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      There is a lot of news these days from different political and cultural points of view about holidays, statues, and the various ways in which national heroes and patriotic events can be seen in a new light by having a new perspective. How do we really feel about Thanksgiving, Robert E. Lee, the Declaration of Independence, or Christopher Columbus?

We as parents want children who can think critically - they will be making life-and-death decisions in their teen years as they learn to drive, face the widespread use of drugs and alcohol, get involved in intimate relationships, and vote. It is never too early to develop critical thinking skills - and remember, a young person's brain doesn't fully develop until age 24, so you can make a difference in their lives for quite a while.

We as a nation want young people entering the work force who can take on multiple perspectives and make wise and deliberate decisions. Letting young people lock into one ideology, one point of view, or one idea about how life should be lived leads to fundamentalism and intolerance. Our schools and our faith communities do best when we present multiple points of view, looking at how we are connected rather than how we contradict one another.

We as a planet need a global perspective on how our actions affect everyone alive today as well as the generations to come. Deciding to support the fossil fuel industry in the USA while other industrialized nations are moving toward independence from fossil fuels represents a different approach to meeting the needs of all people. Is the already epidemic rise of childhood asthma in the USA related to the dangers of unregulated emissions here at home?

SO - what can a parent do?

·         Look for ways to discuss holidays with your children that include multiple perspectives: How did Thanksgiving turn out for the indigenous peoples of New England? How can we look at the historical facts, face the difficult choices our ancestors made, and still maintain the spirit of gratitude and family that we cherish about this holiday?

·         Look at patriotic events with your children in wholistic terms: When the Declaration of Independence says "all men are created equal" do we make sure our children understand that this phrase only pertained to white men of European descent who held property? How did women and people held in slavery and indigenous people benefit from this document? (Hint: they didn't...) This was an historic event to be sure - thus our July 4th fireworks! - but it didn't change the world for many people living here.

·         Find ways to engage your children in your own process of political discernment: When someone says "don't dump on the Bronx" but is in fact not talking about garbage but human beings, we can point out how political rhetoric can be inflammatory in ways we would not allow our children to speak? Encourage them to look at candidates with you and practice the skill of making an informed choice when voting. Your children may have a perspective about a candidate that can inform your own voting patterns. They will be voting soon enough - and don't we hope for an informed electorate?

 

If, as John Dewey said, the goal of education is to build a new world, then we need to be educators who open our children's minds and hearts to the multiple possibilities our future world can embrace. 

Friends - this is a revised version of the letter I wrote on 9/11/01. I certainly had hoped it wouldn't be needed so often, but that has not been the case. May we all find ways to develop alternatives to violence in ourselves, our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation.

 Talking With Children About Difficult Events

·         Remain available to talk about what is happening. Accept all questions, even if they are repeated over (and over!) again.

·         Be honest. Give facts at an appropriate level for your child's developmental level. Be willing to say "I don't know" if that is indeed the case.

·         Acknowledge feelings - your own and your child's. Unsettling events bring up lots of emotions for us - fear, anger, worry, despair, hope - and that is how it should be. Talking about feelings helps everyone.

·         Let your child know there are people who can help out in difficult situations. Become people who can help. Find ways to help those in more need than you. Helping others creates hope for all.

·         Limit television viewing of news: vivid images can be quite disturbing and can cause long-lasting discomfort.

·          Use drawing as a way to get disturbing images out of your child's mind: have them draw the image and then rip up the picture. This works especially well with nightmares.

·         Recognize that headaches, stomach aches, and sleep disturbances all accompany anxiety and uncertainty. Let your child know that these are natural reactions to stress and will pass soon.

·         Let your children be kids: when they are ready to just go out and play with their friends, let them do so.  Help them - and yourselves - come to terms with this "new normal" in our world.

 

We parents know that kids have "radar" - if there is turmoil or tension in the home or in the community, children pick up on the emotionality. All of us can have trouble articulating our lack of ease when things are tough, and children have even more difficulty understanding where these feelings come from.  Instead we see more stomach aches, more whiny behavior, and more fights between siblings. (With adults we see road rage, blaming others, addictive behaviors, and general acting out, right?)

Our world's tension - especially after events like the Charlottesville violence or the Barcelona attack - has seeped into our psyches. Some psychologists have said that, since 9/11, we have suffered from a generalized anxiety disorder as a nation. Fear trumps love for most of us much of the time, and "the other" - perhaps a person of a different color or race, a person from a different socioeconomic class, or a person with a different gender expression - can be greeted with suspicion rather than acceptance if we are not careful to check in with our initial reactions. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink? Our first reactions are often not representative of the person we want to be - or think that we already are...).

We are also seeing more depression and anxiety amongst our children. This leads to general unhappiness, poor school performance, anger issues, and a tendency to give up on those positive goals that are worth working for.

So - since we parents create the emotional climate on our homes, what can we do to provide a healthy home environment for our children that allows them to go to school as healthy peacemakers rather than unhappy troublemakers?

1.       Be clear about your values as a family: For some of us with a faith tradition to follow, this is easier: what does my church or temple or mosque say about love and fear? For those of us who do not have a faith practice - which is a large portion of the USA population these days - our lifestyle and home need to project the values we choose and perhaps we need to be more explicit. In the absence of the Bible or the Torah or the Koran in our daily lives, how explicit are we with our children about what is important? So - a suggestion: have your family choose a precept or slogan each month: "be patient with those who are different from us" or "practice random kindnesses with strangers" or "make a new friend from a very different background from our own"? (I have borrowed this from the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio). Post the precept around the house and check in at dinner every day as to how it is going. Change starts in small ways...

2.     Learn to be a peacemaker yourself: Many of us grew up in households where racism, sexism, classism, and ageism were part of the normative culture (such as the 1950's in my case). We need to unlearn some of these old attitudes - even as we profess new beliefs - and understand that we all can be racist/sexist/classist/ageist at various times. So - a suggestion: take a workshop like the Alternatives to Violence Project or Undoing Racism to explore your own beliefs and to learn how to promote tolerance and inclusion in your own life.

3.     Be sure that your child's school is teaching peacemaking skills: Ask about programs that promote upstander behavior through bully prevention training  and healing circles through restorative justice practices. Did you know that the NYC Department of Education is exploring restorative justice training for all schools to reduce violence and suspensions? So - a suggestion: ask your child's teacher if they would like to know more about such programs and have them contact me. I would be happy to be a resource person as we strive to prepare the next generation to be more loving and tolerant than we have been ourselves.

4.     Do something about changing the world: Volunteer with your kids - pick up the trash on your street - make a donation - choose whatever irks you about "things as they are" and decide to make a difference.

 

Let's have a good school year - and let's help our children become the peacemakers we sorely need today.

  1. Don't have them do chores - they expect you to pick up after them, don't they?
  2. Bail them out with their teachers - you know your child better than the teacher, don't you? Johnny couldn't possibly act that way...
  3. Be inconsistent about consequences - who can keep track of all those details? Did I ground her for one day or two? Oh, just forget it...
  4. Make them their own special foods for dinner - who doesn't want their own chef and server at home?
  5. Allow them to use poor manners with other adults - hey, life is too short to be formal, isn't it?
  6. Allow their friends to be impolite and fresh with you - you want their friends to like you, don't you?
  7.  Forget about them giving gifts for others in the family at holiday times and birthdays - they're just kids, right? They'll figure that out someday..
  8. Allow them to repeat inappropriate jokes and comments at home without correcting them - they are just trying to fit in with their friends...
  9. If their friends have a new game system or the latest phone, just get them one, too - you make good money, so why shouldn't your kids have the best?
  10. Save a lot of money for your retirement, because spoiled kids grow into spoiled adults who really won't want to take care of you!


The third week in February - in addition to our children being off from school - was the winter Congressional recess. This is a time when members of Congress return to their home constituencies and hold town meetings. It is a favorite form of citizenship participation in government for many of us - we can speak our mind to our representatives directly and in person.

 

Why not consider having a "family meeting" - your version of a "town meeting" - in your home? You can help you and your children find your voice - a civil and appropriate voice that discusses issues in a calm and respectful way - and develop important skills like listening, self-expression, compromise, and problem-solving.

 

Family meetings can be used for many purposes:

·         to solve family problems of living together (like who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning or who leaves the empty milk carton in the refrigerator and doesn't put milk on the shopping list);

·         to propose new family rules (like "no electronics at the dinner table" or "no skateboards in the house");

·         to reinforce family values (like "everyone can speak their mind if the tone is respectful and civil" or "this family gives to charity and believes in community service");

·         to check in with one another (you all might share your schedule for the next period of time and adjust chores and activities if one family member is especially stressed);

·         to plan family activities (like the next vacation or a visit to a museum);

·         to enjoy one another's company!

 

Here are some useful ideas for setting up regular family meetings in your home:

·         Pick a regular time and stick to it (like the second Sunday of the month for dinner).

·         Rotate who's in charge of the meeting (and perhaps have that person plan for a special dessert to share) - anyone five years old or up can chair a meeting with some guidance and practice.

·         Have a "family meeting agenda items" white board in the kitchen so any family member can bring up something for discussion - that way, if something comes up amongst the kids, you can say "put it on the agenda" and you can discuss this next time.

·         Begin each family meeting with a round of sharing: a simple routine might be going around the table and sharing one thing that went well today, one thing that didn't go well today, and one thing each person is looking forward to tomorrow.

·         Have simple rules for sharing: use a "talking stick" to prevent interruptions, be vigilant about no put downs, give each person the right to pass, and consider all ideas until you get to the feasible and constructive ones.

·         End each family meeting with a round of appreciations: each person goes around the table and expresses one thing they appreciate in each family member who participated in the meeting.

 

One important point: for me, families are not "democracies" but hopefully more like "benevolent dictatorships" with Mom and Dad having final say. Nonetheless, you will soon see the benefits of treating your children as valued members of the family community and all of you will become better creative problem-solvers.

 

Like any skill, having a successful family meeting will take some time. Stick with it and all will be well - you will be helping your children to develop important life skills.

 

 

 

 

This election season seems especially filled with anxiety - how can we remain calm and civil when the issues are so polarizing and the attacks so personal? Here are some tips for you - which you can share with your children - to help us all find some serenity and sanctuary amidst the daily cycles of  election news drama.

1)    Realize that some anxiousness is necessary: evolutionary biology tells us that our body needs to be put on alert to deal with a situation that might be dangerous. (There are no more saber-toothed tigers, but sometimes we react as if one is about to attack us!) I want my child to be anxious about crossing City Island Avenue when there is a lot of traffic - that heightened state of awareness is a good tool for keeping safe and vigilant. Then, when we reach the other side, we can take a breath and resume our usual level of awareness.

2)   Anxiousness becomes a problem when everyday situations begin to be perceived as dangerous, thus creating a "fight or flight or freeze" response that doesn't need to be engaged. Take time for yourself to sort out whether a situation - real or imagined or anticipated - warrants a sense of danger and hypervigilance or just "keeping an eye" on things. Practice thinking through a potential difficulty until the end when your child feels anxious - "if I don't know whom to sit with at lunch, I will feel some stress, but I can sit by myself and bring a book to read and see if anyone joins me...next time I can plan ahead and invite a friend to sit with me at lunch..." Rarely do our worst fears become realities - as Mark Twain said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened."

3)   Maintain the important family activities that settle us down and relieve our stress and anxiousness: eat dinner as a family; have family game nights; worship and play together; visit with relatives and friends. The simple relationship-based comforts that families and friends can provide are a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety.

4)   Get physical exercise - for yourself and with your children. Our bodies are primed to release "feel good" endorphins when we exercise - take advantage of this simple way to relieve stress. We all have access to nature - there is true healing available in watching a sunset, taking a walk to the beach, and riding a bike through the woods.

5)   Maintain an attitude of gratitude for what you do have - be it health, family, a home, or a friend. Always focusing on what you are missing will leave you miserable - and it will be your own fault!

 

SO - turn off the news, be with those you love, practice the gift of democracy as an informed citizen and voter, and keep that anxiety in check.

 

 

We live in a challenging time. Our children may overhear politicians, peers, and even family members speaking to one another in language that is divisive and hurtful. They may hear things that are overstated or simply not true. How, then, do we model the behavior we hope to see in our children - respect, honesty, and civility?

 

Respect is the right of every individual. We can always find common ground with another, in any dispute, even if that common ground is simply being human. Humility and honor are ways of showing respect - no one of us is better than, we are equals. Everyone is worthy of dignity. We respect our children when we avoid shame, ridicule, threats, and punishment but instead provide opportunities for restitution, forgiveness, and future growth.

If Johnny drops a glass full of lemonade, instead of saying something like: "You clumsy child! Now I have to clean this up. Grow up!"

we can come up with appropriate consequences in a respectful way by saying something like: "I will deal with the broken glass so you don't cut yourself, and then you need to get some paper towels and wipe up the lemonade. Everyone makes mistakes; let's think about how you might do this differently next time, OK?"

 

In terms of honesty, here are a few tips:

·         Try to tell the truth with your children - if they cannot handle the information (about a family member's illness or a difficult situation) tell them that the adults are doing what they can to take care of the situation and you will fill them in later.

·         Avoid words like "always" and "never" - they are rarely true, and tend to close doors in an argument or conflict.

·         Hold yourself to the highest standard - our integrity is a valuable part of who we are and can be thrown away with a lie or a cheat or a steal. Let your children know how you work on rigorous honesty and ask them to do the same.

 

Civility - manners, politeness, courtesy - is a basic currency in how we communicate with and treat one another. It is not "political correctness" but common sense. We all know the Golden Rule - "treat others the way you want to be treated" - but let's also think about what some are calling the Platinum Rule - "treat others the way they want to be treated". We can do even better if we follow Immanuel Kant's advice: "act in any situation the way you would want every other person to act". If we spend some time thinking about the implications of this - with our own actions and those of our children - we may see some startling results.

 

This is all just good human decency. As Dorothy Law Nolte says in her poem "Children Live What They Learn" (© 1972):

 

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with 
fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel 
shy.
If children live with 
jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with 
shame, they learn to feel guilty.


If children live with encouragement, they learn 
confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to 
love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn 
generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have 
faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Let's be sure to create a better world, shall we?

 

 

 

Kids in tow, new to the area, and not quite sure if this is what they are looking for. What do we hope they find?

·        A parking lot full of cars with those bumper stickers we all love (you know what I mean!) as well as car seats, bike racks hanging off the back, kayaks on the roof, and windows showing the messy paraphernalia of childhood. Lots of bikes - parked in a sturdy bike rack - and evidence of families who are active and joyful in their lifestyles.

·        Welcoming signs - not just for adults - that express both the seriousness of our Quaker faith and the playfulness of the Divine in our lives. The quiet dignity of a beautiful Meeting House surrounded by the latest kids' garden projects and some leftover ornaments hanging on the trees.

·        A Friendly greeter (who is also kid-friendly) at the door who has the time (and social skills) to help these folks feel welcome - each and all of them. Name tags for all and clear signs as to where to go...

·        A First Day School room that is bright, cheerful, and age-appropriate in different ways, with other kids already there who have been taught through specific lessons and examples how to help new Friends feel welcomed and comfortable. The "curriculum" is easily accessible and the "circle of Friends" is easily widened. Adults in the room have had some training in working with children - if only a mini-workshop by a Meeting member who works with children - and the lessons are engaging and child-centered.

·        A library with resources for all - books for all ages, information for new seekers, research books for in-depth study, a clear system of organization, and a simple check-out policy.

·        Ah yes - Meeting for Worship! What to do with the kids? A loving acceptance of the distractions of childhood before they go to First Day School (or when they return from First Day School - did we explain this to our new family?) A reminder of the "spiritual equality" of all ministry in the Meeting - is it clear that we are a beloved community"? A seasoned and gathered Meeting that embraces al - and parents can sigh (their kids are safe and cared for) and settle into worship surrounded by loving acceptance.

·        A slow and gentle process of invitation to join - committees, potlucks, Bible study, or madrigal singing - with the suggestion of a "host family" to keep in touch with the new Friends.

·        A smattering of the kinds of workshops "we Quakers" do so well - AVP, Quakerism 101, Quaker Parenting, Quaker service - to let our new Friends know that we do good works that go beyond our Meeting.

·        A sense of overall well-being - we Quakers grow our meetings by attraction rather than promotion much of the time.

 

We live in a time when racial tension is everywhere. Our children - who, as research has suggested, are well aware of the privilege of whiteness at an early age - learn from us adults on a daily basis. How we openly address issues of race - and live our truth in our daily lives - can help ensure that the next generation of adults can do better than we did in addressing racial injustice.

Here are five things you can keep in mind:

1)    You can model and demonstrate diversity and inclusion in your own life. Are all of your friends from the same racial group? Do you have diverse people as friends - real friends - with whom you share a meal, travel, go to the movies, hang out in the living room? Encourage your child to do the same - reach out to others, learn how different homes represent different cultures, and celebrate the mix of cultures and religions that makes us an enriched society.

2)    Take advantage of teachable moments. When children realize that not all races are not represented equally - in the media, in government, and in positions of visibility and stature - let them know that in earlier days in the USA many groups of people were seen as the "other" and as a potential menace to society: Irish, Italians, Chinese, etc. By talking about these differences - accepting color and avoiding the hypocrisy of "color-blindness" - we can come to true understanding of one another's experience. Kids can understand this as well - we are not "the same" but we are entitled to equal access to the benefits of our society.

3)    Accept the fact that "the talk" you have with your child is dependent upon your racial status: for whites it's about sex and being safe from pregnancy and disease, for people of color it's about talking to the authorities and staying alive.

4)    Realize that the biggest affirmative action program in the history of the USA - the G.I. bills after World War II that provided mortgages and education for returning G.I.'s - created the white middle class in the 1950's that many of us benefited from growing up. Whites have a long history of helping themselves with government assistance - why do we balk when this is about people of color?

5)     Remember that important conversations with our children can be difficult but necessary, The "status quo" is unacceptable to people of color - and morally untenable for all of us -   and our children have the opportunity to make things better.

 

John Dewey, an influential American educator of the 19th and 20th centuries, said that the goal of education is "to build a new world." May we help our children to do just that. 

In Meeting for Worship this past Sunday (First Day, in Quaker parlance) at  Purchase Monthly Meeting there were several messages concerning George Fox's simple prescription for life:

"Walk cheerfully over the earth, speaking to that of God in every person"

While most of the time I emphasize the latter portion of this sentence - honoring the Divine in each of us, so aptly summed up in the Hindu phrase Namaste ("the godliness in me honors the godliness in you")  -  several speakers focused instead on the cheerfulness Fox implores us to embrace. Having just had a cranky morning at home, I am in awe of this challenge: you want me to be a cheerful part of this planet? What about those times when I am just too negative to be around?

In the Christian tradition there is even a more challenging request. Jesus said you should "love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; and pray for those who treat you badly." (Luke 6:27-29) A tall order, no?

Well, in these tumultuous times (presidential election politics, economic uncertainty, strife and torment in many parts of the globe) here are two ideas that might bear some fruit. Can we be cheerful and loving with one another?   And can we pray for those who do harm, not to enable their wrongheaded actions but instead to invoke their own godliness within?

Seeking progress and not perfection, I propose that we go forward on this path to implement what the Dalai Lama calls simple "loving kindness." May we increasingly find ways to support one other in our communities.

 

Namaste - Teacher John

 

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