7 Parenting Tips to Handle Negative Emotions and Stop Aggression in Children to Nurture the Values of Non-violence

By Bhanu Narasimhan┃Posted: January 21, 2018

A child who wanted to be perceived as the strongest of all would speak loudly, look angry, and hit everyone to prove his strength. When his grandfather came to visit, he behaved in the same way. However, his grandpa was never agitated and just smiled at his actions. The child was bewildered as he was only used to getting yelled at for what he did. The more he was yelled at, the stronger he would become, he thought!

Grandpa shares the Buddha story

The grandfather asked him if he would like to hear a story and the boy agreed. “Once upon a time, there was an enlightened master called Buddha. He travelled across the country teaching people how to be peaceful. Once, while he was going through a forest, a tribesman called Angulimala came to him. He was a frightening man. He wore a garland of fingers of people whom he had sacrificed so he would be the strongest and feared the most. He wanted to have Buddha’s finger as the hundredth, to complete his sacrificing ritual.

Buddha smiled at him and said, ‘I’m happy to be of use to you.’ There was no trace of fear in him. Nobody had ever smiled at Angulimala. No one had ever spoken to him so kindly. The very presence of Buddha did something to him. Angulimala felt very weak for the first time in his life. He felt like a feather in front of a mountain. He realized that real strength is in having unshakeable calmness, peace, and compassion. He fell at Buddha’s feet. He was changed completely.”

The child listened to every word from his grandpa with rapt attention.

1. Look out for the media children are exposed to

When you feel helpless or weak, the need to assert your strength comes out as violence. Where do children get the idea of violence? They see their parents, neighbors, friends, and so many programs on TV, or movies — all this exposure leaves impressions and has a strong impact on the minds of children, more than we know. In the olden days, movies were classified as suitable for watching only under parental guidance. Parents would control what a child could see. Today, it’s a common occurrence that elders are all engrossed in watching programs on TV and are oblivious to children who are also watching and taking in all the exaggerated emotions and aggression being projected.

It’s very important to be sensitive to everything their tender senses are exposed to. They shouldn’t be bombarded with heavy impressions.

2. Handling aggression

Children get angry or show aggression for seemingly very silly reasons. But the real reason is something else, a sense of insecurity that has crept in somehow. That’s why in olden days, parents would never show anger in front of a child. They would not even argue or use harsh words. Public display of anger was considered a weakness.

Today, anger and aggression come up at the drop of a hat. Any minor difference of opinion is enough to prompt arrows to fly. We don’t know how to draw a line between expressing a difference of opinion and displaying aggression. If your child is aggressive, look into your own lifestyle. What are you doing? Are you yelling at your housekeeper or your pet? Are you yelling at your own spouse, or anyone for that matter, in front of the child? Are you sad? What’s your reaction?

It doesn’t matter that out of the 365 days, you have acted in aggression only a couple of times. Those few days are equally important for the child. Children are even sensitive to suppressed violence. If you’re angry inside but still act as if everything is okay, they will know it.

This is why we need to meditate and practice pranayama or deep breathing techniques. Heyum dukham anagatam — stopping the misery before it comes — that’s the benefit of yoga, because in life prevention is better than cure.

3. Engaging children in meaningful activities

The other important thing is to engage them in meaningful activities and sports that allow them to channel their energy constructively. Just playing video games or watching TV with no physical activity only increases restlessness and makes them prone to aggression. You’ll notice that the day your child has more screen time, he or she becomes more difficult to handle. Encourage them to go out and play, engage with real people, run, and fill their lungs with some fresh air. Enroll them in activities that develop their creativity as well as their physical bodies, and help them find something they’re interested in.

4. What kinds of stories are we telling children?

To develop a sound value system, tell them stories. For very small children, perhaps around three or four, stories should be pleasant, free of fighting and violence, about animals and nature, sharing and caring. When they’re five or six it’s okay to introduce stories with good people and ‘bad’ people. Every culture has its stories of heroes who protected the innocent and fought villains who were up to no good. Through these stories they understand that the purpose of strength is to protect and not to hurt. They learn that the hero, the stronger one, is calm and collected.

The following four points should be part of your guidance of children:

  • Teach them that the one who smiles, no matter what, is stronger.
  • Show them when to stand up for what’s right, and when to walk away from a fight.
  • As much as you can, protect their innocence.
  • As much as you can, give them pride in non-violence.

5. Appreciate!

While it’s important to reprimand anger, it’s equally important to recognize when they’re gentle and appreciate them. When I was a child and would sometimes get angry, my grandmother would ask me to go to a certain corner of the house and leave my anger there. She would say that the angel in that corner would take the anger from me and go far, far away. I would believe her, go stand there and in a minute, come back smiling!

Schools today don’t teach children how to deal with negative emotions. This is an important aspect of molding a child’s character. Teachers should be strict about encouraging the right attitude. They should recognize the strength of a child who’s able to walk away from a fight, and not just react and hit back. They should reward and give attention to calmness.

Many times, an aggressive attitude results from simply wanting attention. So, you can teach them by ignoring their sulking or shouting, and praising them and giving extra attention when they’re well-mannered.

And parents should give teachers the space to discipline the child if necessary. It’s okay if your child has been naughty and the teacher has disciplined him or her. Parents must encourage reverence towards the teacher. If they say, “Who is he or she to tell my child what to do!” the child won’t listen or respect the teacher anymore. When this happens, learning stops.

6. Food is important

The food we give to our children also has a role to play. Too many sweets, fried foods (like chips) and oily foods increase restlessness. Also, their food must be freshly cooked as much as possible, rather than packaged items kept in cold storage.

Encourage them to enjoy fruits as much as chips; perhaps one fruit for every chip eaten can be the deal! Where possible, avoid food products made from genetically modified grains and vegetables. Food has a direct impact on the mind, and when consumed over a period of time, it has a definite impact on the nature or attitude of the child.

7. Quality Time

Above all, as parents, you need to spend quality time doing ‘nothing’ with your child. Just sitting with them without looking at mobile phones, giving complete attention to what they have to say, and just being with them 100% gives a great sense of security to children. An insecure child is more likely to succumb to aggression than one who feels secure and attended to.

This article was originally published by The Indian Express and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.

Bhanu Narasimhan is Director of the Women Empowerment and Child Welfare Programs of The Art of Living, and the younger sister of global spiritual leader, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.