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How to speak with your kids about violence

Sep 08, 2019

Are you having discussions with your children about the topic of violence and where violence is may happen in their life, how they're going to be able to manage it, what happens when they see it, how to make basic sense of it?

Well, in this episode, I will introduce you to a couple of tactics you can use to have those very important discussions with your children about violence.


Let's get started.

First, why is it that we don't have those discussions with our children about the topic of violence? Meanwhile, violence is all around them, whether it be in entertainment, in media, at school, in music…  they're constantly exposed to high, high levels of violence all around them.

How often do we have those discussions so they make sense of it and they're able to manage it inside their heads for the rest of their lives?

Let’s look back at when we were kids. When I was a young child, the actual discussion of emotional-based topics such as sexuality was just something completely taboo. It was barely discussed in schools. When it was, it was in specific 15 minute classes that were for some reason taught by our gym teacher. 

As a result of not having clear open dialogue about this topic, it created misinformed kids on the topic of sexuality. It created misguidance in how they should handle sex in their lives. Big time. 

At home, a lot of parents aren't equipped, whether it be through just ignorance or lacking knowledge on the topic of violence or never being exposed to it, never having to manage it.

For some parents it’s possibly having a past trauma where they don't want to re-encounter that experience. They want to leave it in the past, not want to bring their children into that world that they were once exposed to, whether it be experiences which were career-based, law enforcement, military, or whether it be through past trauma. T

Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same in my opinion.  It is going to lead to the misunderstanding of violence and misinformation about violence, calibrating them to have a complacency towards violence. This could very well lead to an outcome where when violence does happen, most likely may not manage it the best way for the best outcome.

Where do we begin then with this topic of violence and having this discussion?

As parents, we need to make sure that the discussion is contextual to where the child is in the latter of life.

Having the discussion with a 16 year old girl is going to be a whole different discussion than you're going to be having with an eight year old boy.

Next is making them understand feelings of lashing out, feelings of manifesting violent acts outward is something that is natural. That's why it's so important that they talk with you, don’t make this discussion a one way talk. Don’t talk to - talk with. Allow them to have discussions about how they're feeling as those discussions and the ability to be able to speak about how they feel creates space.

This mental, physical and emotional space is going to be created through having those discussions, through being open, being transparent, it will allow them to be able to maneuver better when situations do escalate and become more stressful.

With words, they must identify that violence is something natural.

It's part of the human experience.

There will be times when violence comes at us, whether it be something visual, whether it's something that we hear, something we see or something that’s indeed a physical threat.

In order to manage that, it's critical that they understand that they can speak to you or anyone who will help calm the rising feelings of lashing out, whether it be physically, whether it be emotionally, whether it be mentally.

Now that we understand that violence is a natural part of our human experience, we must inform our child about the facts and how thye might experience violence in their lives. Possibly they already have? They're going to witness it. They're going to have feelings like that.


Step 2: Channels of Violence

The first channel of violence is internal. This is where their own life experiences are going to create emotions that go beyond the point of control and they escalate to a place where they lash out.

That lashing out and trying to gain control over another person or another person's actions because it's something based on your own personal desire is forceful control of another person's action or desire which you are imposing. Violence.

Lack of being able to control emotion that escalates internally can manifest to becoming a violent act.

The next channel of violence is when a violent act comes outward toward them, when they're now a recipient of that manifestation. How do they manage that? How do they protect themselves against that?

We’re going to get to that.



There are many different frameworks of how to manage conflict and violence, some good, some dumb.  The discussions that I've had with thousands of children about this topic that resonates best is really distilled down to three forms, which are easy to understand and remember.

There are really four, but for the children and for the sake of this topice, we’ll reserve the fourth for a later discussion.

    • Physical violence
    • Emotional violence
    • Mental violence

Now, that fourth one is spiritual violence and I know this is going to sound maybe...  a little quacky, but there most certainly is a process of gaining forced spiritual control at a higher level of mental and emotional and physical violence. But as I said, this is for a later discussion.


Physical Violence

Physical violence is exactly what it sounds like. It's imposing someone's desire upon another with force and trying to gain an outcome through the use of physical force.


Emotional Violence

For children, I have found one of the best examples is (especially among teenage girls) situations of social exclusion, where you take advantage of someone else's emotional state by imposing, with force, your need or desire for a specific outcome that only suits you.

The outcome for them is only emotional pain and that can lead to a horrible outcomes and consequences … ones we as parents fear most.


Mental Violence

Mental violence comes in many different faces, some your child will an audience, where they’ll be watching violence play out on a movie, video game or song and have no ability to influence it’s outcome.  This is different than the witness, who exists within the emotional violence type as possibly not knowing or acting on something happening within their zone of influence. This is important to distinguish. 

Even though the so-called ‘data’ is out there that shows that gaming may or may not have an effect on how children handle violence, there’s probably a good reason why terror groups and narco gangs initiate their members with this content. Current gaming is extremely reality-based as you know, with scenes like shooting someone point blank in the head and gray matter and bone fragments spray on the wall behind them… the examples are endless.

The consumption of this type content doesn't have an emotional trigger once the immediate shock has been passed.

Here’s an example of the progression toward complacency from my own life. One evening while sitting beside my son,  I noticed the lyrics to the rap song he was listening to in his headphones. He was doing his homework calmly, chilling on the couch. 

This particular song was about raping a stripper and then shooting her in the back of the head.

I look at my son, "Are you serious? You're not even picking up on this?"

What? …. oh. come on dad. It's just the music."

Ask yourself, what lens is he looking at the world through as he is accepting, or worse participating in the popularization of this sentiment?

This is no different than the mental violenc our children are going to be exposed to while gaming. Let's look at this one more time.

When we talk about this with our kids, always provide the opportunity for them to reply back.

Am I being somehow physically violent? Am I a recipient of it?

Is the emotional violence, is it coming from me?

Am I targeting another kid without realizing it, maybe bringing them into my social circle only with the goal of humiliation?

Am picking on someone on the bus? Am I actually a bully and I don't even realize it?

Am I being bullied?

Ask them for examples of this in their lives, in school or among friends? How does that make you feel?

Then how do we respond to this when a child says, "Dad, you know what? I just didn't know what to do."



In the Japanese martial arts, we have this term called sanmitsu. Sanmitsu translates into the thought, the word, and the deed. It follows that progression.

First, identify the thoughts that you're having and how the situation is making you truly feel, how are you managing it internally? This involves some coaching, as many kids will push down their true feelings, and only show the superficial response based on the social expectation of the moment. Explain this to them, tell them it will happen, and tell them not to let it. 

The first thing I wrote about on this topic was about understanding what violence is and how it manifests within you through emotional triggers. It’s important to revisit this point right now; through thought, being able to create space in your thoughts and being able to manage those feelings is the first critical step.

Next is expressing it, putting it out there, using your words. This is where your word becomes your sword, your weapon of safety, of protection for yourself or for another.

Being able to manage, mitigate and control conflict can only come through experience, which is why it's important to give your children the permission right now to manage these thoughts, manage these experiences, and being able to have what it takes to step up to the plate when they witness escalation. They will now be capable of identifying their thoughts, "What I'm witnessing right now does not make me comfortable. What I'm feeling right now does not make me comfortable."

By giving your child the understanding to create space, you’ll be greatly reducing the risk of what’s called the freeze factor, freezing up and locking up, "I don't know what to do."

Once they're able to create that space, they convert the space to words and will have the ability to command, “Stop."

Having the actual dialogue is a whole different topic we can get into later, but right now we want them to understand, once you control your thoughts, you're able to identify how you feel, then you need to put a word, a command to it.

It could be a situation where your child sees a child picking on another kid on the school bus. For this example, let’s say this boy is picking on a girl.

Your child decides to make a stand, "Hey, I want you to stop right now. Leave her alone."

The hero (in this example, your kid) ends up triggering a social-proof effect, like putting a match on a puddle of gas; when other kids who have been witness to this, yet not able to manage their thoughts … they are now capable as your kids action (deed) has provided the needed space for their response.

Social-proof kicks in, another kid steps up and says, "Yeah, knock it off," … and then another and another and  another…

For the victim, the cavalry has arrived. The victim is now elevated, and now feels a sense of support and empowerment that they did not know before. It is literally transformational

For your child, the hero, they have been able to manage a conflict, and the likelihood of them standing up again is greatly increased.

Do you understand how this is working now? I hope so.

Now let’s identify the role of the deed, the action taken which made a difference and controlled the outcome. It is how they were able to serve that person by protecting and elevating.