, Gloucester, MA

April 26, 2013

Recommitting to nonviolence in our families

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — The horrific events of the Boston Marathon bombings exemplify the most heinous use of irrational violence to forward an irrational cause. How could anyone, unless essentially brainwashed and, or deranged, think that the way to convert others to his beliefs is to kill and maim them? These actions are an extreme manifestation of ideologically motivated violence.

So what can each of us, in our daily lives, do to combat violence? We can use this opportunity to recommit to nonviolent verbal communication, and an emphasis on handling conflict and difficult behaviors in our families with a positive approach.

Raising children to be non-violent to themselves and others is one of the most vital parenting and societal goals because what families teach their children ultimately affects our world. I can think of no better time to share with you again some suggestions for behaviors that will help to foster a healthy, loving, non-violent environment in your home:

Teach by example. Be loving, patient and forgiving towards yourself. Don’t abuse yourself physically, mentally, emotionally or verbally.

Treat your mate with respect, and never engage in any kind of physical or verbal abuse. Be honest and direct about any feelings of anger and frustration, explaining, for example, “I am angry with you because you aren’t doing your share of the housework.” This is more productive than name-calling or listing past irritations.

Learn to deal with your stress. Read everything you can on stress reduction. Take a workshop in stress-reduction techniques or learn yoga and meditation. Exercise.

Be nonviolent in your dealings and disagreements with others. Act calmly, rationally and respectfully with relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, sales clerks, athletic coaches, other drivers, etc.

Never hit your children or engage in any kind of name-calling or put-downs. The emotional scars of parental physical and verbal abuse are deep and long-lasting and the recipients of the abuse very often duplicate that destructive in their own future homes. When you are very angry with your children, leave the room or send them to theirs until you calm down enough to handle the upsetting behavior in a reasonable way. Then, use the direct “I am angry that you did or didn’t ...” method of expressing your displeasure.

Create an appropriate non-violent system of consequences for misbehavior, and rewards for good behavior. One of the best ways to prevent acting out is to emphasize a reward system for completing chores, listening, and doing what is asked after only one request. Sit down as a family for weekly family meetings, and ask the children what rewards and consequences they think would work. A visual record of good behavior placed where everyone can see it daily works remarkably well. Some people use stars or colored dots with the collection of a certain number equaling either a special reward or a not-so-fun consequence. Kids usually like this approach because it is clear and has an element of fun.

Come together and set forth a verbalized and then written family policy on non-violence. From the time your children are very little, make it clear that your family believes that hitting, or threatening, or name-calling is unacceptable behavior because it is hurtful.

Let your children express their feelings as long as they don’t hurt themselves or their siblings. Let them cry. Teach them healthy ways to work off their anger and frustrations through physical exercise, taking a walk, or by hitting the bed or a soft chair with a “mad pillow.”

Talk to your children about how to handle certain situations before they happen. Practice with them various ways to calm down an angry friend or schoolmate. And then talk to your children about situations after they happen, asking: What would have been another way to handle that?” Encourage them to come up with a variety of solutions.

Teach them “The Golden Rule” and let them know they can walk away from a fight. Educate them about their school system’s options for handling problems, and assure them that there are lots of adults available to help.

After a certain age it is hard to control, but while you can, monitor their Internet activity, steer your children away from violent movies, TV and video games. Video games can be especially appalling since some actively engage children in stealing, and killing digital humans and animals and then reward them for it!

Raise your children to see things globally. Make them aware of world problems and of the organizations that promote peaceful resolutions to those problems. Educate your children to understand that talking solves problems, not violence.

At this time of sadness, let us all send our heartfelt condolences and support to the victims and their families. And, also, let’s remember that Boston is the birthplace of our country’s democracy and its victory over political and religious oppression. Extremism, in whatever form, is about oppression. In my view, we can fight extremism by staying alert for it in all our governmental, religious, economic and political institutions.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.