Parenting for Peace

I haven’t done much commenting about parenting in my blog, even though parenting is what I used to teach before I retired. I tried a couple of times, but my writing always sounds so preachy. So those blogs sit in my file and may never  find their way to the blog.

But this morning I read a piece from the book The Compassionate Instinct, an article by Alfie Kohn entitled “A Different View”, and I think the ideas fit in well with the title of my blog, “My thoughts on Peace.”

Kohn started his article by talking about how the skill of perspective taking, or seeing the world from another person’s point of view, is essential to peace making. Considering war, he says that “each person underneath our bombs is the center of the universe, just as you are the center of yours: he gets the flu, worries about his aged mother, likes sweets, falls in love – even though he lives half a world away and speaks a different language.” When we see things from this other person’s point of view, we “recognize all the particulars that make him human, and ultimately it is to understand that his life is no less valuable than yours.”

Kohn makes some suggestions to help children develop the skill of perspective thinking. The first suggestion he makes is that parents set an example. (This is what I always told my parents in parenting class, by the way. I never saw the humor in the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”) The example Kuhn gives is one where a parent and child encounter a crabby cashier. The parent might comment later: “He didn’t seem to be in a very good mood today, did he? What do you think might have happened to make him so grouchy? Do you think someone might have hurt his feelings?” Kuhn was pointing out that we don’t have to get angry or judge when people are unpleasant. We can try to see the world through their eyes. Examples like this one show children that we can choose to see others, even crabby others, as human beings.

He gives another suggestion for teaching children about perspective thinking by using media experiences to launch discussions. While watching a movie or reading a book through the experience of one character, a parent can ask questions about the other characters. He gives an example of a story told throught the experience of a doctor and asking the child, “What do you think the little girl is feeling about what just happened?”

I love his third suggestion: use persective taking as a tool to help sibblings resolve their conflicts. After a blowup, he says, have each child tell what happened pretending they are the other child. “Describe how your brother would explain about what just happened.”

I just looked at the listing of contributers to the book. The article by Kohn is an adaptation from his book Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason. For those interested, you might consider checking it out.