STEP and Raising Non-Violent Children

By Gary D. McKay, Ph.D., Co-author: STEP Programs

Violence is all around us. Just turn on the TV, go to a movie, look at video games, and listen to some rock music. School shootings, drive-bys, road rage-we shake our heads in disbelief.

Certainly parents don't want their children to fall victims of violence. Furthermore, most parents don't want their children to be violent. The skills taught in the STEP programs help parents raise non-violent children. Encouragement, reflective listening, I-messages, exploring alternatives, family meetings and natural and logical consequences assist parents in raising courageous, peaceful children who can solve problems in non-violent ways.

STEP also gives ideas for children who may run into violent situations. For example, contributing author Dr. Joyce McKay tells parents how to help their children deal with bullies, gangs, and drugs. The programs also discuss what to do about violent media.

How STEP Skills Help Parents Raise Non-Violent Children

Encouragement: Parents learn how to build children's self-esteem. Self-esteem is more than feeling good about oneself-certainly a goal we want for our children. It also involves esteeming others or "people-esteem." Children who have true high self-esteem possess mutual respect. They value both themselves and others.

When parents accept children as they are, not as they could be and build on their children's strengths instead of dwelling on their weaknesses, they help their children value themselves. When they encourage cooperation and helping others, they teach their children to value other people

Communication: Reflective listening helps parents communicate their understanding of children's feelings. When children are angry, for instance, reflective listening can help diffuse the anger. I-messages help parents communicate their feelings to their children in respectful ways. The skills of reflective listening and I-messages show children ways to understand the feelings of others and to respectfully communicate their feelings. Expressing feelings through respectful communication is an alternative to acting out negative feelings.

There are times when reflective listening and I-messages are not enough to settle a disagreement. When parents learn to use the process of exploring alternatives, they help their children see how to respectfully listen and share feelings and opinions and reach agreement.

Family meetings help prevent many misunderstandings and problems. When children feel they are part of the planning of what happens in the family, they are more committed to follow through. The family meeting is a training ground for cooperation.

Natural and Logical Consequences: Discipline is a big concern to parents. They have learned to reward and punish children to try to stimulate cooperation. But rewards only teach children to get, and punishment teaches them to resent. The resentment often leads to revenge.

It is estimated that 97 percent of parents have used physical punishment at one time or another. Parents don't realize that such punishments teach children violent ways of settling conflicts. Most parents hit because they don't know what else to do.

Natural and logical consequences give parents alternatives to reward and punishment. With natural consequences, the child learns by the natural result of an action. A child, who ventures outside on a cold day without a coat, gets cold. The child can learn from the natural result of this decision. The parent doesn't need to interfere. But some natural consequences are dangerous, or, many discipline issues aren't covered by natural consequences. In these cases, logical consequences can be designed. A logical consequence is simply the logical result of a decision. A child who decides to spend her allowance in one day does not receive more money until the next allowance day. It's her decision and the parent trusts her to learn from the result. Logical consequences are applied in a respectful way. They are not a substitute for punishment, but an alternative to punishment. Many logical consequences can be designed in advance and with the help of the child-particularly with older children and teens. "What do you think should happen in this situation?"

Parents who participate in a STEP group have the opportunity to learn non-violent approaches to child rearing. In turn, these approaches show children non-violent ways to interact with others. The goal of STEP is to help parents raise courageous, peaceful adults.