January 14, 2015


This has been a very trying time, both in the US and abroad. Paris is aflame with anger and distress; New York is a boiling pot of resentment and rage; brutality on the screen and on television envelops us.   People are protesting in the streets and parents and grandparents are concerned about how all of this affects their families. Finding peaceful ways of settling differences is imperative to our survival.

We re-discovered a wonderful article, written by Barbara Oehlberg*, for the Ohio’s Peacemaking Education NetworkThe article is very relevant today.   We’re excerpting parts of that article to share with you. Although this was written for teachers, it is applicable to families. This is important stuff!  Please note, we've added some of our thoughts to the article, in regular type, while her text is in italics. 

“We talk about violence in the streets, abuse in the home, and injustices in the economy as an inevitable part of life.  We even talk about non-violence, which seems to accept violence as a ‘given’.

If violence is in fact increasing, how or why is this happening?  Who is inadvertently training children to become violent adults?  What sort of homes and schools are these children coming from?

According to Ashley Montagu, aggressiveness and violence stem from a perceived sense of powerlessness, not from feeling powerful and competent.  Children have to live in or experience peace and justice if they are to become champions of these virtues.

Our attitudes as teachers (parents-grandparents) toward bad tempers and aggressiveness could be a contributing factor to nurturing violence if it communicates ‘It’s only human nature and you can’t change human nature.’  The ‘boys will be boys’ attitude makes aggression a virtue of masculinity.

Emotions or feelings become the language by which we all share with others how we view the world.  In order to use emotions constructively we all need to understand and accept our own emotions, otherwise they dictate our lives and deny us the freedom to choose our responses to and interaction with others.

By fulfilling children’s emotional needs and teaching/modeling the acceptance of ALL feelings, we empower children to choose to be instruments of peace.  However, when adults insist a child say, ‘I’m sorry,’ I suspect it is more to fulfill a need of ours (perhaps for tranquility or order) than a carefully designed learning experience in justice for the child.

Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t not absolve the pain of jealousy, frustration, anger or rejection within the child.  What the request does do is imply that the very real feelings the child is experiencing are not valid or acceptable.  The child has just internalized the profound learning experience that his/her feelings are not normal and certainly can’t be trusted.  Saying ‘I’m sorry’(in these circumstances) will neither resolve the conflict in a just way nor impart the skills for dealing constructively with it.

Acceptance and affirmation are the basis and the foundation, of conflict management for persons of all ages.  Accepting all of a child’s feelings (not necessarily the behavior) as normal, as ‘OK’ is the first step toward peacemaking.  As adults, this may be an uncomfortable and difficult task as we fear our acceptance may be misinterpreted as condonement…and so it is that children are often denied the energizing experience of being allowed to accept their own feelings and using that sense of trust as a motivation toward building responsible justice.”

Some of these ideas may not be a perfect fit for the circumstances.  For example, when a child does something hurtful to another child, perhaps you can step into the situation and take some part in resolving it before it escalates…”I’m not going to allow you to hurt Jacob.  Let’s talk about another way of being with Jacob and not hurting him…maybe figure out why you’re doing this.”  If Emily and Jason are going at it, after separating them, feelings can be discussed and validated, but also help start a discussion of other ways of resolving their issues, including apologizing if they have done something wrong. Sometimes it is better to wait until things calm down to have this discussion.  Often in the heat of an argument, rational thinking cannot be expected.

Being a child, a parent and/or a great-grandparent is not easy. In families, each person has his/her own personality and feelings. Often it is beyond stressful to be able to engage each one and react in an even handed and thoughtful way, especially under pressure and when there is more than one child involved. Taking an affirmative stand for a peaceful solution is a vital  tool for adults.  As hard as this may be, it is an important step in modeling peaceful and thoughtful responses. 

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