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.

Categories: General