Dear Bess and Bubby – Jan/Feb 2004
With this column we introduce a new advice column for parents on how to raise a peaceful child in a violent world, by Louise Diamond and Elizabeth Slade. Feel free to address questions to Bess and Bubby at email@example.com.
Bess is a mother of three, a Montessori educator, a writer and peace activist. “I live the daily experience of how challenging it is to raise children, and I think holding peace as the core value is a source of sanity.
Bubby is a mother and grandmother (“bubby” means grandmother in Yiddish), a writer, professional peace builder and the CEO of The Peace Company. “I want to make a difference in the world my grandchildren will inherit. I want my grandchildren and yours to know peace as ‘the way things are.’”
“Together, we are deeply committed to helping parents and teachers create peace cultures at home and at school, so that our precious children can grow in peace and navigate the violence in the world around them with dignity and ease.”
Dear Bess and Bubby,
I am a single dad with two young children. One goes to daycare and the other started school this year. I find in the morning I’m under a lot of time pressure, and that I am the worst parent on the planet. I am so stressed out that I find myself yelling and snapping and saying things I don’t mean and instantly wish I could take back. This is not the kind of parent I want to be, and definitely not the peaceful environment I want in my home. Can you help? — J.W. in Indiana
This is a great opportunity to show your children that even Dad is learning and growing in his ability to speak respectfully and kindly to others. At a family meeting or other suitable setting, let your children know you are committed to changing your behavior in the morning. Freely admit that you find yourself angry and irritable from the time pressure, and apologize for how you are taking it out on others through yelling and inappropriate language. Ask for their help. You will give your children a great gift by turning the tables and inviting them to help you be more peaceful!
Since you have identified the issue as time pressure, and not as a basic underlying predisposition to being mean and nasty, we suggest you enroll the family in working together to expand the time at either end (thereby reducing the pressure) for getting everyone out the door in the morning. Talk about what can be accomplished in the evening before bed, or consider getting up earlier in the morning. Your children are old enough to help; they can select and lay out their clothes the night before, or be involved in making their own lunches. Look, too, for ways the older child can help the younger one, perhaps with getting washed or dressed.
What a terrific chance to practice the familiar saying, “Let peace begin with me!”
Dear Bess and Bubby,
I am trying very hard to have a nonviolent home, but my son is very interested in war toys, violent computer games and aggressive action figures — basically anything that has the potential for gruesome, gory, bloody, or destructive “play.” He spends hours every day literally blowing people up! Please don’t tell me not to buy these things, because he has his own money saved up from allowance and birthday gifts. I’ve tried everything I can think of: forbidding these games in the house, showing him studies on the impact of violent games on behavior, trying to keep him away from his pack of avid game-playing friends, talking with him about my belief in nonviolence, even playing the games with him! He just tunes me out, whatever I say or do. I’ve run out of ideas. Please help me! — D.F. in Delaware
It is true that the society in which our boy children are growing up is one that glorifies war and promotes violence. The bad news is — after a certain age, you cannot completely protect your son from exposure to this culture. It is everywhere around him, from toys to television shows to music, from real war on the news to video war games in the home. The good news is — you can mitigate the effects of this culture by establishing and maintaining a different set of norms and values in your own home. You can also help your son think critically about what he sees, hears and does.
That said, here are five things to consider:
Acceptance: It is not helpful to you or your son to pretend the culture of violence in our society doesn’t exist, or to imagine that you can shield your child from it totally. When your son is engaged in the excitement of violence as play or entertainment, best if you can accept that that is where he is without condoning or condemning. That’s just where he is.
Outlets: Part of what’s so attractive about these toys and games is that they excite, stimulate, give a sense of power, and produce an adrenaline rush. Also, they provide an outlet for your son to do something with his energy that brings him immediate, visible and, in some strange way, pleasurable effects. One approach you can take is to provide an alternative outlet that produces similar results. Many parents have found that the martial arts satisfy this need. Sports might be another such outlet, or some kind of physically-active hobby.
Balance: These war toys over-emphasize the masculine energy that is a natural part of your son’s biological make-up. Part of your job is to make sure the feminine energy inherent in your son is also activated. A true culture of peace is grounded in a dynamic balance of the masculine/feminine principles. Your mission is to re-establish that balance of yin/yang, masculine/feminine. You can do this by encouraging activities that help him develop compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, relationship, receptivity, nurturing, and intuition.
Boundaries: It’s okay for you to have your values and your beliefs, and to set boundaries as a parent that you feel are in the best interest of your whole family. You can be clear with your son that you personally don’t like games of violence, give your reasons, and set personal boundaries around this. For instance, you might choose not to spend your money buying violent games and toys, or ask that they not be played in your personal space, or the family’s shared space. If you can set these limits with genuine respect (without anger or disgust or devaluing what the games mean to your son), then again you are modeling the peaceful acceptance of differences.
Engage: Lastly, we invite you to use these games and toys as an opportunity to explore critical issues with your son: the nature of good and evil, the difference between make-believe and real life, etc. The secret, again, is not to react but to engage. Ask questions: “Oh, you seem to really enjoy that game. What do you find exciting about it?” “How come the good guy always wins? What’s the difference between the good guy and the bad guy anyway?” “How do you feel when you blow up (shoot, stab, kill, destroy, etc.) the enemy?”
You will never be able to protect your son totally from the influence of the culture of violence around him, but you can establish and maintain a different culture in your own home, so that at least your children have something to refer to as they grow up and start making their own decisions about who and how they are in the world.
Dear Bess and Bubby,
My daughter Rose, who is 11, is having a very difficult time with her friends. She used to be best friends with Tasha and Marie, but now they exclude her, call her names, and make fun of her in front of the other kids. Rose is heart-broken, and often comes home from school in tears. How can I help her? — S.Y. in Tacoma.
Oh how well we remember this one! Having lived both sides of this dynamic in our youth (not that long ago…) — the excluded and the excluder — we can certainly empathize with Rose, and with you for having to witness her pain.
A big piece of this all-too-common dynamic is power. Boys test their power with peers through aggression and daring; girls do it more subtly. If you can help Rose find her inner place of power now, it will serve her well all her life. What would make her feel more powerful in this situation — to tell Marie and Tasha her feelings? To invite one or the other over and attempt to make independent relationships with each? To find another friend or otherwise widen her social circle? To put her attention elsewhere and develop a new hobby?
Above all, this is a critical time in Rose’s life to make sure she can talk with you about what is happening, what she is feeling, and what will help. You need to listen, be present, be helpful, but not take on the pain or encourage any victim mentality. Sometimes simple, non-reactive listening is what a girl needs to figure the situation out. Then, together, you can craft a plan that feels right to Rose. Helping your daughter become proactive in a time of hurt is one of the greatest gifts you can give her.
Address your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about The Peace Company and its various resources for people who want more peace in their lives or in the world, please call toll-free at 1-888-455-5355 or go online at www.thepeacecompany.com. Check out our newly released Activity Book and CD, How to Raise a Peaceful Child in a Violent World, filled with 40 easy-to-do, fun activities.