10 Parenting Strategies For Raising Nonviolent Children

10 Parenting Strategies For Raising Nonviolent Children August 10, 2015

Son gives mom flowers

10. Teach them every human being has unsurpassable worth.

 A nonviolent ethic of love begins right here, and nowhere else. Jesus followers embrace nonviolent enemy love precisely because every human being, regardless of their outward appearance or even immoral behavior, bears the divine image of God and has unsurpassable worth to God. We must live in such a way, and raise our children in such a way, that they learn to intrinsically see the divine worth of every human being instead of assigning to each person a value that seems right in their own eyes.

9. Don’t raise them with violence! (Duh)

The surest way to raise kids who will be violent is to raise them with violence– and yes, I’m talking about hitting/smacking/spanking them. This teaches kids that using violence against someone is an acceptable way to express disproval of their behavior. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that children who are hit by their parents end up being more aggressive– the very thing you don’t want to happen. If you want to raise nonviolent children, you’re going to need to be a nonviolent parent— period.

8. Don’t fight with or use verbal retaliation against your spouse (or anyone else)– especially in their presence.

While many of us want to teach our kids to be nonviolent, we need to realize that nonviolence is the net-result of opting out of the world’s logic that says it’s okay to play tit-for-tat in situations of interpersonal conflict. We must live and model lives that demonstrate how to speak peace and love in the face of escalation, instead of being an active participant in a never-ending system one-upmanship. This system of one-upmanship in responding to conflict is precisely what ultimately leads to the use of violence.

7. Don’t glorify patriotic violence.

We live in a culture where patriotic violence is glorified and revered. It is a culture that sees a certain type of violence as one of the most noble acts a person could engage in, and those who use patriotic violence are considered the highest level of hero. As Christ followers however, we are immigrants and exiles called to live by the ethical system of a foreign culture– the Kingdom of God. In the culture of our homeland we do not glorify violence, but grieve over it.

6. Have a good long talk with them about the ethics and risk of owning a toy gun.

On the ethical side, I would want to talk with my kids and ask, “If Jesus doesn’t want us to shoot and kill people because they are special and belong to him, how do you think he feels when we pretend to do it for fun and games?” Beyond that however, we live in a culture where innocent people get shot every day, and playing outside with a toy gun in a trigger happy culture can be an invitation for trouble (see Tamir Rice). A good solution to the toy gun issue might be a brightly colored squirt gun– this makes it more about getting your friends wet than it is about “shooting” them, and would be low-risk for a tragic case of mistaken identity.

5. Invite them to make informed moral choices about the types of video games they play.

As technology increases we have a steady flow of video games that depict human on human violence in graphic detail. While I am not in the camp of blaming all violent culture on violent video games, I would want to use this as a discipleship moment with my children and have discussions about why Jesus followers might want to abstain from participation in graphic, simulated violence. At a minimum, I do think it can have the ability to desensitize one to the realities of violence, and developing a comfort with simulated violence is not the direction we want to encourage our children to be moving in.

4. Use violence in the news as a constant teaching opportunity.

While I am not a fan of simulated violence, allowing children to have age-appropriate exposure to the news can be a valuable teaching opportunity. These moments can/will invite a series of discussions on the realities and the impact of violence on our world, whether it’s a story on war or just a local mugshot of someone arrested for domestic violence. My 13-year-old and I have already had so many news-prompted discussions about the use of violence that she is beginning to embrace a non-violent ethic all on her own, as she has seen the impact that violence is having on the world around her.

3. Equip them with coping strategies and conflict-resolution techniques.

 I think the vast majority of violence is a result of people either being unable to cope with certain emotions (violence becomes a way to communicate what they are unable to express appropriately) or a lack of ability to navigate conflict in relationships (no tools to resolve conflict). One of the keys to raising nonviolent children isn’t so much convincing them that violence is wrong, but equipping them with the ability to manage their emotions without violence, and to be able to navigate conflict using a different set of tools. If you don’t equip your children with these tools, don’t be surprised when they resort to the most primitive tool we have: violence.

2. Demonstrate forgiveness and reconciliation whenever possible.

For children to learn to successfully navigate the waters of conflict they ultimately need to know how to experience and extend forgiveness towards others. The only way to teach this is to constantly model it. While most of us probably tell our children “I forgive you” when they’ve done something wrong and it has been resolved, I think of even more importance is that we, as parents, model this by asking their forgiveness when we have wronged them. Kids need to learn both sides of this equation– simply extending to them forgiveness without ever seeking it yourself, isn’t quite enough.

1. Find every-day ways to teach them Jesus.

 The ultimate way we raise nonviolent children is by helping them build their lives on the only foundation worth building on: Jesus. Capitalize on every opportunity in life to talk about Jesus, to show them the way of Jesus, and to model for them the nonviolent enemy love of Jesus. Beyond raising nonviolent children, what we’re really aiming for is raising children who live and love the way Jesus lived and loved.

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  • Matthew

    Word up … #2!

  • Well done. The hardest one for me is the toy gun piece. I don’t like letting my son have toy guns, but because of how we treat violence in our home and how we model loving non-violence for our kids, I’ve allowed him to have a couple of Nerf guns and other toy guns. (For crying out loud, even when he didn’t have those he seemed to instinctively turn EVERYTHING into a gun!) We’ve had lots of fun playing games with them while reinforcing that those toy guns are inside toys (or backyard toys) and never to be shot at people. I guess in 20-30 years I’ll look back with better perspective and be able to see whether this was wise parenting or overprotective parenting. I’m hoping it’s the former. I like your suggestion about water guns, by the way!

  • One more thought. I think helping children understand how violence functions in stories can be helpful too. We can’t simply raise our children to be ignorant of violence (good suggestion about how to use the violence in the news). If they can develop healthy distinctions between fiction and reality, that can give them a place to understand how violence functions in a storied way–even in our own very real stories–without idealizing the violence.

  • I think nerf guns can be totally fine too. When I was a kid we had realistic looking toy guns and would pretend to shoot each other, play war, etc. I think if you’re goofing around with a nerf gun it’s not quite the same as playing war or whatever, so I wouldn’t have issue with it at all. For me it’s the “pretending to kill” part that I find worthy of staying away from.

  • Very good list of suggestions!

  • jjuulie

    The clear and easy rule at our house was always, “No shooting people for real or for pretends, except water guns outside.” This applied to anything including video games. Although we had to struggle with the aliens in Mortal Kombat. People or not?

  • Ryan

    As a 17 year old non violent Christian who’s parents are Conservative Republicans and Fundamentalists, I think this is an excellent and practical list that parents can use to begin raising their kids in the image of Christ.

  • Jeremy Olson

    How do we explain non-violence while also trying to defend the time God killed someone just for touching the ark when it was falling off the cart? I have no answer for this…

  • Agreed. Thanks for the thoughtful conversation.

  • It’s a great question, and there have been lots of thoughtful discussions on the topic. Check Pete Enns’ blog for a start: http://www.peteenns.com/?s=violence

  • jekylldoc

    I really appreciate this, and feel convicted about the way tensions are expressed between me and my wife. There is sometimes retaliation and unnecessary anger, and that has not been healthy for our kids.

    I would also like to point to the methods being used to improve communication as our alternative to this domestic nastiness. Just as parents need to learn another way to discipline children if they are going to stop spanking, so we all can benefit from good communication methods as a way to stop fighting.

    I recommend Fred Kofman’s “Conscious Business” as a very down-to-earth, values-based approach that confronts aggression head-on. Essentially he argues that if you don’t hear out the other person’s perspective, you won’t be as effective, but of course you also sacrifice your values. Not a bad starting point.

  • Herm

    For my simple mind I share with my children and grandchildren, not in these words of course, that violence befits never ending violence while mercy and forgiveness befits never ending life. I just love waxing poetic along with a couple of my grandchildren. Thanks for your positive observations.

  • Emma

    This is wonderful!

    Also, in response to the water gun section, there are also some water ‘guns’ that aren’t shaped like guns – for instance some are shaped like little dolphins or frogs, although they still have a little ‘trigger’ to make them spray water from their mouths. That can be a good compromise for kids who want to join in the fun of spraying each other, but don’t (or their parents don’t) want to buy into the violence of play guns. :)

  • Bootsy

    Be careful to do real research into the issue of appropriately disciplining children through spanking. The misinformation on the subject and quasi research is quite flawed and generated by a biased presupposition that goes on to approve what it wants to prove, not based on truth or actual research facts. All you are doing here is passing on the politically correct bias. We raised four godly, well adjusted, highly successful kids who all love the Lord dearly and have never had any issue with violence. So have many other parents who follow God’s Word and admonitions about insuring that our kids grow in a disciplined, well adjusted and loving home.

  • Matthew

    I am curious. What verses in the Bible do you think condone spanking children? Also … if discipline via spanking is Godly, remembering that we are fallible human beings, what kind of boundaries should be established? I mean … wasn´t there an American football player recently who got into trouble because he used a twig from a tree to discipline his young son?

  • Noah

    I’m going to physical hurt my kids because they did something wrong.

    Maybe it works, but I don’t see Jesus approving it.

  • Darcy

    I don’t think there is an appropriate way to hit someone smaller than you.

  • SamHamilton

    Thanks, this is helpful Mr. Corey.

  • SamHamilton

    Definitely outside! Haha…

  • Mike

    Since you are a non violent Christian, perhaps raising your child exactly the way your parents raised you will produce another non violent Christian.

  • Mike

    No pretend shooting …except for waterguns?

  • jjuulie

    The point here is for the kids to not even pretend to shoot or kill someone. No shooting . But waterguns are okay.

  • Mike

    What am I missing here?

  • Bootsy

    Hi Matthew,

    I am not advocating that all children must be disciplined with
    spanking, and spanking should not be a first resort for discipline, but nor
    should it be off limits to loving parents who feel they need this form of
    discipline. We used it effectively, especially when the kids were quite young
    3-6 years old when time outs, and other things proved very inefficient and
    ineffective. It worked geeat and they are fabulous, well disciplined adults. I too was spanked, along with my siblings and it achieved its purpose to train me, which I appreciate about my parents. The idea that spanking causes psychological issues when done appropriately is false, and so is the idea that it causes a child to be violent. Violent parents may create a violent child, not parents who use modest spanking techniques.

    Training in discipline, especially training a child to do what
    you ask them to do quickly and joyfully, is a gift that you leave them. There
    are boundaries, as the Bible itself insists that all that is done is in love
    and not anger, and parents are not to provoke their children to anger. So if a parent finds a child not responding to swats or responding back angry, instead of repentant, they should consider giving up spanking that child and try other methods of discipline.

    Open hand with a few swats is generally all that is necessary. Do not swat hard enough to leave a mark or bruise, and swat on the butt. The football player younspeak of violated all of these ideals.

    As for verses, here are some:

    Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV
    “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastens every son
    whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is
    treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not
    discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated,
    then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had
    earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? …

    Proverbs 13:24 ESV
    Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is
    diligent to discipline him.

    Hebrews 12:11 ESV
    For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,
    but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been
    trained by it.

    Proverbs 29:15 ESV
    The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself
    brings shame to his mother.

    Proverbs 23:13-14 ESV
    Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a
    rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul
    from Sheol.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much for the comprehensive response Bootsy.

    I believe Benjamin has already addressed what the meaning of “rod” actually is in the original languages. Possibly if and when he moderates this comment he can provide a link to that particular article?

  • This is one of the best articles from a Christian perspective that I’ve read on child rearing in a LONG time! Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together and share it. I hope it impacts people to raise their children with gentleness and love!

  • liberalinlove

    This does not have anything to do with politically correct parenting. People with good parenting skills simply don’t have to do it. The “I hit you because I love you,” type of parenting may create loyal kids. Most kids raised in highly abusive families remain loyal. I would question what your definition of “godly” is.

  • SamHamilton

    Because finger guns and sticks are more dangerous?

  • RichardAubrey

    Make absolutely certain to tell them the three American heroes on the Thalys train who saved possibly hundreds from death were villains who hadn’t been raised right.