch them. Also, let them know what they should do if they feel unsafe and you are not at home. You can let them know they can go to another trusted adult, a teacher or a family friend.Make them feel like they can always tell you when they are afraid in any situation. It’s important that boys get this message as well as girls. Also, talk to them about the police and that they are there to keep the community safe. You can let them know about the police as a resource.For children of color who may feel anxious about the police, teach them to be respectful but not fearful. Provide a consistent and supportive environment to help reduce your kids fears and anxieties.
- Don’t Allow Violence In Your Home and Stand firm. The values you wish to instil in your kids need to be clear and consistent. Explain to your kids why you do not allow violent media or actions in your home so they can accept your decision. Model the behavior you want them to exhibit and be firm about what you won’t accept them doing. Just because “everyone else is allowed to watch it” doesn’t mean you have to. You could say something like: “Your father and I don’t agree with the message that movie sends. Watching violence is not enjoyable and we don’t allow it in our family”.With regards to teasing and other more aggressive actions, talk to your kids about teasing and its limits. Let them know that teasing can be bullying and can go further than what you sometimes intend. Tell them that in your family you have zero tolerance for bullying or roughhousing.If your child is violent towards another, child, put them on “time-out” or whatever disciplinary strategy you prefer. Once they are calm, ask them about why they have behaved or reacted in that way. Try to understand the why of the behavior (sometimes it’s just hunger or fatigue, other times it is something else). Together, work out a peaceful way using words to resolve problems without using violence.
- Educate your kids. Give them options and prepare them for what to do if they are faced in situations where they feel unsafe. For example, what to do if they see a gun, how to deal with bullies, what to do if they see someone else being mistreated, etc.
- Control your own behavior. Examine how you approach conflicts and know that your child is learning from you and may model the same behaviors. Ask yourself – how do you settle an argument or other conflict? Are you respectful or reactive? When you’re angry, how do you deal with it?Model the behavior you want your child to emulate. Model respect and peaceful dispute resolution. The nice thing is that if you model the behavior you want your child to emulate, you’re training yourself to be the best version of you possible. It’s a win-win-win – for you, your child, and all society.
Monick Paul Halm is the Chief Creative Officer at the Checklist Mom. She has made it her mission to empower women and moms to thrive in their lives, families, and careers. She’s a busy mom of 3, certified life and career coach, author, speaker, and real estate investor. She’s a wearer of many hats, and juggler of many duties and loves connecting with our moms. You can connect with her on the Checklist Parent Facebook Page and on twitter as @monickpaulhalm.