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4 ways to teach kindness in a violent world

I make some pretty big claims in my book about how violence and violent behaviour is being normalised in western culture – so much so that we’re becoming desensitised to the violence and often, don’t even recognise behaviours as being violent. I often tell the story of when I was a child of about 10 and I was watching the news (don’t ask me why – what a nerdy kid!) The newsreader warned that children should leave the room because the next story was graphic – I stayed, because, well, I was 10 and wanted to know all the gory details. The footage was of a lion chasing and killing an impala. Fast forward 40 years and think about the news footage on the televisions now – shootings, bombings, terrorist attacks, body parts, blood in the streets, beheadings and that’s just to name a few.

Now, tell me – is anyone asking the children to leave the room? Nope. See how our culture has slowly moved to sensationalising the graphic, and normalising violence?

It would be pretty cool to be able to counter that, but it needs a generational movement – you can start by normalising kindness in your children’s worlds. Here’s how:

Children emulate and model their parents and caregivers. If you are kind and gentle, chances are your children will be too. If you are explosive or violent, chances are this is the behaviour your children will copy. Actions speak louder than words; practice kindness, compassion and non-violence. Surround your child with people who are kind, caring and non-violent so they have as many positive role models as possible. This will normalise kindness.

If your child does something mean, be honest with them. Talk to your children about behaviours that are acceptable and not acceptable, and try to get them to figure out the impact of their mean or violent behaviour. Be consistent with this. “Look, Sarah is crying because you tripped her, and now her feelings are hurt. That wasn’t very nice behaviour” or “The cat is frightened of you because you pulled his tale and it hurt him. That’s why he runs away from you”. This reinforces the message and teaches the child, “When I do this behaviour, this is the result”. The goal here is not to make your children feel guilty, but to feel empathy and to teach them that their actions have consequences.

Encourage your child to help others. Research shows that helping others has a positive impact on self-esteem and attitude which increases happiness and empathy, and a sense of belonging. Encourage your teen to volunteer at local clubs or societies, and better still model the same behaviour so you are normalising this behaviour in the household. Have your children help with the dishes, meal preparations and household duties. They’ll probably complain but this is an important way they can contribute to the home, therefore, they will feel included into the household.

Give your children books that promote compassion. Limit violent programs and encourage your children to watch shows about caring and compassion. Some movies are gratuitously violent to people and animals, or elevate the criminal at the expense of others. Have discussions about this if your child has seen a violent movie, and perhaps come up with alternative plot twists so no violence exists.

Good luck, and let me know how you go. Oh, and remember to catch your kids doing kind deeds.

With love, Dr Lynette