It's easy for parents and caregivers to interpret a child's challenges as an issue of behavior when they are simply struggling to deal with overwhelming emotions. Because they lack both the maturity and experience to deal with sensory overload and are still learning as they go, it can be difficult for them to regulate their emotions or manage calm reactions.
Parents and caregivers know this struggle intimately as our own behavior is far from perfect. While we expect and accept mistakes in ourselves, we don't always extend that grace to children. Children aren't small adults, and the standards we set for them should be appropriate based on their age and stage of development.
I don't advocate for permissive parenting, but I am a solid proponent of the tenets of gentle parenting, which teaches boundaries and discipline with compassion and without violence. If we want the next generation to cultivate peace, we need to be the ones teaching it--by example and by actively helping them learn coping skills and stress management strategies for big emotions. We teach them, in short, to respond rather than react to the events of their lives.
Here are 9 ways to teach peace to the next generation.
Teaching mindfulness is a powerful way to teach peace. Not only does it require that children pay attention to their surroundings, but it also teaches them to pay attention to their bodies, their thoughts, and their feelings--and to honor that. It helps them learn to stay in the present moment rather than being distracted by past mistakes or future worries.
Teaching children to meditate is a wonderful way to help them cultivate inner peace, a necessary component for children to grow up valuing calm. While their attention spans may be short, children can learn to meditate as easily as adults. They can practice with short sessions of quiet time. They can learn how to take proper deep breaths. We can teach them to have good posture, to count their breath, and to close their eyes and focus on how they feel.
There are many guided meditations for children that help them learn the skills they need to begin. Making this a daily practice can be a way to help them learn an excellent coping skill for life's stressors at a young age.
One of the best ways to teach peace is to model it. There are people who never argue in front of their children. While I understand why they make this decision, I'm not sure this is the right move. Instead of teaching children that adults don't argue, we should be teaching them how to argue in ways that are kind, respectful, and fair. To see adults disagree but manage to work through it in a respectful way is a positive example of the next generation--and challenges us, as adults, to learn the skill sets necessary to teach it to the next generation.
Teaching children yoga is a wonderful way to help them learn stress management and coping strategies necessary for being peaceful. Yoga is a great exercise, and it teaches children to honor how they feel, pay attention to their bodies, take deep breaths, and make time for themselves.
Scavenger Hunts and I Spy
Games like I Spy or a scavenger hunt can encourage children to pay attention to the world around them. It may seem unrelated to peace, but the way we look at the world around us is often dictated entirely by our inner world with its thoughts and feelings. By focusing outside of ourselves, we learn to pay better attention to something other than our own internal dialogue and experiences.
This is a necessary component of peace--to be able to observe that other people have other experiences and to pay attention to that. While it won't necessarily lead to compassion, it can't hurt either--especially when our observations of other things and other people are centered in kindness rather than judgment.
As a child, it can be incredibly disempowering to feel like adults aren't paying attention to what you have to say or how you feel. Children need to know that they matter, that they are heard, and that someone cares about what's going on in their lives.
In order to validate their lived experience, it's important that we reflect back to them what they've told us so that they know we're listening. This is a great way to teach effective communication skills, but it also teaches children how to show compassion to others.
The mirror game might be another one that seems strange to connect with peace but stay with me here. If we sit facing our children and have them silently copy our movements and expressions, it does serve a purpose. It is a great way to connect, but it's also another way to help them closely observe another person. It helps cultivate compassion while building on the concepts of mindfulness and focusing on the present moment.
Having nights where everyone takes a break from scrolling through our phones or binge-watching the latest streaming service hit series can help us cultivate--and teach--peace in our homes. Living mindfully sometimes requires that we remove the entertainment buffer that distracts us from one another and tune back in with a quiet evening of no screens.
When I was a child, "grounding" only meant "punishment". It had no other meaning. This isn't the kind of grounding I'm referring to.
Instead, I'm talking about teaching children to tune into all their senses and to be observant of the sensory experience of the world. It can be as simple as standing with bare feet on the ground or taking the time to literally stop and smell the roses when out for a walk. Grounding can be a powerful mindfulness technique, and being able to be present in the moment is actually a solid way to cultivate peace.
Most of us have had to learn coping skills as adults. I didn't grow up with yoga for children, and meditation wasn't something I saw anyone do outside of television. I was always being told to control my feelings, but no one was teaching me how to do that. I never really saw it modeled in healthy ways around me.
It's no wonder that I grew up with little clue as to how to express my emotions well. Instead, I learned through trial and error how to be a better, more peaceful human. It hasn't been easy.
I had learned that many of my emotions were wrong. I had internalized guilt and shame, and I had grown used to invalidation. What I needed to learn was how to be peaceful, to communicate effectively, and to regulate my emotions in healthy ways. I had to learn all of that as an adult instead.
If we want the next generation to be peaceful, we need to start teaching them now. We can't teach them to manage their emotions if we're constantly punishing them for having them. Perhaps we'll have to learn these skills with them to teach peace, but I can think of worse ways to spend time with our children.
And who knows? Maybe we learn to be more peaceful, too.
If nothing else, we'll have spent quality time with our children. If we're lucky, this just might lead to a more peaceful generation than our own.