More and more, I see that peace on this planet will rely heavily on the next generation, and the parents who are raising them. The kinds of challenges they will be facing environmentally, socially and politically will require unprecedented levels of human cooperation and collaboration.
It is time for all parents to model creative problem solving skills that will empower children to blossom into creative, powerful peacemakers.
“Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I may remember.
Involve me and I will understand.”
Let’s take sibling rivalry as a starting point. Recently I have heard many stories from parents of kicking, biting and name calling amongst their children. The common theme is that the problem doesn’t seem to go away and the repetition leaves parents and children alike feeling hopeless, angry and frustrated.
Not surprisingly, parents in these situations can feel protective of the younger children, frustrated by the meanness of the adolescent child, at a loss as to how to handle the complex interpersonal dynamics and just downright exasperated by the lack of peace in their homes and between their children.
First of all, notice what assumptions/beliefs you have going into the situation. Perhaps you are thinking, “not this again! this will never change!” or “they always get into this fight, she is always picking on….he is always…”
What if it was possible to “frame” the situation in a new way, to find some way of seeing the situation that has you enter into the dialogue in an empowered fashion. Here are a few I like:
- Hmmm, I wonder what is happening over here (curiosity)
- Wow, the children are struggling, I wonder what solution they will find from this predicament, I can’t wait to see how they solve it (curiosity)
- I am feeling very uncomfortable with what is happening with the children over there, I wonder how they are feeling.?(curiosity)
Do you detect a theme?
You got it. CURIOSITY!
Coming into conflict with an “I don’t know the answer” attitude is the key to making peace. It allows us to suspend judgements, past conditioning and projected fears and to be present with what is actually happening.
It also allows solutions to arise directly from the people in the conflict, in this case, our children.
So the second question is what position are you taking? Are you referee? Rule maker? Dictator? Helpless bystander? Deer in the headlights?
My suggestion is to begin with holding the position of “reporter.” State what you see happening, what you sense they are feeling, what you imagine is the problem. Give them ample room to pipe in, clarify, get each child’s view (don’t look for accuracy, look to understand their perspective, feelings), everyone gets a turn, if stories contradict-no problem, that is the nature of a conflict.
Your job is not to resolve differences. It is to bring forward the differences, validate the feelings and try to tease out what each child is actually needing underneath their behavior. Once that is clear, then many solutions can appear.
For example, perhaps your older child wants privacy and your younger child wants connection (playtime). Once you have identified both the needs then lots of solutions can appear. ASK THEM! Wait. Trust. You may be surprised by the answers.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, who is the problem solver? You? Do you have the feeling that you are supposed to know how to resolve the conflict they are having? Are you feeling pressure to have the right parenting response? Are you wishing you read that sibling rivalry book? Got the Psychology degree afterall? Whose idea was this anyway, having children without any training?
RELAX. Here is the most spectacularly good news. The best solutions come from those who created the problem. In fact, the only really lasting solutions come from those involved because when they generate the solution they are FAR MORE LIKELY TO BE SATISFIED WITH IT.
And MOST importantly, guess what, you have just exercised their “peacemaking” muscle, one that they can now rely on, build up, make stronger with each conflict. So the next time you here that tell tale name calling, that “ouch, he bit me!” that “get out of here” you might smile a little and say, here we go, an opportunity to practice peacemaking, an opportunity to discover the power of our children to problem solve, an opportunity to strengthen this generation for the eventual outcome of peace on this planet.