I grew up under the well-defined laws of might-is-right. Don’t show weakness. Don’t show your feelings. Don’t be a wuss. When you want something a certain way force is okay. It can be physical, verbal, mental, or all the above. This is normal, right?
It actually is normal in our culture. We can see it in action with our kids. We tell them what to do and when with little understanding of why. We tell them what to eat and when and how much. We do this because our culture really gets this whole food thing, right? When they don’t listen to us or, God forbid, resist our demands and expectations, we’ll grab them by the arm and impose our will. If needed, we’ll turn to the experts who are well-armed with a myriad of scientific “diagnoses” for kids – ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Anxiety.
Let’s turn the table to us. If we were told what to do from the time we got up until the time we went to bed, we might develop a few issues. Once we developed these issues, our parents would then wonder what’s wrong with us. We’re not acting appropriately. We’ve stepped outside the social norms.
Of course we’re loopy, we’re being treated like prisoners for crying out loud. Seriously. This is the cycle, simplified, but it’s there. It’s also why my son doesn’t like some adults. Sometime that adult is me. I don’t blame him.
Kids are amazing. They’re an incredible source of physical, mental, and emotional energy that keeps going and going. They’re curious, spontaneous, and now-focused. They take delight in the littlest things – a small rock, a dirt ball, an insect. They forgive so quickly, love so easily, and feel their emotions deeply and completely. They long for affection and time together. And they love to play! They’re one our closest examples of God.
The divine spark in kids hasn’t been smothered as much as it has in adults. Their hearts, while full of wants and desires, are not as clouded with the malice, contempt, envy, pride, and all the other things that enslave and control us. Unfortunately, most will get there, in large part thanks to us.
When kids are acting out, it is indeed a sign. Not one that requires a diagnosis. Rather, one that needs to be understood. Kids have not been equipped, haven’t developed the faculties, or simply have no other way of expressing their inner turmoil. Most of this is our fault. Some of it is just the wonderful journey we get to take with our kids.
Here’s an example. I’ll tell it two ways. One from my might-is-right approach. The other from a peaceful parenting approach. Here’s the scenario (it’s a real one – just happened last night). My son Thomas, 9, hauled off and whacked his sister, Faith, 7. It was the kind of hit you could hear and feel from another room.
Might-is-right: storm into the room, grab my son by the back of the neck or firmly by the arm and drag him to a time out. When really angry, I might threaten the same violence, or commit it by pulling him down the stairs or into a room. He will then be left alone to ponder what he’s done. I may or may not speak to him for a few hours. A lecture is certainly on the docket at some point. I will then find Faith and try to comfort her because I’m so calm, peaceful, and spiritual at this point.
Anger, hostility, and rage sweeps through our entire house. It takes hours, days, weeks, months, even years to clear.
Peaceful parenting: calmly enter the room and very quickly hug, hold, and protect Faith, ensuring she’s okay. I then tell her how much I love her and how it’s no fun to get hit. After a quick snuggle, she’s moved on, and wants to go back to playing. Less than two minutes have passed. I seek out Thomas who is curled up in a ball on the couch. “Don’t come near me! Don’t even touch me!” He yells. Calmly, I say, “You must be really upset to be hitting your sister. What’s going on?” He quickly responds, “She’s a jerk and always has to play that stupid video game.” “Yeah, that’s frustrating,” as I begin to pat his head.
The remaining reasons were a tad obscure, but included “because she was being a “Faith,” which I confirmed to mean she was irritating him. In short, he moved on, and went back to playing – with Faith. About six minutes passed.
I read a great quote recently that went something like this. “I really learned a lot in my time out – said no kid, EVER!”
Thomas didn’t need a lecture or a time out to think it over. Who does? He needed to be loved, badly. We’re trained and inundated to think in terms of power and swift justice. We need to teach lessons, right? Otherwise our kids will go what, loopy? We need to love more. And much deeper.
The peaceful parenting approach may seem new age. It’s not. It’s old age. It’s the same wisdom passed down through the ages. We just miss it, or ignore it, or think we know better, or simply succumb to the domination model. Jesus modeled the peaceful approach, when, in the midst of a crowd, despite opposition from those closest to him, he invited the kids to come to him. He cleared the path. He said don’t hinder them. He welcomed them into the realm of God – the kingdom.
Peace, non-violence, gentle parenting are things few can grasp with a mind thoroughly controlled by cultural norms. But this is what the sages have been saying all along. Although it takes a bit of a shift to give peace a chance.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson