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Raising children who choose peace over violence

Grade-schooler raises her hand in a classroom.

Parents can help prevent school violence by nurturing positive behavior and by staying alert to signs of trouble.

As a parent, you may feel helpless when it comes to school violence.

But parents actually have a very important role to play in prevention. Help kids solve problems in healthy ways—rather than resorting to aggressive behavior—with these positive and powerful steps from the American Psychological Association and other experts:

Be there for your child. Children and teens who have involved, supportive parents are less prone to troubling behavior. Let them know they can always talk to you. Make yourself available whenever your child wants to open up—and try to listen without jumping in with advice or judgment.

Nurture kindness and acceptance. Let your child know how much kind behavior matters to you. Notice and praise positive, caring behavior. Make sure kids know that being rude, hurtful or violent to anyone—such as those who seem different—is never acceptable.

Stay cool and collected. Remember you're a role model. If you consistently work through conflict in a calm way, your child is more likely to do the same.

Be consistent. When you make a rule, hold to it. Wavering encourages kids to test limits.

Limit exposure to media violence. Seeing violence in TV, movies, music or video games can contribute to aggressive behavior, research shows.

Step in. If you see your child being thoughtless or harsh to anyone, intervene immediately—and be a teacher. Explain why that behavior was hurtful.

Help kids do the right thing. Encourage children to act when someone else is being threatened—as long as the child feels safe. Let kids know that they should report any bullying or disturbing behavior to an adult.

Could you spot the warning signs?

It can be difficult to determine if a child or teen is on the verge of violence. But certain things increase the risk of violent behavior, such as:

  • Acting aggressive or violent in the past.
  • Being the victim of bullying.
  • Being the victim of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Witnessing violence.
  • Using alcohol or other substances.
  • Living in a home with firearms.
  • Experiencing a combination of stressful family situations—such as poverty, unemployment or divorce.
  • Suffering brain damage from a head injury.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), kids with several of the risk factors above should be evaluated by a mental health professional if they also exhibit any of these behaviors:

  • Intense anger.
  • Frequent loss of temper and blow-ups.
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Extreme impulsivity.
  • Threats of harm.
  • Becoming easily frustrated.

Taking action protects kids

Some children and teens may make threats to get attention and most aren't carried out. But any serious statements—such as a threat to hurt themselves or others—should never be dismissed as idle talk.

Seeking a mental health evaluation is crucial. If a child refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively or keeps making threats, seek immediate help from a mental health professional, says the AACAP.

Treatment, especially early intervention, can and does help.

Get schools involved too

While violence prevention starts at home, you might also work with your child's school to help create a school environment and policies that can help deter violence.

reviewed 9/6/2019

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