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.


Another article from the book The Compassion Instinct, “Wired to be Inspired”, author Jonathan Haidt writes about the feeling one gets when witnessing acts of kindness. Haidt calls this feeling “elevation” and suggests that it leads people to do acts of kindness themselves.

I think that he is probably right and he cites several scientific studies that have been done that demonstrate the link between seeing kind acts and being inspired to do them. But I am caught this morning on just that feeling of “elevation” because I know exactly what that is. One incident comes to mind because it was such a powerful one for me.

When I worked in early childhood, I had the opportunity to substitute for another parent educator one evening. I wasn’t familiar with the families that attended the class. During play time, I noticed a young father sitting at one of the preschool tables with his son standing in front of him. The dad surrounded the child with his knees and his arms and he leaned in close as he worked with is son on a picture he was drawing. I could see the intimacy of the moment as dad spoke softly and guided the child’s hand holding the marker. The child, now and then, would look over at the children playing with cars in the sand box nearby. But the father continued to cuddle him and help him with his picture. The feeling I had was exactly what Haidt is talking about. I actually felt “elevated” observing such love between parent and child.

After class, as the child teacher and I cleaned up, I mentioned what I’d witnessed and how touched I’d been. The teacher, a special education specialist, said to me, “That was even more special than you realize. That little boy at five years old has never completed a picture on his own. He is a child who is unable to give attention to any activity for more than a minute before he runs off to do something else. Helping him to do so is something his father has been working on since the class began. He completed a picture today and it was quite an important moment.”

Being witness to that moment felt akin to catching sight of a shooting star or the northern lights. You just have to be there and enough in the present to pay attention.


I had occasion to stop at a small appliance repair shop in our town recently. George is the owner and he likes to to talk. I do, too, but in George’s shop, it can take a long time to get out the door once he gets wound up. On this particular day George got to expounding about kids nowadays. You know the conversation. Kids today don’t got no respect. They have life handed to them on a silver platter, etc.

He told me a story about a time when he gave in to his son nagging him to use his three-wheeler in town with his friends. But he cautioned his son, “If anything happens, don’t call me. I won’t come to help you.”

Well, something did happen. His son got hurt. He was afraid to call his dad, but his panic stricken friends called. The dad refused to go. When his wife heard, she was furious. But the dad said, “His friends can get him to the hospital.” George told me he was teaching his son that you have to take responsility for your own actions and that years later his son still remembers that event.” That doesn’t surprise me. I’d remember, too.

I was a parent educator before I retired. I would have to give this dad “A+” on a lot of things. He threatened his son with a consequence and followed through. He made the kid take responsibility for his own actions. He told me how successful his children are today and how responsible they are. Clearly, in his mind, this is due to his letting them suffer the consequences of their actions. This may be true, but I am not sure this scenerio is a good example of how to teach kids about consequences.

I can’t help but wonder what George would say if one of his kids wanted to jump from an airplane without a parashute.


Serving our Children

This computer is so slow this morning that I combine my morning meditation with the waiting for something to happen. A little trick that I just discovered. Instead of getting all frustrated, try to sit in a situation with calm and presence. I bet it would work equally well waiting in the doctor’s office or in a long line of cars in a traffic jam. This could save my computer’s life.

Today, my daughter and I are off to town to wash the resort’s blankets. We will be going out to breakfast at a new little cafe she discovered. Spending time with her is the best part of this adventure.

In sharing about our helping at the resort with a woman I know,  she commented, “I hope they pay you for the work you do.” I remember thinking  how crazy that is. My husband and I have learned that when we help our adult children out with whatever the  need is, we  have provided ourselves with an opportunity to work side by side with them. Their lives are so busy, this may be the only time we get to spend with them.

Babysitting the grandchildren, too, is a way to  help with the benefit of spending time with the kids. If people feel used as they reach out  to serve their children, they need to look at their own inability to define boundaries. In our retirement years, Bernie and I have things we want to do and I myself need time to do things that give my life meaning. But I can’t blame them if I have said yes to a request for service and then find myself shorting myself. I am not always clear on what I need and have been known to regret agreeing to help, but that is all part of learning what boundaries work for me. When I have said no to a request  for help, I have always been amazed at the resourcefullness that my children have. I am always pleased, too, that they don’t  seem to resent my wanting to have time for myself.

There are additional benefits to being helpful. Being engaged in the lives of my children and grandchildren keeps me mentally and physically fit. Here at the resort, I’d emphasize the latter. Today, my muscles will be challanged by the loading and folding of blankets. I am feeling the energy flow already.

French Parenting

I was listening to an interview on PBS the other morning of a woman who studied and then wrote about how the French raise their children. There are several ideas that struck me. The one I want to comment on here is the concept of waiting.

The French believe that waiting is a learned skill and children can begin to learn at a very early stage. Actually, at birth, but I don’t want to get into their infant methods here.

When I was selecting topics for my parenting classes child development was always a must. It was important to for parents to understand typical behaviors and appropriate parent responses for their child at whatever stage they were. Toddlers, I told them, find it difficult to wait.  “They don’t have the concept of  time; nor do they understand words like ‘later’, or ‘in a little while’.”  This was the explanation for most tantrums. One way to deal with it is to anticipate their needs before they actually have them. For example, parents were encouraged to bring snacks along when they travel rather than expect a child to wait until the next meal, or the next exit ramp. It is a very convincing idea because the fish crackers do stop the yelling in the car. Never mind that when you finally do stop for lunch, the child is not hungry.

That leads to the fact that the French claim that their children are good eaters. Parents serve them in courses, typical of the French. So they first  get their vegetables, then their meat or main course, then, for desert, they get fruit and cheese. Because they haven’t been stuffed with cookies and chips, French children come to the table hungry and eager to eat the first thing in front of them. No arguing about broccili in France! Also,  children are expected to stay at the table for the duration of the meal. Their skill of waiting applies to the waiting to play with their toys while the family finishes their meal together.

I wonder how learning the  skill of waiting effect adults life in France. Perhaps road rage is less of a problem in Paris than in Pittsburg.

Parenting and Commitment

I used to teach a parenting class in our local jail. Once in a while I used a video series that I found really insightful. One of the ideas I really liked was that it called parent to change their attitude toward parenting in general. It suggested that parents quit griping and accept their role and make a decision to give it their all.

In  my years of teaching parents, I observed a wide variety of attitudes. Some parents clearly loved their role and these would really get into the parent discussions with enthusiasm. They brought their problems to the table and were excited about the ideas shared by others. They knew that if they were having difficulties with a child, something had to change in the way they were handling things or they needed new information to understand the situation.

There were other parents, however, who saw parenting as an imposition. Their children were somewhat of an interruption in what they perceived to be their real life. They loved their children, but they weren’t as engaged in the role of parenting. They didn’t see the importance in putting effort into understanding things like child development. Typically, when these parents had problems with their children, they saw it as the child’s problem. If their child would just act differently or change their perspective, everything would be allright. I was glad to have these in the class because these parents were not apt to seek out information on their own.

One difference between the two types of parents I described above is commitment. It is not unlike any other endeavor we take on in our lives. If a person is committed to a craft, they will put their consciousness and time and resources into becoming the best  practitioner as possible. Parenting is both a science and an art. As a science, it requires study, discipline, effort and control. And as an art requires letting go and serendipity.


The Difference is in the Doing

I happened to catch a documentary on the Amish on Public Television the other night. I found it really interesting when a tourist asked an Amish man who had come aboard their tour bus, “How are we different from one another?”

The Amish man asked, “How many of you people have television sets in your home?” Everyone raised their hands.

Then he asked them, “How many of you think that television is generally harmful to children?” Again, hands went up.

A third question: “How many of you, when you get home, are going to get rid of your television?”

No hands this time.

“That is the difference between us,” he said.