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Preventing violence against women: teaching children about respect

0-18 years

As a parent, there’s a lot you can do to prevent violence against women. It’s all about role-modelling and talking about respect and positive attitudes towards women and girls – and it’s never too early to start.

Violence against women: prevention through respect

Prevention of violence against women starts with early role-modelling and talking to children about respectful relationships and positive attitudes towards girls and women.

You play a vital part in helping your children develop respectful attitudes. That’s because you are your child’s most important role model. Although children take in beliefs and attitudes from the world around them, what you do and say guides your child’s behaviour, attitudes and beliefs in the short and long term.

This means that talking to your child about respectful relationships and attitudes towards women and girls from an early age can help shape your child’s attitudes and behaviour throughout life.

Respect, disrespect and violence against women

Violence against women comes from sexist attitudes towards women and girls. These include the negative and disrespectful beliefs that women and girls:

  • aren’t as good as men and boys
  • don’t deserve the same opportunities or treatment as men and boys
  • should or shouldn’t do particular things, just because they’re women and girls.

People don’t always realise that they have these sexist beliefs. Whether they realise or not, it’s not OK for them to treat women badly and to be violent towards them.

Preventing violence against women by teaching your child about respect and equality

Violence against women, gender equality and respectful relationships can be tough topics to talk about with your child. It can help to use everyday activities and events to teach your child to treat others with respect, and to expect respect from others.

Violence is never OK
It’s important for your child to know that any type of violence – verbal, physical or emotional – is never OK. Here are some ways that you can help your child understand this idea:

  • Teach your child how to recognise aggression and violence – for example, bullying, teasing and name-calling in the playground are forms of verbal violence. Hitting, pushing, punching and smacking others are forms of physical violence.
  • Let your child know that she doesn’t have to tolerate violent or aggressive behaviour from friends or classmates. Teach your child to say, ‘Stop – I don’t like it’.
  • Never excuse rough or violent behaviour by saying things like ‘Boys will be boys’.
  • Show your child how to resolve conflicts using words and problem-solving skills. And let your child see you using words and problem-solving to sort out conflicts.

Praise your child when you see him using words and skills to sort out problems. For example, ‘It’s great how you stayed calm and walked away when you were feeling really angry. You didn’t take your anger out by hitting. Well done!’.

A child who can say ‘Stop – I don’t like it’ to another child who pushes her at playgroup is more likely to grow into a confident young person who can clearly tell others what she wants and doesn’t want in relationships.

Gender equality
Gender equality means that girls, boys, men and women deserve the same opportunities and treatment. If children understand gender equality, they’re more likely also to understand that treating women disrespectfully and being violent towards women is not OK.

Here are some everyday ways that you can help your child understand the idea of gender equality:

  • Don’t tolerate sexist jokes from friends or family members. A sexist joke is a statement or story that gets its humour from putting women down or suggesting that women aren’t as smart or good as men. If someone makes a joke like this in front of your child, it’s OK to call it out.
  • Teach your child that everyone can do and be what they want to be. Point out examples of men and women in ‘non-traditional’ roles and activities. Examples might be women playing cricket, rugby and AFL, and men working in midwifery or child care.
  • Avoid gendered roles in your family relationships and domestic chores. This helps your children learn that they don’t have to do things just because they’re girls or boys. For example, if you live in a different-sex relationship, make sure your children see both of you cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, taking the rubbish out, changing nappies and so on.
  • Tune in to the way your child and other people talk about girls and women. For example, saying that someone ‘runs like a girl’ or is ‘strong for a girl’ is disrespectful because it suggests that girls aren’t physically strong and skilled. You could make a joke of it – for example, ‘Yep, she runs like a girl – try and keep up’ or ‘She’s not strong for a girl – she’s just strong’.
  • Be aware of your own language, and avoid saying things like ‘Don’t act like a girl’ or ‘Man up’ to boys. These statements reinforce unhelpful messages about how boys and girls should feel and behave.
  • Consider choosing gender-neutral toys and dress-ups for your children. For example, you might choose teddy bears rather than baby dolls, or encourage children of both genders to dress up as astronauts or prime ministers.

Respectful relationships
Respect is about treating ourselves and others with dignity and consideration. Respect is an essential part of forming healthy, happy relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. The best way to teach your child about respectful relationships is to model respect in your own relationships.

Here are some ideas:

  • Treat others equally, fairly, and in the same way you want to be treated yourself. Make sure your child sees you behaving this way, and talk with your child about it.
  • Let your child know that people have diverse views, beliefs, values, religions, cultural practices and so on – and that it’s important to show respect even when you don’t agree with someone’s values or views.
  • Let your child know that everyone makes mistakes – for example, if your child forgets to pick up milk on the way home, don’t get angry or overreact. Instead you might say ‘It’s easy to forget – maybe next time leave a note to remind yourself’.
  • Respect your child’s boundaries and let him know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ sometimes – for example, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Jack’s house to play’.
  • Communicate openly and sort out conflicts fairly – for example, don’t yell or be aggressive towards your child in an argument.
It’s never too early to start talking with your child about respectful relationships. Early conversations and role-modelling will help your child develop and maintain respectful relationships throughout life. And open, early conversations also send the message that your child can come to you to talk about her relationships.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-08-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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