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?
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.