Key points

  • The propensity to violence develops primarily from wrong treatment before age 3
  • The structure of the developing infant brain is a crucial factor in the creation (or not) of violent tendencies because early patterns are established not only psychologically but at the physiological level of brain formation

About 30% of children who suffer abuse or neglect go on to abuse or neglect their own children. Cambridge Professor of Psychological Criminology David Farrington, following a study of South London children between ages 8 and 32, stated it thus:

‘Anti-social children grow up to become anti-social adults who go on to raise anti-social children’.

What needs to be grasped here is that these parents are not wicked. They are simply “doing what comes naturally” by following the pathways laid down in their own early learning.

The important thing to note is that children who are abused and neglected are more likely to become anti social and violent to society as well to their own families.

The single most effective way to stop producing people with the propensity to violence is to ensure infants are reared in an environment that fosters their development of empathy. The surest way to achieve this is by supporting parents in developing attunement with their infants. Find out more about WAVE's recommendations.

WAVE’s key recommendations


1.    No child should leave school without receiving fundamental training in how to parent in a non-violent manner and, crucially, how to “attune” with babies and ensure they develop empathy.

2.    Before the birth of the first child is an ideal time to provide support, so that new enriching habits can be established before bad habits have begun and become embedded. WAVE recommends that parents-to-be should receive focused support on how to attune through ante-natal classes during the first pregnancy.

3.    All parents-to-be should be assessed before and after the birth of their babies for key risk factors and then appropriate support provided. The 4 main risk factors are domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse or one or both parents, mental ill health of one of both parents, parents who had ACEs in their childhood.

4.    Establish Trauma Informed Communities across the whole of the UK to reduce ACEs after they have happened and stop the cycle being repeated in subsequent generations.

Further reading:

The WAVE report 2005: Violence and what to do about it