by Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT
For the past few years, I've taken a yoga class once or twice a week. The exercise is wonderful and has allowed my tired back to tolerate golf, skiing, and too much sitting without pain. But what I truly love is the ability to breathe, to center myself, and for an hour at a time, to feel at peace with myself and the world.
I went to yoga just after hearing the news about the World Trade Center tragedy. Many of the people in the class had not heard, and we were all chattering away with a great deal of agitation. As we began our warm-ups, my yoga teacher, who is possibly the most serene, self-possessed person I know, said something both simple and profound. "Peace in the world," she said, "begins with peace inside each one of us. And that is something we can do."
She's right. But there's more to it than that. Peace in our community, our nation, and our world also begins with peace in our homes. And as parents, that is also something we can do. "How?" you may be asking. Not surprisingly, I have some suggestions:
First, stop yelling. Kids tell me on a regular basis that a teacher or parent "yelled" at them. I've found that they often aren't referring to the decibel level of the communication, although goodness knows adults raise their voices all too often.
"Yelling" to kids simply means scolding them in an unpleasant tone of voice. They dread it, and most of them learn to respond by yelling back.
Think for a moment: are you generally more willing to cooperate and help out when someone speaks to you in an unpleasant way, or when you are spoken to calmly? Kids are no different: parents usually yell because they are frustrated or angry, but it is ineffective. And it makes our homes noisy, unpleasant places to live.
Start listening to yourself: if you're feeling really brave, ask your kids to listen, too, and to let you know when you're yelling. Then stop. That's all: take a time out for yourself if you need one, but stop yelling. Your home will immediately become a more peaceful and welcoming place.
Second, practice the art of mutual respect. Adults sometimes struggle with the idea that they should respect their children, but you might be surprised at how much more willing children are to respect you when they are treated with dignity and kindness.
Not only that, you may be surprised at how much more willing they are to help out when they feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Children aren't equal to adults in rights, privileges, or responsibilities, but they are equal in human worth and dignity. Treat your children with respect and you may discover more coming back to you.
Third, listen. Listen a lot. Listen to words and facial expressions and body language. Listen with your lips together, and when your child or partner has finished speaking, ask, "Is there anything else you want to tell me?"
Families often complain that they can't communicate, but they rarely have trouble talking -- in fact, sometimes everyone talks at once. Learn to listen with your heart, and the people you love are likely to feel understood. That in itself is a small miracle.
If you are at peace, and you can create peace in your home, we may be able to create peace in our schools. And peace in our community. Who knows what might happen after that?
Cheryl Erwin, MA, MFT, has been working with (and learning from) families for more than ten years, most recently as a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, and parenting consultant in private practice in Reno, Nevada. She is the coauthor of seven books in the Positive Discipline series, and How to Turn Boys Into Men Without a Man Around the House: A Single Mother's Guide," with Richard Bromfield of Harvard Medical School. She also writes articles on parenting and family relationships for a number of regional publications, and has written for such national publications as Parents Magazine. She presents a weekly parenting broadcast on KUNR -FM in the Reno/Sparks area. Cheryl is married and has an adult son, who has been, by far, her best teacher.
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