Teaching Our Children and Ourselves
By- Dr. David Prescott
In tonight's State of the Union address, the President will reportedly talk about our national struggle to cope with gun violence. Given the wide range of viewpoints, debates concerning the best strategies for reducing violence will likely continue for weeks and months.
Watching and hearing about violent events is troubling for most people. Psychologists have helped identify strategies for coping with violent events in the short term, as well as strategies for the longer term issue of raising our children to deal with anger and frustration in non-violent ways. Not surprisingly, adult behavior and role modeling play a large role in how children learn to deal with these issues.
The Short Term: Coping with Violence or Exposure to Violence
Whether people are directly impacted by a violent event, or witness violence through news and other mass media, working through the feelings takes time. Any one of the following strategies can help people cope more effectively:
· Honor Your Feelings: Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance.
· Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it's easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
· Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it's from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress.
· Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better.
The Long Term: Teaching Gentleness To Our Children
How can parents help to teach their children to behave in a compassionate caring manner? Social scientific research suggests that even at young ages, children have the capacity to empathize with the feelings of others, and to help others in need. Part of raising children who don't use violence to cope with anger or frustration is nurturing these tendencies.
Here are some strategies that parents and other adults can use to help teach children to act with compassion:
· Lead By Example: What most inspires a child to grow up caring about others is the caring that the child receives. That nurturing is itself a perfect role model for children. Experts point out that when children feel they have a secure base at home, they're more likely to venture out and pay attention to others.
· Choose Books that Illustrate Compassion and Caring: Particularly for young children, books that illustrate compassion and caring help children learn about these behaviors. For older children, make sure that the books promote realistic characters who deal with everyday struggles in a caring manner.
· Limit television and movies which promote violence: Research from the National Institute of Mental Health found that children tend to imitate behavior they see on television. For this reason, you may want to limit their viewing of violent programs and encourage them to watch shows that promote ideas about caring and helping.
For More Information: American Psychological Association www.apa.org/helpcenter
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Healthy Living: Coping with Violence and Aggression
Teaching Our Children and Ourselves
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