Teaching Our Kids to be Peace Leaders

by Marilynn Halas on November 4th, 2016
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Conflict is a part of life, some of us might wish it wasn’t but wishing won’t make it so. Our kids are bound to encounter schoolyard scuffles, group projects or even bullies. As we grow up we need to manage work projects, neighbors and even family relations and so having good peace leadership skills are invaluable. Peace leadership skills are desperately needed and often in short supply.

I wonder why that is. Somewhere in our collective consciousness we accepted a myth to be true. The myth is that some people are good in a confrontation and others are not and that skill is somehow innate and static. Conflict resolution and peace leadership is a learned skill that can and indeed must be taught. Our kids are growing up in a world that is more and more polarized. Common ground continues to shrink and cooler heads are in short supply.

There’s no doubt conflict can be unnerving but we can teach kids how to handle it in a way that constructively builds relationships and brings people together instead of pulling our communities and our nation apart. These skills are like any other in that it is certainly possible to have an innate aptitude, a gift for peace leading that can be developed but it is equally undeniable that all of us can learn basic constructive conflict management.

So how do we do it? Our kids and communities need these skills as surely as they need history and math studies. It’s time to teach peace in our homes, our schools and most importantly in our communities. We are stronger together and even though it seems counter intuitive, conflicts can actually bring us closer.

Where do we begin? The answer is deceptively simple. We begin with a deep breath. When we face a conflict our pulse quickens and our hearts may even pound. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and so nervous and uncomfortable we freeze or agree to just about anything to make the feeling go away. That’s the moment when the best and most strategic thing we can do is simply remember to take a deep breath.

That moment has a far-reaching ripple effect. Taking the moment for breath allows you to respond rather than react. It also surprises the opposing party and helps redirect their energy as well. The best gift of the breath is even more practical. The feelings of nervousness and performance anxiety are the result of chemical reactions in our brain that are very closely related to the ones that create feelings of excitement. That is hugely important. Nervousness and excitement are so closely related it only takes a small shift for us to interpret our sweaty palms and pounding hearts not as part of the fear response but as the same excitement we feel when our favorite team wins or when we ride our favorite roller coaster. We can choose to name our nerves excitement and soon that shift actually occurs.

Taking a breath resets the confrontation and allows for the next step to change the conflict dynamic. The next step is to learn to reframe what has been said and we’ll talk more about that in the next post, but the best part of learning to effectively reframe is to see how it can move the parties from opposing each other to moving closer together to oppose the problem. As I wrote in our children’s book, Fuzzwippers Play Fair, we can solve any problem when it’s you and I together against the problem, not each other.

Do You Remember Your 1st Time?

by Marilynn Halas on March 14th, 2016
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Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Remember how you would steal away quiet moments together and how hard it was to say goodnight? Maybe you met at school or in a coffee shop? There was simply nothing better than being together and the rest of the world would simply fade away as long as you held onto each other, running your fingers through the soft pages and looking longingly at the beautiful illustrations…

Wait. Did you think I was talking about your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Oh no, no, no, my friend. I don’t mean the angst of deciding what to wear or when to call. I’m talking about the sweet sadness of turning the last page on a beautiful world you have come to wish was real. I’m talking about time travel and death defying leaps of faith. I’m talking about visiting new worlds, countries, characters and emotions so real you had to put the book down for a moment to catch your breath. Do you remember?

For me it was Narnia and a brave little mouse named Reepicheep.
“Sire, my life is ever at your command, but my honor is my own.”

Then it was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, in fact, Pony Boy still just about breaks my heart. Jane Austin arrived just in time for my first real crush and Jane and dear Mr. Darcy set the bar high for romance and coming of age. Like a favorite song these stories are like time machines for me. With only a moment’s notice they bring me back to a time in my life that I never want to lose and sharing them again with my children makes them new all over again.

Reading great stories continues to be time well spent but for many of our kids, the fun of epic stories is choked out by book reports and cumbersome choices. Like an endless series of awkward blind dates many of our kids are relentlessly set up with books they loathe. It’s no wonder it’s hard to convince our kids that they can have more fun with a book than a video game.

Video games have an air of contraband and excitement: they might not be good for you but they will definitely be fun. If we want our kids reading it’s time to rebrand books from the dusty domain of lonely recluses and remind our kids that some stories were considered so dangerous they were actually banned.

How can we excite lifelong readers if we serve them a steady diet of literary bran? No one denies that fiber is important, but a burger every now and then is delicious. Something juicy you can really sink your teeth into. Something you will dream about tonight and talk about tomorrow.

We need to stop force-feeding bran to our kids and take them outside. Let them choose a juicy peach straight off a tree and fall in love as the sweet nectar drips from their parched lips. Let kids read beyond book reports and dystopian disasters. Let them read the scandalous Mark Twain in the original unsanitized language. Encourage epics that we can read together and simple stories of great insight. Harry Potter, The Giver, Roald Dahl anything, A Wrinkle in Time, Narnia and whatever else they might actually be enjoyable and encouraging.

I think the best way to raise lifelong readers is to rebrand books from the realm of homework to Hogwarts and from an obligation to an obsession; in other words to fall in love.

Surmounting Obstacles By Guest Blogger David Mezzapelle

by Marilynn Halas on May 12th, 2015
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Obstacles, adversities, trials, and tribulations all have one thing in common – they are all temporary. They come and go but each time they add another milestone in the building of our knowledge base and ultimately our success. Why? Because everything in life is a learning lesson no different than when we first learned to ride a bike.

Every step we make – every success, every mistake, and every decision, good or bad – have all generated knowledge that carries us through life. The same applies to obstacles. Do you think that the world’s most successful leaders have always been on a road without speed bumps? True leaders are not just measured by their success, but they are also measured by how they dealt with obstacles and the paths they chose to surmount those obstacles as quickly as possible. For example, the lessons learned from creating the first light bulb were not all learned in its success, most of the lessons came from the thousands of obstacles and revisions it took to make it successful.

Here are some real examples from around the globe:

Alan Malizia never let obstacles stand in his way. Alan was a child stricken with polio, forced to endure painful treatments and live in and out of hospitals most of his life. Instead of complaining, Alan channeled that energy into teaching sports and education to many of us in our hometown. However, teaching wasn’t enough for Alan. He had to persevere and be the best at everything he did. In addition to being a terrific teacher, Alan earned the number one rank for coaching basketball, volleyball and other sports at our high school. He also wrote and published a book titled “The Little Red Chair” about his experiences of growing up with polio and the gratitude he has for all the people in his life from the doctors that treated him to the family, friends, and students that have always stood by his side.

Krystian Leonard never let obstacles stand in her way. Krystian grew up with lipoma tumors all over her body and endured many surgeries to get them removed. Unfortunately, the surgeries led to scars that led to self-esteem issues, which had left her feeling ashamed and broken. However, she surmounted these obstacles when she realized that she was a beautiful girl and was not going to let her scars hold her back any longer. Today, she is Miss West Virginia’s Outstanding Teen and on the path to Miss America. She also launched a nonprofit organization called “Shining Scars,” an organization dedicated to helping children persevere through any obstacle.

Joan Heller never let obstacles stand in her way either. She had mouth and throat cancer that required her to lose part of her tongue and her ability to speak normally. However, Mrs. Heller was determined to regain her speech and say “congratulations” at her son’s college graduation two years after the initial diagnoses. With that determination, Mrs. Heller realized that the best way to regain her speech would be to relearn the pronunciation of words just like a child in their early stages. And she did! She purchased a variety of children’s books and tapes and practiced until she met her goal. Well, I am happy to report that by her son’s graduation she was able to say “congratulations” in a clear, normal voice. She was also able to resume her career as a psychiatric social worker, a career that helps others and is contingent on the ability to speak.

I believe that we all have stories that can inspire others to surmount their obstacles. Just look at it this way: whether people are enduring good times or bad, just knowing that others have been in the same boat and have persevered is comforting. It spreads a message of hope. Believing in the power of stories, I have set out on a mission to connect with people from different cultures in order to obtain their life’s stories of how they confronted adversities. The goal is to spread hope especially during this time when many people have lost their zeal for life due to the obstacles they keep finding in their way; personal hardship, economic crisis, political uncertainty, etc.

What I have gained from this experience is invaluable. I learned that when a person is held back by obstacles, there is a feeling of helplessness, as if there is no end in sight. However, when that same person learns how others have persevered and surmounted similar obstacles, they have hope and believe they too can emulate those outcomes. I know that all people can be resilient.

About David Mezzapelle
David Mezzapelle is the bestselling author of Contagious Optimism, an uplifting book series and global brand that contains real stories from real people around the globe. The purpose is to help people find their silver linings no matter what they may be going through in life. After a long career in technology, Mezzapelle launched several companies and philanthropic initiatives, and he has served on various boards. Throughout his life, Mezzapelle encountered great peaks and valleys, for which he is grateful. He has always kept his glass “completely full.” Learn more about David at www.contagiousoptimism.com

Contagious Optimism, a bestselling book series. Real Stories, Real People. Learn more at contagiousoptimism.com

Pinball Parenting

by Marilynn Halas on April 21st, 2015
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PinballRaising kids reminds me of playing pinball only this time you are not the human being playing the game but rather the ball getting shot out of the chamber and bouncing around between flashing lights and whirring buzzers. Pulled this way and that by competing needs, crazy schedules and the desperate desire for a hot bath.

The questions are constant and run the gamut from “Mom why are the ping pong balls next to the beer in the supermarket?” “Because we live in a college town dear.” To more esoteric concerns about Euclidean Geometry and why π matters. Pie matters because we all deserve a slice after answering all the questions put to us in an average day.

Still as wild as the ride often gets, it’s still the best gig I’ve ever had. (As a lawyer my clients had far more annoying questions like “What do you mean we have to disclose everything?”) There is nothing like sleepy kisses in the morning and bedtime hugs from a teen who will be off at college in the fall.

Parenting isn’t easy but it can be remarkably simple.
Be there.
Be kind.
Be generous, with your time, patience and understanding.
Forgive every time; yourself and your kids.
Give more when you feel like giving in.
Love, every time, no matter what, love and then love more.

Maybe all the basics really can be rolled into the last one. What we say to our kids becomes their inner voice. Imagine an inner voice full of love and compassion; imagine an inner voice that forgives instead of judges. If that sounds too much to hope for try this. Imagine that even if you cannot change the voice in your head, you could get it to sit down and be quiet.

That’s the goal as parents or at least that’s the goal for me. Of course I want them to get great educations, eat their vegetables and marvel at how blessed they are to have me as their mom but more than that I want them to be gentle with themselves and with others. To know real joy and to choose life over fear. To never doubt that they are loved, without condition and no matter. If I can give them that then all this bouncing around and flashing lights will be well worth the noise.

Let It Go

by Marilynn Halas on February 5th, 2015
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summer_in_the_pool__Let me begin by saying this post has nothing to do with the movie Frozen. This is about learning to move forward. I guess for the longest time I thought moving forward was inevitable. Like a fish in a current, I thought life moved us all along no matter what, but now I am learning that may not be the case. Like a shellfish clinging to the coral, it turns out it is not only possible to get stuck, it’s so easy that you might not even realize how stuck you are.

A few years ago my family was less than 24 hours from a cross-country move. We were preparing for our going away party when everything fell spectacularly apart. Within a matter of hours, everything was cancelled and the life we planned to start faded into the ether.

There was shock, sadness, exhaustion and a strange feeling of being disoriented. Here we were in our old home, in our old lives, but we felt like we’d been through a blender. Everything was swirling around us and it was hard to find purchase, something to hold onto until the world stopped shifting under our feet. So I did what moms do, I focused on resettling my family and gratitude. There was so much to be grateful for, we could remain surrounded by friends who felt like family, we loved our schools and we could move on.

That’s what happened. My kids moved on, my husband moved on, but just this morning I discovered I was still stuck. I’m ashamed to say it but it’s true. I was stuck and I didn’t even realize it. I still think about the move that wasn’t. I wonder about the friends we might have made, the life we might have shared. I love the life we have and still I mourn the loss of the dream we might have lived.

Anytime I imagine my life in the future I don’t get too far before I think about the past and I remember how quickly everything can change. I’ve let the loss make me a little afraid to dream. I’ve let it hold me down even as I struggled to move beyond it and I didn’t even know it.

Change is the only constant and life changes whether we like it or not, that much is true, but growth is different. We can be stuck in a loss and even as life moves around us we hold onto what is gone. The trouble is we are so busy holding on we can’t reach for the new that we need so much.

I’ll dream when the kids are older, when my business is better, when I’m sure then I’ll let go and reach and risk again. Surely that’s wise, prudent, and safe; except it’s not. Life requires growth. The universe is constantly expanding. The current will move you, but if you can’t let go, it might pull you apart.

So today, I let go. I realized the debris I held was useless to me now so I let it go. As the waters around me begin to clear I’m so excited to reach out with open arms and swim again. Swim, float, play and trade being stuck for being free.