Promoting Nonviolent Communication in Youth

Children tend to mimic what we put into them. I remember when I had just graduated high school and had taken a job as an assistant preschool teacher for a Christian Day School; there was a 4-year-old boy in my class who would often speak with the vulgar language. Some of the other students recognized the words as ones they shouldn’t say and approached me about it, and other students hadn’t heard some of the words before and would repeat them not knowing that they were considered to be vulgar. The young boy would find himself sent to the office daily by the main teacher because of his language. I remember one day watching an interaction between him and the main teacher, where she had overhead him using inappropriate language. She was frustrated, and he was, surprisingly, confused… I remember not being able to shake the image of his young confused face from my mind that evening and trying to figure out what it meant. The next day, I asked him, “Does your mother allow you to say those words at home?” He looked at me surprised and said, “Yes.” At that moment, despite the language he had been using, it became clear that I was talking to a child. An impressionable little human who was trying to figure out how the world works from the adults in his life. I got down at eye-level with him and let him know that I understand that. I told him that there is an etiquette to how we speak hear at school and I wanted to help him learn it. He looked excited. He was often in trouble and I hadn’t observed anyone yet taking a teaching approach with him. We agreed that the first time he said a word that was inappropriate, I would let him know that it is one of those words that we should not use because of how it makes people feel and then any time after, he would be accountable for learning his new habit. There was never a second use of the words. Once he was taught, one by one, what words are okay and which are not, he made the effort to change his behavior immediately. During the remainder of my tenure, he was not sent to the office for language after that.

The point of this story: Children learn what we both actively and passively put into them. They are always watching and trying to learn from the world around them and as responsible adults we should take up a duty to be an example of peace and non-violence. We should actively seek out opportunities to teach our youth the ways of patience, empathy, understanding, appreciation and love and be mindful of our passive teachings in the way that we behave ourselves even when we are not trying to teach. We are prone to mistake just as much as children are. We should remember that and level with our children when we mess up, showing them that we all need grace and understanding as we navigate the world and that learning is a permanent state of living. Caring deeply for the information that you output into the lives of the children around you is one of the most loving things that an adult can do for a child because it says to that child, “I want you to live in happiness, peace and feel cared for and so I will contribute only positive memories for you to let mold you.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

Dr Sherice Rivas


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