How different the world could be

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorEditor’s Note:  This post was originally published on 12/4/2015. As we continue to celebrate AP Month with this year’s theme, “Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony,” this article highlights the significance and magnitude of the choices we hold as parents — in the face of darkness, we can choose light and peace for our children and, with that, change the world.

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“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

~ J.K. Rowling in her book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

San Bernardino, Paris, Chattanooga, Tunisia, Fort Hood, Lafayette, Kuwait, Colorado Springs — this short list is just a fraction of the mass shootings and terrorist activities that have occurred this year in the United States and around the world, not to mention the last few years. It is mind boggling, heart breaking and troubling to me as a parent whose goal is to raise compassionate, peaceful children. How am I suppose to do that exactly?

I try to shield my children from media splashed with coverage of these horrific events, but they hear about it anyway from conversations at school, church or the grocery store. Their school holds drills to practice in the case of a shooter. Our church prays for peace. We hear glimpses of the attacks on the radio in between songs. My daughters ask me why people are violent toward other people. My son asks me where the bad guys in the world live, so he can avoid living there when he grows up.

swirls-1170623I want to retain their deep compassion for people, even those who seem impossible to understand or love, so I talk about how there there are no “bad guys.”

We all have the choice to make good or bad decisions, and the people who do these violent acts are making choices not based on love and compassion. These people may have grown up learning poor coping skills, or they may feel lost and confused and unloved themselves, or they may be involved with a group whose beliefs are very different than ours in how we live together and resolve conflict. It doesn’t make them “bad,” though they have definitely made poor choices.

But I struggle with that reasoning inside. It’s so easy, so natural, for humans to blame. It helps us make sense of the senseless, to find closure in hard situations. I want to blame something other than “poor coping skills.” But I also know that blaming a person or a society or religious beliefs wouldn’t satisfy me, either. I have found, through my own experience, that blame can be used to keep a person from seeing the big picture. When we blame, we are reclassifying a person or belief as “bad” — in our minds — and therefore someone or something that is outside of our need to feel compassion for. We can then more easily justify our anger.

To clarify, anger isn’t “bad.” Anger can be very useful in that we know what needs to be addressed in a relationship, what crosses that boundary in our personal comfort level. But it is very possible, with unchecked anger, to be destructive toward ourselves and others. It’s an important skill to learn ourselves and teach our children to manage anger so that our thoughts, words and actions are constructive and helpful in resolution. We turn the anger — and “need” to blame — that we feel toward perpetrators of these violent incidents into a desire to find real solutions, to comfort those who grieve, to rally with others in movements toward peace.

So, it’s not enough for me — as a parent — to explain to my children that some people just make poor life choices. I want to gather with others to find ways to prevent these acts of violence. And that looks different to different people, but for me, I think all the more of API. As cliche as it may sound, I truly feel that world peace is attainable, and I feel that parenting is a major key in preventing violence.

john bowlby with richard bowlbyAccording to API Advisory Board member Sir Richard Bowlby, Bt, his father — the late John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory — had said that “attachment” is the scientific word for “love.”

Peace and joy are inherent in real love, and what is more pure than that? API is all about supporting parents worldwide in parenting with love, which is the most basic definition of Attachment Parenting. And if all children had the opportunity to grow up in a home focused entirely on love and peace, how different the world could be.

In reference to the Harry Potter quote above, I choose the light.

 

**Small photo (above) of Richard, as a toddler, playing with his father, Dr. John Bowlby, the researcher who developed Attachment Theory

*Large stock photo source

To spank, or not to spank?

Effie2 (2)I recently came across a social media post that opened with the following phrase: “Have to laugh at people who are against spanking.” The post stated that spanking leads to a child learning respect and boundaries with the absence of any trust issues and hatred toward the parent, and so on and so forth. It concluded with: “Repost if you got your butt smacked and survived.” I couldn’t disagree more. My feelings were a mixture of appall, irritation and sadness. And no, I didn’t feel like laughing at anyone!

In the role of parents, we are our children’s first and most important role models. We are our children’s leaders, their advocates. When leaders say one thing but do another, they do erode trust — an essential element of productive leadership. I believe that the most effective teaching by a parent is accomplished by setting a positive example for the child to witness and learn from.

Actions are more powerful than words, and our kids observe us conduct ourselves in this world. Whether we offer help to an elder crossing the street, are courteous to the cashier at the supermarket or show respect to our own parents — whether we shout profanities at our fellow drivers, mistreat those who work for us, or bad-mouth our family and friends — each of our actions signal to our kids what is appropriate and acceptable behavior.

effie teddybear for spanking postWhen we spank our child as a consequence of unwanted behavior, what are we communicating to that child? What are the messages that child may be sensing? We teach him — by our own example, through our actions — that it’s acceptable to manage anger and discontent with violence. Furthermore, we may be encouraging a cycle of violence as we are providing him with improper tools to handle his anger and other intense emotions.

There are many adults who were physically punished as children and are supportive of physically punishing their children, reasoning that they “survived.” The above-mentioned post has more than 24,000 likes, and that number keeps growing. To them I say:

  1. Good for you that you survived!
  2. Most of us don’t want to simply “survive” in this life. We want to thrive!
  3. Children can be damaged in many ways and spend much of their adult life untying the knots their parents had created for them — unleashing themselves from all the pain and humiliation inflicted upon them at an innocent, young age.
  4. I have to keep in mind that many people lack personal introspection and insight.

It isn’t easy being a parent. It is blissful and rewarding, but it is also challenging and exhausting. Once my second child became a toddler, I thought I crossed my biggest parenting hurdle: 5 years of sleepless nights and the suffocating dependency. I’m now realizing, I crossed a moderate hurdle, only to face the biggest one — thus far — namely, disciplining! With one of my kids being strong-minded and defiant, I have experienced fury and other emotions I wasn’t aware existed in me. I am flawed; I crossed the line I set twice — not my proudest moments by any stretch of the imagination. I have ample sympathy for parents who struggle with discipline — every single day!

There is overwhelming evidence that physical punishment is both ineffective and harmful to child development. Instilling fear in children serves no purpose and creates feelings of shame and humiliation. Fear has been shown to lead to an increased risk of future antisocial behavior, including crime and substance abuse. Studies show that spanking and other physical punishment techniques can create ongoing behavioral and emotional problems. Harsh, physical punishment teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems. Furthermore, controlling or manipulative discipline compromises the trust between parent and child, and harms the attachment bond. You can read more on about Attachment Parenting International‘s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.

In any event, I don’t need experts or studies to tell me that inflicting physical pain on my kids is wrong, on so many levels — I view it as common sense. The key principle I impart on my kids is: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.” It’s fundamentally the way I would like my kids to carry themselves in our home as well as in the world. Hence, I don’t hit my kids — spanking is just a label for a form of hitting — as I don’t enjoy being hit myself.

Needless to say, the parent is the authority figure in the family, but that still doesn’t justify acts of aggression.

We don’t exist in a Utopian world and there are the occasions when — sadly — aggression and violence are necessary in society, but this is another conversation. But aggression and violence does not have a place in the home: the one place children ought to feel secure, loved and protected — not shamed, not humiliated.

The goal of discipline — the word’s Latin root meaning “to teach” — is to change behavior. It’s a sign of strength to examine ourselves and our parenting approaches, striving to improve and evolve. So, let’s lead our kids and teach them to adjust their behavior with a gentle approach and maybe, just maybe, we the parents need a dose of discipline, too.

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