The Cycle of Violence: How Aggression Breeds More Aggression (And How To Break The Cycle)

Published on 3 July 2024 at 21:44

As parents, we all want our children to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free from the shadows of violence. But what happens when violence is part of their world? Numerous studies have shown that violence often begets more violence, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break. Understanding this cycle is crucial in helping us raise children who are compassionate, empathetic, and peaceful.

Understanding the Cycle of Violence

Research has consistently shown that exposure to violence, whether in the home, community, or through media, can have profound effects on children. A landmark study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that children who witness violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior themselves. This is often referred to as the cycle of violence.

When children see violent behavior, they may come to view it as a normal or acceptable way to solve problems or express emotions. This learned behavior can then manifest in their own actions, leading to a perpetuation of violence.

Integrity, Self-Esteem, and the Impact of Violence

Integrity and self-esteem are closely related. The more successfully parents look after a child's integrity, the greater the possibility that the child will develop healthy self-esteem. Violence is a severe infringement on a child's integrity and can be highly detrimental to their self-esteem. Even though laws may forbid grievous physical violence against children, other forms of violence can be equally harmful and are often not classified as criminal.

Over time, many societies have coined euphemisms for physical violence. In Denmark, there is a term for a parent's "right to inflict corporal punishment," referring to "smacks" or "slaps." In the United States, parents may refer to "disciplining" or "spanking." However, no euphemism can obscure the fact that violence is violence, and it destroys the self-esteem and dignity of both the victim and the perpetrator.

Different Attitudes Toward Violence

Parents who use violence on their children can generally be divided into three groups:

  1. Ideological Users: These parents believe that a "smack on the bottom" does not harm children and often come from environments dominated by totalitarian ideologies. They believe violence is an essential part of responsible child-rearing.

  2. Control Seekers: These parents use violence to exert power and control over their children, valuing obedience over closeness.

  3. Occasional Users: These parents may hit their children occasionally but feel bad about it each time. Despite their feelings, all violence toward children has the same consequences as violence toward adults: it creates anxiety, mistrust, and feelings of guilt in the short term, and low self-esteem, anger, and violence in the long term.

The repercussions of violence are not necessarily proportional to how often a child is hit. The impact of violence depends significantly on whether parents take responsibility for their actions or blame their children for the violence.

The Role of Media

The influence of media cannot be overlooked. The American Psychological Association has noted that children who are exposed to violent media are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. This is particularly concerning given the prevalence of violent content in video games, movies, and television shows. The repetitive exposure to such content can desensitize children to violence and make aggressive behavior seem more acceptable.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the cycle of violence requires a multifaceted approach. Here are some strategies based on scientific research that can help:

  1. Promote Positive Role Models: Children learn by observing the behavior of adults around them. By modeling non-violent behavior and demonstrating effective conflict resolution, parents and caregivers can teach children healthier ways to handle disputes.

  2. Encourage Open Communication: Creating an environment where children feel safe to express their emotions and concerns is essential. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and provide guidance on how to manage anger and frustration constructively.

  3. Limit Exposure to Violent Media: Monitoring and regulating the media content that children are exposed to can help reduce their exposure to violent imagery. Encourage them to engage in activities that promote empathy and cooperation.

  4. Seek Professional Help When Needed: If a child has been exposed to significant violence, professional help from a psychologist or counselor may be necessary. Therapeutic interventions can help children process their experiences and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

  5. Educational Programs: Schools and community organizations can play a crucial role by implementing programs that teach non-violent conflict resolution and promote emotional intelligence. These programs can provide children with the tools they need to navigate social situations peacefully.

The cycle of violence is a troubling reality, but it is not unbreakable. By understanding the impact of violence on children and taking proactive steps to promote non-violent behavior, we can help create a more peaceful future for our children. As parents, caregivers, and community members, we all have a role to play in ending the cycle of violence and fostering a world where every child can thrive.


  • Dr. Jesper Juul Your Competent Child: Toward New Basic Values for the Family.
  • National Institute of Mental Health:

    • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (n.d.). Children and Mental Health. Retrieved from NIMH Website
  • American Academy of Pediatrics:

    • Shonkoff, J.P., & Garner, A.S. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232-e246. Retrieved from AAP Publications 
  • American Psychological Association:

    • American Psychological Association. (2013). Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. Retrieved from APA Website
  • Impact of Domestic Violence on Children:

    • Edleson, J. L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(8), 839-870. Retrieved from SAGE Journals 
  • Integrity and Self-Esteem in Children:

    • Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1-44. Retrieved from SAGE Journals 
  • Euphemisms for Physical Violence in Parenting:

    • Straus, M. A., & Donnelly, D. A. (1994). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families. Lexington Books. Retrieved from Google Books 
  • Effects of Parental Violence on Children:

    • Wolfe, D. A., Jaffe, P. G., Wilson, S. K., & Zak, L. (1985). Children of battered women: The relation of child behavior to family violence and maternal stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53(5), 657-665. Retrieved from PsycNET


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