The child’s violence

The child’s violence
Monday April 27, 2009

Dear Alice Miller,

I would greatly appreciate if you could please give me your opinion about a recent discussion in my forum. One of the participants writes about a friend’s child, a 3-year-old boy who is unpredictably violent. She writes that the boy picks up large, heavy objects and throws them hard towards people, or waves them so they will very possibly come into contact with another child’s head. The mother on her side denies that the boy is violent, she shrugs it off saying “Oh, it’s just boys” or something similar. The participant writes that she is worried about her own daughter’s safety around this boy.
In response, I wrote that the 3-year-old boy is violent because of the violence he himself experienced (and probably still experiences), either from his father, or from his mother, or from both. The participant replied that she doesn’t think all very young children that hit ARE hit, and that she is quite convinced about it through her own observations. She explains that a lot of parents who pride themselves on being ‘non violent’ nonetheless behave in ways that are so enraging to the child that he has no other way of expressing himself other than hitting – because he has not the vocabulary or the maturity to engage in a spoken row, like older children or adults do. For example, the child may be frustrated because he was put in childcare at a very young age (before he was one). This, she says, could be quite enough to cause him to be striking out at the world fairly indiscriminately.
This is a general question that is important for me to answer, but I don’t have enough experience or knowledge to answer it with certainty: Can a child be violent without ever being hit?

Sincerely, with my deepest appreciation for your work,


AM:I can’t imagine that a child would act aggressively without having been hit or in another way frustrated. If the teaching to hit doesn’t come from the parents it may come from nannies who USUALLY hit the babies to teach them obedience. When I ask parents if they know HOW their nanies think about teaching children obedience they are surprised, they never thought of asking this question, they trust the “professional” that she knows what is good for the child. Some are also afraid of asking this question. It is indeed also possible that the child learns to hit only by observing adults in rage. But without his own suffering he will not become violent.