How to Love Our Children

University Essays: Lesson 9, Reading 3

by James and Kathleen McGinnis

Children learn and use nonviolent conflict resolution skills only when these skills are taught in an environment encouraging their use. Parents and other caregivers promote peacemaking skills when they make their homes places where affirmation and cooperationrather than constant criticism and individualismare the norm. Specific nonviolent conflict resolution or problem-solving skills can be taught from the earliest years, especially if adults allow their children to participate in family decision making.

Peacemaking requires a healthy sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem is essential for developing compassion and caring for others. Peacemaking is sometimes a public and even risky undertaking. No one is capable of going public, taking a stand for their convictions, if they do not feel good about themselves. Without self-esteem, we look for acceptance through conformity; we are afraid to stand out. Nurturing children’s sense of self-esteem by affirming their efforts and providing them opportunities to develop their talents is an enormously important part of enabling them to become peacemakers.

Specific possibilities include all the ways we encourage children: posting their artwork in the home, attending school sports or music programs, commenting on their strengths and good efforts more than on their weaknesses, listening carefully to their ideas, asking their advice. Hugs and kisses also help a lot! Birthdays can be a special occasion for affirmation.

The more family members are cooperating, the more peace there will be in the home. Sharing tasks rather than “everyone on their own” helps — whether it is occasional meal preparation, doing dishes, baking holiday goodies, gardening, etc. “Family fix-it nights” when everyone participates in fixing toys, mending clothes, etc., can be occasions for learning new skills and breaking down sex-role stereotypes, as well as teaching cooperation and peace. Encouraging children to share their skills with one another, e.g., helping a younger sibling learn to read, roller-skate, ride a bike, do long division, another step. Playing cooperative games as a family and with other families is great fun. Making holiday presents together or writing family letters or making a family greeting card all generate the kind of cooperative spirit essential for being able to resolve family conflicts nonviolently.

Nonviolent conflict resolution skills include listening well, expressing rather than repressing one’s feelings and, especially, learning non-hurtful ways to indicate anger, expressing needs and desires in clear terms, weighing a variety of possible solutions to any given conflict, and using negotiating skills. The more that adults can encourage children to use these skills and solve their own problems, rather than always intervene in child/child conflicts with a quick solution, the more opportunities children will have to learn these skills. Thus, the more that parents allow their children to participate in family decision making, the more their children will learn problem-solving skills.

Family meetings are probably the most important single mechanism for promoting peace and cooperation in the home and communicating family values. The more input children have in family decision making, the more likely they are to internalize the values we adults are trying to share and the less resistance we will encounter in trying to live the values of peace, justice and simplicity of lifestyle. These family discussions and decisions force family members to explain their reasons, providing adults especially with a regular opportunity to communicate their values.

Some key guidelines for effective family meetings:

1. Schedule them regularly, so there is some predictability.

2. Schedule them at the most convenient time for all family members.

3. Make the agenda available to everyone. Having a paper posted where everyone can see it helps considerably; otherwise some may forget what they want.

4. Include agenda items that involve family plans, fun events, and family service opportunities. Do not limit the agenda to problems and conflicts, otherwise the experience is always a “heavy” one. No one likes only difficult items, especially at mealtime.

5. Combine family meetings with things that “taste good” a special dessert, a family game or a fun night, a trip to the ice cream store. The “good” taste addition increases the willingness of children to participate.

6. Rotate leadership, so children get a chance to develop their skills.

7. Be sure that decisions are clear, tasks are assigned, consequences are identified when necessary, and a “check- in” time has been identified, i.e. a time to evaluate how well a particular solution is working.

8. Give everyone a chance to speak; help less verbal members of the family to get their points across.

9. Whenever possible, consider the children’s agenda items early in the meeting, so that they experience the process working for them.

10. Do not force the meeting beyond the children’s ability or willingness to continue to participate. Carry over the agenda items to the next meeting if necessary. Quality, not quantity of discussion and decision, is the key.

Occasional family reconciliation events can be important sources of peace in the home. Such events reinforce a forgiving, accepting environment in which family members readily apologize and forgive one another. These healing events can be as simple as a five-minute addition to the family meeting at which each member acknowledges and asks forgiveness for one way they have been unhelpful in promoting peace in the home. More elaborate reconciliation events could include spiritual reading, prayer or symbolic actions such as writing down the negative behaviors on pieces of paper and burning them in the fireplace as a prayer is said for mutual forgiveness and determination to change behaviors.

from “Self-Esteem: Teach Your Children Well”, Peacework, Fort Kamp Publishing Company

This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202.537.1372.