In a small town, two children ages twelve and seven tied up their young friend and tortured him to death. So badly battered was his body that the only way he could be identified was by his clothing. According to a psychologist, these children must have been carrying repressed anger and rage that drove them to commit such an act.
Today violence permeates our communities, schools and families. Young children are involved in bullying, fighting, crime and even murder. Why? The causes are complex; however, the remedy may not be as difficult as we believe, say psychologists.
Many attribute childhood violence to their exposure to war, cultural stereotypes, television violence, and violent computer games where one is actually encouraged to kill or blow up the opponent. Many psychologists disagree. They believe that we should look at babyhood and the toddler years to understand reasons why some children become violent.
Developmental professionals believe there are two reasons children become violent. A child who is hit, beaten or threatened with violence will tend to become violent. Sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and everyday minor hurts and frustrations can lead to violence. Some abuse may occur outside the home beyond the control of the parents.
The second reason is less well understood. When we are hurt or upset, we need to be able to release our emotions by sharing them with a compassionate listener. Toddlers should be allowed to cry if they have been hurt, hit, abused, frightened, punished, over-stimulated or frustrated. Feelings that are not released, forcing the child to repress for fear of punishment, result in negative feelings building up inside the child like a time bomb. Violence toward the self or others is almost inevitable.
A traumatized child will either identify with the aggressor and become a bully, or will identify with the victim. Those who take on the victim role may become withdrawn and compliant, lacking assertiveness, making them prey for sexual molesters or playground bullies. Mass murderers are often described as quiet, unassuming and rather withdrawn. Their crimes are usually a complete surprise to those who know them. It becomes apparent after their family history is investigated that they were traumatized as children and had no supportive adult to turn to for help.
Some psychologists argue that the content of the trauma is not the most important factor. It can be something small as in a skinned knee or being punished, or a more traumatic event like being beaten or even witnessing a murder. The important factor is how we as parents acknowledge and resolve the trauma. The trusted adult or parent (someone they love, respect and feel safe with) needs to feel what the child is experiencing and communicate that to them in a sympathetic way.
Remember, children need our love and attention the most when they are being torn apart by powerful emotions they are too young to understand and too immature to be able to control. More often, we find it easier to handle sadness or tears than the expression of anger in children. An angry or frustrated child is frequently as distressed (sometimes more so) than a sad or crying child and in need of our help to work through and resolve their feelings. Understand that anger is a defense against hurt, and that it is by helping them to cry the tears underneath the anger, that a child can begin to heal.