Quaker Universalist Conversations

Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Our Children

So often when we think of peace work, we envision boycotts, peaceful demonstrations, or effecting policy changes. But there is vital peace work to be done even closer to home.

Actually in our homes.

What would it take to raise a generation of children who lived and breathed peace, who knew that “getting” wasn’t the same as “taking,” who knew the difference between power and influences, and who were excited to honor the unique voices, gifts, talents, and needs of each other?

We’d have to dramatically change the way we treat kids. We’d need to rethink the cultural norms around our relationship with them.

Are we teaching control or cooperation?

In many houses (and almost every school, sports team, and class), adults make the rules and kids are expected to comply. This works well for training soldiers or factory workers. But if we want children who will stand up to injustice, who will speak up against corrupt power, we need a different model.

Children should be included in decisions that affect them, including things like bedtime routines, what to wear, and household chores. It doesn’t mean that children get to decide these things on their own; rather, parents and children together come up with solutions that are mutually acceptable. These win-win solutions teach our kids that their needs are important, but not more or less so than everyone else’s.

How do we handle “misbehavior’?

All behavior (adult or child) as an attempt to meet a need. If we can see it as such, there really is no such thing as misbehavior. Instead, there are skillful and unskillful ways to get our needs met.

As parents, we can help our children learn how to get their needs met skillfully. Rather than punishing them when they hit someone, for example, we teach them how to touch gently, how to work out a plan for sharing a toy, and how to ask for help when they get frustrated. We look beneath the behavior to find the need, then do what we can to meet it.

Why can’t we be our kids’ friends?

I’ve heard “I’m his parent, not his friend,” more times that I can count. But it’s a false dichotomy; we don’t have to choose.

A friend comforts you when you’re having a bad day, invites you along on her adventures, can be trusted with your secrets, loves you unconditionally, knows both your gifts and flaws, and helps you be the best version of yourself.

So why wouldn’t I want to be my child’s friend?

“Make it bigger, Mom,” by Mike Shell. Sand castle builders, Popham Beach State Park, Midcoast Maine (8/11/2014).

How do we prepare kids to face the cold, hard world?

Almost inevitably when I talk to people about listening to kids, talking respectfully to them, and creating win-win solutions with them, someone counters, “But that’s not how the real world works. No one else is going to treat them that way.”

And maybe that’s true. The rest of the world may expect them to conform, may even punish them when they don’t.

To me, that speaks even more to the necessity of creating that nurturing safe space in the home. Our homes can be safe havens for our children, places where our children take the lessons of love, acceptance, kindness, and peace, and take them out and transform the “cold, hard world” into a loving, safe, and peaceful world.


Image Source

Make it bigger, Mom,” by Mike Shell. Sand castle builders, Popham Beach State Park, Midcoast Maine (8/11/2014).

Comments

Amy, you write:

[When] I talk to people about listening to kids, talking respectfully to them, and creating win-win solutions with them, someone counters, ‘But that’s not how the real world works. No one else is going to treat them that way….’
“To me, that speaks even more to the necessity of creating that nurturing safe space in the home.”
It also speaks to me of the necessity of demonstrating to our children precisely the sort of win-win reality you describe. So that they will know that this is the REALITY which human beings are actually capable of.

When I was a kid and came home from experiences of mistreatment by the “cold, hard world,” I would say to my Dad: “It’s not fair!”

His response was always: “You’re right. It’s not fair.”

I was a young adult before I realized that he wasn’t being a “bad dad” by not going out to fix “it.”

That, instead, he was putting those experiences into perspective—and contrasting them with the win-win reality that he and Mom practiced with me and my sister and brother.

Blessings,
Mike

This is such a huge important topic. We Quakers need to keep talking to each other about how to be the final decision makers but not the autocrats with our children. Power struggles are inevitable and support groups help guide us. Parenting is a long-term political and personal campaign, long as in about 20 years long.

Mike, you are so fortunate to have grown up with such wise parents! I’m so thankful there are parents like yours who are helping to create a safe, loving REALITY. Minga, I love the idea of looking at parenting as a campaign :) And it certainly is a long one. It may just be semantics, not an actual difference; I’m not sure that parents need to be the final decision-makers. Certainly we need to make certain our children are as safe as we can reasonably make them. But except in very rare circumstances, I aim for a decision that everyone is happy with; the final decision rests with the family as a whole (or at least with the people involved in the decision.)