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Teaching Children Peace*
by Carolyn C. Waterbury-Tieman
We are living in a time when being kind, considerate, respectful, and peace-loving is not "in." Being nice is simply not sophisticated. In fact, those accused of being too nice (if that is possible) are often either suspect or scorned.
Well, Jesus was no stranger to scorn. And in spite of his peaceful efforts, (and in many cases because of them), he was no stranger to conflict either. But peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is both the means and the intended end of resolving conflict in an effective, constructive manner -- one that leaves everyone whole, in the broadest sense of the term.
Every Sunday our vicar reaches a place in the service where she turns to us and says, "The peace of the Lord be always with you", to which we respond, "And also with you." Then we turn to one another and exchange peaceful greetings, "Peace be with you," or "The peace of the Lord," or simply "Peace", as we shake hands or hug. We offer these as signs of our intentions to lead peaceful lives -- to follow Christ's example. We also do this to prepare ourselves for what is to come, to get ourselves in a place that is right for receiving Christ.
But what do we do day to day to make sure our message of peace is conveyed to everyone we meet, especially our children? What do we do to keep ourselves in a place that is right for seeking peace? How do we respond to and interact with others to increase the likelihood that we will experience peaceful encounters?
Eleanor Roosevelt told us, "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." So what can we do to promote peace in our lives and the lives of those around us? Here are a few suggestions for how we can begin at home:
Be an affirming family. An affirming family demonstrates respect for the individual differences of all its members. It provides a sense of belonging and encourages a spirit of cooperation.
The home of an affirming family is a pleasant environment, a place where its members want to be and want to bring their friends. The affirming family holds positive expectations for the actions of its members and remembers to express appreciation when these expectations are met.
Practice peaceful communication. Listen carefully to what others say. Try to understand what others are feeling. Take responsibility for whatever part you may have played in starting or continuing an argument. Apologize if you have said or done something that has caused another pain.
Speak without raising your voice. Say something kind to one another as often as you can. Learn to be honest in a way that expresses caring and concern. It is possible to be honest without being cruel. Listen to others the way you would like to be listened to. Speak and behave in ways that promote self esteem.
Seek peaceful solutions to conflict. Include all family members in the peace process. When there is a problem, spend time clearly defining what the problem is. Create an atmosphere of trust among family members. When others are speaking, listen for the feelings behind the words.
Empower family members with the courage to take responsibility for their words and actions, and the consequences. Explore viable alternatives to unacceptable behavior. Expect everyone to cooperate in instituting the peaceful solution you discover.
Practice peace-compatible discipline. Adopt a preventive approach to discipline. Be sure expectations are age appropriate, clear, and understood ahead of time. Be sure consequences are related to the offense, that they are clearly stated and understood ahead of time, and that they are as immediate and consistent as possible.
Make behaving and cooperation more desirable than misbehaving by expressing appreciation when they occur. People tend to respond much more favorably to fans than to critics. Jane Nelsen reminds us in Positive Discipline, our children do not have to be made to feel worse in order to do better. Remember that you - your time, attention, and affection - are your childīs greatest reward.
Choose peaceful forms of entertainment. Pay close attention to the messages your children are getting about relationships, conflict, violence, and peace from television, movies, toys, games, music, and literature.
When the messages they are getting go against the values you are trying to teach, speak up! Take advantage of these opportunities to explain why the way a situation was handled was unacceptable. Engage your children in a dialogue about how the situation could have been dealt with in a more peaceful manner. Make it clear how you would expect them to behave in a similar situation.
If there are shows, movies, toys, etc. that meet with your disapproval refuse to let them be watched, refuse to pay for them, refuse to buy them, etc. Take the time to explain your decision.
Have the courage to make unpopular decisions. After all, this is something we all want our children to learn to do, i.e. regarding drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. There are times when it is more important to gain respect than popularity.
A final word on toys and play. Play is practice for adulthood. Be sure the lessons and skills your children are learning will be useful to them as peace-seeking adults.
There is a wonderful song that tells us, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." I wonder what would happen if instead of greeting people with the anticipated, "Hello. How are you?", we said, "Peace be with you." Would it put us and them in a more peaceful frame of mind? We know words play a powerful role in organizing our thoughts and behavior. I wonder.
Well, in any case, if you should observe me speaking or behaving in a less than peaceful manner, take me by the hand, look me in the eye, and gently remind me, "Peace be with you." And also with you.
* A primary resource for this article was Raising Peaceful Children in a Violent World by Nancy Lee Cecil (1995), LuraMedia, Inc., San Diego, CA.
Carolyn C. Waterbury-Tieman is a parent educator and Certified Marriage and Family Therapist. Her practice is called Families Under Construction, Inc. She writes two monthly parenting columns -- Pastoral Parenting for a church newsletter and The Parents' Toolbox for a local parenting magazine. Copyright © 1996 Families Under Construction, Inc. All rights reserved.
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