Raising Children of Peace

Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones

Chapter 2 Parents and Children

Making Peace with Children: Helping Them Find Their Connection
Sharon Goodman

Through my diary of school stories, I offer you my victories, my humiliating mistakes, and the rewards of my mistakes. In no way do I have the ultimate correct way. We are simply traveling, investigating, pioneering the path of the heart.

Brandt's Story

A new student, Brandt, was an angry five-year-old. He often acted out with much aggression, and it was a challenge to know how to handle his tantrums. He was so strong about what he wanted.

The water table was his favorite place to be. But one day when he eagerly approached it, he saw that little Simon was using the very thing he wanted. He wanted it and he wanted it immediately. He didn't know how to wait. He didn't know how to ask. He just began to yell. When he got no response, he hit Simon over the head. Fortunately, Simon was more shocked than hurt. But this situation could not be ignored.

I began to talk to Brandt about his "mistake;" but he hated hearing about having to do things differently. He was enraged and refused to listen. Very quickly he became violent. He acted as if no one had ever confronted him before.

I took him to another room and calmly, bur firmly, explained the situation to him. "You must stay in here for now;" I said. "But we would love to have you join us again when you are in control of yourself." I left.

His screaming continued for at least 20 minutes. I basically ignored him, but every now and then I walked through the room. For my benefit, his screams only became wilder.

I went back to the classroom and apologized to the other children. "I'm sorry it is so noisy in here, but he is just having a tantrum. I hope he'll get over it soon so we can all be together again. When he comes back, please be sure to let him know you're glad he's back."

Just then Brandt began to yell, "I'm gonna tell my mom! I'm gonna tell my Grandma! I wanna go home-now!"

As the teacher, I momentarily felt fear. "If he tells his mom, what might she think?" I wondered. But I brushed it aside. If I really cared about the future of this kid, I had to go the distance. So I said, "Brandt, here are the choices. You can calm yourself and join us in the other room, or you can stay in here by yourself having a temper tantrum, which isn't a good choice for a wonderful boy like you"

His screaming stopped momentarily as he took another breath. I seized the moment. "Great; I said. "You stopped." I quickly took him by the hand and brought him to the classroom where everyone was busy with art projects.

The children stopped what they were doing. "Hi, Brandt, glad you're back;' said three-year-old Joshua. Brandt folded his arms stubbornly as if to say, "I'm here, but I'm not going to play.'

I approached him, but it was obvious he was going to object. Then, four-year-old Clairin came to the rescue. She said, "Brandt, the teacher is only trying to help you grow:" That's what I tell them a lot.

"Yeah:' said three-year-old Korie. "We want you to play with us:"

With hands still crossed, Brandt announced, "I'm just going to stand here. I'm not going to play."

"That's fine, Brandt," I said. "That's your choice. You may just stand there if you want to. I'm just sorry you'll miss the fun:" I walked away and busied myself with other children.

Then Simon at the water table invited him over. "Do you want one of the animals for the water table?" I pretended not to notice. Brandt looked around the room and noticed the others were going about their business.

"Okay, I decided to play; he said softly.

Comment: The other children were clear about the standard which they had been taught; therefore, their hearts could be open toward him. They could operate freely with their original mind showing. Compassionate understanding and forgiveness, the heart of "wanting to be together" won. Belonging was regained.

Kristin's Story

Kristin was an artistic four-year-old child. She worked, quiet and absorbed, usually choosing the art room during her free times. Her good friend was Clairin, different in personality. Clairin loved to perform, sing and dance. Most often you would find her in the music area. Then one day a terrible outbreak occurred. I heard crying -- wailing -- from the two girls. Clairin was holding her head saying Kristin had hit her over the head. I saw Kristin hiding in a corner sobbing.

It would be easy at this point to simply call Kristin the offender, make judgment, and call a time out. Instead, I saw this as a "broken" moment in their relationship. Both girls were victims, both girls' hearts were suffering. So both were called. Kristin came from her "hiding corner" very angry. Clairin, still in tears, couldn't understand why she had been hit.

I had remembered seeing Kristin working on a very ornate paper necklace for most of her time in the art room. I noticed it was ripped apart and on the floor. I learned that Kristin came to the music room to show Clairin her new necklace. Clairin, involved in her whirling and twirling, caught her hand in it and ripped it from Kristin's neck. Kristin, not knowing what else to do, hit Clairin over the head. Both were miserable.

I called them together and explained that both their hearts were hurting now. I explained what had happened. (Sometimes you can ask the child to explain to the other child what happened that they didn't like. In this circumstance, I was the spokesman for both because they were both so upset.) I helped Clairin understand the heart of Kristin who had worked so hard all morning to make her necklace, and how in one second it had been broken. I helped Kristin to understand that she hurt her friend's head by hitting because she didn't know what else to do but even more so, she hurt her friend's heart.

Their little original minds took over and they hugged each other-their heart connection regained. I asked them how the necklace could be repaired. Together they ran for the tape. As we were taping it I explained that their friendship is even more valuable than the beautiful paper necklace. At the end of the day I noticed that Clairin wore a very beautiful taped necklace home. Kristin had given it to her.

Christine's Story

It was Christine's first day of school. I had observed her before to be a bright, strong-willed, four-year-old girl. As she entered the school door, I prepared to give our customary handshake greeting. "Good morning, Christine. We've been waiting to see you. Come on in!" But she looked at me unconvinced, withdrew her hand, and threw it behind her back.

Several thoughts flooded my brain. 1. She's shy so I'd better not push it until she knows me better. 2. I came on too strong; I'll back off. 3. She's stubborn and wants things on her terms. Judging by the look on her face (jaw set like a muppet character!) I chose the third.

So I took the risk. "Christine," I said, very slowly reaching around her back to take her hand, "I know that you are a very friendly person, but if you pull your hand behind your back like that, it would be an unfriendly thing to do. So, good morning, friend;" as I held her hand gently between my two hands. Christine remained skeptical. Her face didn't change (still a straight-mouthed muppet face), but she walked slowly into the school room thinking about what just happened to her. I knew that there would be another confrontation sometime down the road.

To my surprise it came only minutes later as the group gathered for a music lesson. The two-, three-, and four-year-olds all knew the standard preparations for the teacher's arrival. They were to sit in the circle, cross their legs Indian style so as not to disturb anyone, and be quiet. Christine came to the circle but wasn't about to conform to any rules just yet. She sat down but stuck her feet out as far as they could point. The students were compassionate and kind. "Christine, here's how you're supposed to cross your legs for the lesson." 

Christine remained the same, not about to change, feet still sticking out as straight as a rod. Meanwhile all the children become more eager to show her how to do it and I pretended not to notice. I arrived from around the corner quickly. "Okay, everybody, let's begin. But-" (pretending to see Christine's legs for the first time) "Uh oh, Christine. Maybe you didn't know but when you prepare for the teacher, always cross your legs. That way, your legs won't disturb anyone around you and you can concentrate better:"

I thought if I tried first with the situation in a light, easy way, I could avoid a tug of will. But she was clearly engaged for battle-mouth and all-and refused to change. If I chose to ignore this now, I would have a problem. Ten little eyes were watching carefully as to what I was going to do about this. If I did nothing, I would disappoint them. I would also be in big trouble, because what I say had no meaning and all the other rules become fair game. So, I had got to do something. I slowly took both her hands again. (That had worked before and had just the right drama for effect. So I tried it again) I led Christine just far enough around the corner to be unseen. Everyone was absolutely silent, wondering what was about to happen.

I sat down eye level to Christine and held both her hands in mine. "Christine, I'm going to tell you something really important. Your body and face are saying no to me and I don't want you to say no to me, as your teacher, and I also don't want you saying no to your mom and dad. And now I'm going to tell you why. We love you and are trying to help you grow. And when you say no, you are saying no to growing and that would be very sad. We love you too much for you not to grow up into a beautiful person. Now, Christine, I'm going to stay here for a few minutes and I want you to go out to the circle, sit down, and do the right thing:" She left and after a short pause, I went out to see what she chose to do.

(I'm already thinking what might be a good natural consequence if she chooses to say no.) But I arrived to find her legs neatly crossed. To my bigger surprise, she has a big smile on her face! No words need be exchanged. The lesson promptly begins. Everyone is happy. But the best part came later when her mother called that night to tell me that Christine had decided what she wanted to be when she grows up-a teacher!

Not all scenarios work out so swiftly or completely. Throughout this particular day I felt I was taking a risk. Perhaps I could have read the situation wrong. I'm always looking for clues from within the child that tell me if I am right or wrong. But I work on three premises: 1. God is my partner and will help me. 2. If I make a mistake but have the right heart, I can always apologize to the child. 3. If I can convince the child that I live to help them grow-that even rules are to help them grow-then I am met with little resistance as they become self-motivated to do the right thing. These three elements are constant guidelines for both parents and teachers. They can take us all gladly along the path of mutual heart growth with our children.

Recommended Reading

Nelsen, Jane: Positive Discipline, New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.

Glenn, H. Stephen: Raising Children for Success, Fair Oaks, CA: Sunrise Press, 1987.

Sams, Jamie and Nitsch, Twylah: Other Council Fires Were Here Before

Ours, San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1991.

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