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April 9, 2017

How to Teach Peace to Our Children.

I sit comfortably, cup of coffee in hand, while my children play after enjoying their breakfast.

It’s quiet today, and my vegetable garden outside is showing new growth—green and vibrant in the morning dew. We can hear the sounds of the courthouse bells tolling the hour and the sound of a nearby train on its way to the next destination.

It’s peaceful, and in light of news of another bombing, the peace is poignant. Because in other places in the world today, there’s no quiet cup of coffee while the children play. There are bombs falling, families being torn apart, and worlds upended at a simple command.

It sits heavy in my heart today because the borders are still closed to refugees, and I look back at American history and see another time when we closed our borders to those seeking sanctuary. I wonder why we never learn. But then I look at my children and ask myself how we can teach peace to the next generation.

I wonder if music might be the answer.

I’ve been teaching my four-year-old daughter the words to “Let It Be.” It comforts me to hear her sing the words:

“And when the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be. For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer, let it be.” ~ The Beatles

I hear the words, and I wonder if the key to teaching peace is to instill it at the youngest of ages.

As a mother and as a human being who finds the thought of war deeply abhorrent, I’ve wondered how we can raise a generation of leaders who will consider other options to resolve conflict. Here are a few ways of teaching peace that I’ve come up with—may they be of benefit.

We can gently teach peace with lullabies. We can take songs about peace and love and weave them into the way we teach our children. We can let those messages of non-violence be the soundtrack to their growth and eliminate from our households songs that promote violence as a means of resolving issues. We can let them learn that we choose our responses to what happens in this world, and the answer to conflict doesn’t have to be retaliation.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. “Let It Be” ~ The Beatles
  2. “Imagine” ~ John Lennon
  3. “Peace on Earth” ~ U2
  4. “We Want Peace” ~ Lenny Kravitz
  5. “What a Wonderful World” ~ Louis Armstrong
  6. “I Wish You Peace” ~ Eagles
  7. “Give Me Love” ~ George Harrison
  8. “Man in the Mirror” ~ Michael Jackson
  9. “All You Need is Love” ~ The Beatles
  10. “Peace” ~ O.A.R.
  11. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” ~ U2
  12. “Where is the Love?” ~ Black Eyed Peas

To gently instill peace, we can read bedtime stories that promote peaceful conflict resolution and kindness. The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss is the first that comes to mind. It’s about war, but it’s also about how each side can think they are right to the point that they forget that there is any other perspective. Yertle the Turtle is another good one, also by Seuss. The Lorax too teaches peace through protecting the environment for future generations.

From Dr. Seuss, we can branch out to other authors and books that promote peace and understanding. Usborne Books offers several books on looking at issues from other people’s perspectives and resolving conflicts. They even offer books that list random acts of kindness children can undertake.

We can also teach peace to our children by teaching and modeling effective coping skills for dealing with anger. I remember reading that if we teach children meditation by the age of eight, they will have much stronger coping skills than many of their peers later in life.

But it goes beyond meditation. If we model healthy ways of dealing with anger, our children are more likely to mimic these responses. Accordingly, it’s essential that we develop and utilize healthy coping mechanisms for ourselves.

We can teach peace by teaching our children how to effectively communicate. One way I do this is by labeling emotions with my children. By using words like “frustrated” and “annoyed” rather than just “mad,” my children may begin to understand a broader range of emotions, and we can then talk about what we can do when we feel these things.

We can also model how to have healthy communication. When we treat our children with respect and listen to what they have to say, we are teaching them how to be respectful and how to listen to others. When we try to understand their perspective rather than immediately resorting to punishment, we teach our children to think through their actions and to respond after allowing time for thought.

We can gently teach peace by teaching effective conflict resolution skills. Again, modeling conflict resolution and healthy communication is essential. This may mean un-learning bad habits and implementing new ones in our own lives. We need to let our children see that there are other responses to anger rather than yelling or violence.

We need to make sure that our children see us responding to conflict in appropriate ways. When we make mistakes or respond to something poorly, the door can open to family conversations about how we could have chosen to handle the situation differently and why it would have been more effective if we had.

We can gently teach peace by expanding our children’s worldview. I grew up in the American South—in mostly white, suburban neighborhoods deep in the Bible belt. My worldview as a child was informed by being white, Southern, lower-middle class, and Southern Baptist. My only peek into other worlds was through the books I enjoyed.

I think that if we raise our children with a broader perspective of how other people live, we can open up conversations about why people may believe differently than we do. We can help our children learn at an early age that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong and that people usually have valid reasons for their belief systems.

We can teach our children to be curious about other people rather than judgmental. This may mean educating our children about other countries, religions, and cultures, but it could also mean talking to our children about privilege—whether it be owed to race or gender or socioeconomic status.

We can teach peace by teaching our children both gratitude and compassion. I believe these are essential elements to promoting peace. If our children are grateful for what they have while also having compassion for others, perhaps they’ll be more able to think of other ways to respond to violence than with violence.

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. But I keep thinking that we can do a better job raising the next generation to respond differently to the same old conflicts. I look at history, and I don’t see a single example of violence ending all violence. Instead, it continues and breeds more violence.

I’m hoping the new generation might be raised to look for more innovative solutions to the problems that present themselves, and I’m hoping that the answer might one day be a peaceful one.

 

 

Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Pixabay

Editor: Callie Rushton 

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