Practical Ways to Build a Happy Home
 by Naomi Drew.
©2000 by Naomi Drew. Published by arrangement with
Kensington Publishing Corp.

The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn't the family.

—Dr. Morrie Schwartz

Parenting isn't an easy job. We love our children more than we can say, but we're not sure how to help them grow into happy, caring people with a healthy sense of self. We are bombarded with so much information we don't know where to turn. Different books we read give us contradictory information, and when we turn on the TV, we hear something else. Yet all we're looking for is a balanced, common-sense approach to parenting that helps us live in peace with our children and prepares them to live in peace with others. As one parent said to me the other day, "Some kids turn out beautifully; others can break your heart. I wish there was a compass to guide us in the right direction." The good news is we can move in the direction of raising happy, cooperative, respectful children. And there are proven, practical, concrete strategies to help us do this. Let's look at the following two scenarios to see how understanding what to do can spell the difference between peace and disaster.

The Supermarket—Scenario I

As usual, Marge is in a hurry as she stops off at the supermarket to pick up a few things. She remembers that Dr. Carlson, the family dentist, has made a strong recommendation that 5-year-old Steven no longer eat sugary cereals. She'd mentioned this to Steven after his appointment with Dr. Carlson last week, and she's hoping he won't put up too much of a fuss when she picks up a different cereal than he's used to. Marge hates the power struggles that often go on between them and she hopes they're just part of a "stage." Gritting her teeth, she grabs a shopping cart and walks with Steven toward the cereal aisle.

Within moments Steven says, "Mommy, I want Frosted Flakes. "

"No sugary cereals, Steven," says Marge. "You know what Dr. Carlson said. Sugary cereals are bad for your teeth. Remember? You don't want to get cavities, do you?"

"But I want Frosted Flakes, Mommy," Steven replies, a demanding edge in his voice.

Fearing a power struggle, but wanting to stand firm. Marge tries reasoning with Steven. "You don't want to have to get a filling, do you? Why don't we see if there's another kind of cereal we can find?"

"I don't want any other cereal. I want Frosted Flakes!" Steven demands.

"Don't use that tone of voice with me, Steven. I said no! We're not getting Frosted Flakes today!" retorts Marge sharply.

"But I WANT FROSTED FLAKES!" demands Steven, even louder now.

"I said no! Do you understand? N-O!" Marge retorts angrily, spelling the word for emphasis. This irks Steven further.

"But Jason Landry eats Frosted Flakes and Cookie Crisp. He doesn't have any cavities. You're just saying no because you're mean, and so is Dr. Carlson!" shouts Steven, as his eyes fill with tears.

"That's it!" barks Marge, her face flushing. "If you say one more word about Frosted Flakes, you're going to lose TV for a week! Do you understand?"

Now Steven goes into full-scale wailing. Marge's pulse starts racing and her mouth gets dry. Not another scene, she thinks despairingly. She looks around and sees the store manager watching her out of the corner of his eye. Feeling desperate. Marge grits her teeth, grabs a box of Frosted Flakes from the shelf, and quickly throws it in the cart.

"There, are you happy now?" she snaps at Steven, resentfully. Steven immediately stops crying, takes the box of Frosted Flakes out of the cart and holds it close.

"Thanks, Mommy, " he says, looking up at Marge with a smile.

"Yeah, great, you're welcome," she says with an edge. Marge feels defeated and resentful. There must be a better way to handle situations like this, she thinks to herself in frustration as she and Steven proceed toward the checkout counter.

How many times have you felt like Marge, wanting to do whats best for your child, but having your good intentions thwarted when your child resists? Have you ever thrown up your hands in frustration and said, "There's got to be a better way"? Fear not—there is; that's what this book is about. Read on to see how this scenario could have been altered through planning, communication, problem solving, and sticking to ones standards—all critical elements of peaceful parenting.

The Supermarket—Scenario 2

Kate and her husband Jeff have been working hard to create a more peaceful family. They have started the practice of family meetings where they involve their 5-year-old daughter, Wendy, in some decision making. Concurrently, they've set clear standards for positive behavior, letting Wendy know what is expected, consistently sticking by the standards they've set, and acknowledging any positive behaviors they catch Wendy in the act of.

As a result, Wendy, who has always been strong willed, is becoming more cooperative and less apt to engage in power struggles. Wendy has begun to understand that nagging and fussing don't work with her morn and dad.

Kate and Jeff have recently agreed to eliminate sugary cereals from their family's diet. Wanting to prepare Wendy for this before their next shopping trip, they talk about it during afamily meeting. When Wendy balks at the news, they hear her out but give the clear message that this particular decision is not hers to make. Letting Wendy know they expect her cooperation, they ask for her "help" in finding new and healthier cereals.

Wendy is thus prepared when Kate takes her to the supermarket the next day. When they get to the cereal aisle, however, Wendy reaches up for the Frosted Flakes, hugs the box, and says, "Mommy, I know what we talked about, but I really want Frosted Flakes. I promise I'll brush my teeth every time I eat them. OK.?"

Hearing what Wendy says, and wanting to validate her feelings without giving in to them, Kate says, "I understand how you feel, Wendy. You really love Frosted Flakes and you'd love to keep eating them. You're hoping I'll change my mind, aren't you?"

"Will you, Mommy, please?" asks Wendy. "I promise I won't eat anything else with sugar if you just let me have Frosted Flakes. "

"I'd love to let you have them if they were good for you, Wendy, but they're not, and we agreed as afamily that we're all going to try to cut back on sugar, including sugary cereals. I'm sorry you're disappointed, but this is the decision your dad and I have made," Kate says gently but firmly, looking directly into Wendy's eyes.

Kate has made sure not to come to the market when they're in a big hurry, so it's easier for her to remain patient. "Take a look at these," she says, holding up two boxes of cereal. "This one has raisins and this one has dates, so they'll both have some sweetness. And here's one more," Kate adds, showing Wendy another box of cereal containing blueberries. "Which would you like to buy today?"

"I want these," says Wendy, holding on to the Frosted Flakes.

Here's where Kate realizes she needs to let Wendy know her limits. "Sorry, Wendy," she says, continuing to befirm but gentle. "No is no, and that's that. You can either pick out another cereal now, or else I'll have to do it. The choice is yours. " Here Kate is giving Wendy a choice, but it is clearly within the boundaries she, as the mother, has set.

Wendy considers her options. She realizes that nagging doesn't work because she's tried it before. Each time, her parents have been consistent in not giving in to it. Wendy thinks for another moment, puts down the Frosted Flakes, and says, "OK, Mommy, how about if we try these two?" She gestures toward the cereals with the raisins and blueberries.

"Good choices, Wendy," says Kate, giving her daughter a big hug. "I'm very proud of you for cooperating. Wait till Daddy sees the new cereals you picked. I bet he'll want to try them both. " Wendy beams up at her mother, proud of her good choices in both cereal and behavior.

Scenarios like this one are not only possible, they are probable when you have at your disposal the skills of peacemaking. Kate and Jeff have been using these skills to help them raise a more peaceful child and create more peace in their home. They use as their compass the following Seventeen Keys to Peaceful Parenting:

The Seventeen Keys To Peaceful Parenting

Key #1:
Peace begins with me.
Key #2:
I have made my home a place of kind words.
Key #3:
I catch my children in the act of positive behaviors and praise them immediately, specifically and sincerely.
Key #4:
I spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day with each child, listening, interacting, and giving my full attention.
Key #5:
I am clear on the standards of behavior I expect of my children. I honor those standards and expect my children to do the same.
Key #6:
I provide my children with empty spaces of time during which they can just "be kids. "
Key #7:
I hold regularly scheduled family meetings where my children have a voice in the workings of our family.
Key #8:
I have set a foundation for peacefulness in our home by creating with my children "Guidelines for a Peaceful family. "
Key #9:
I always remember that I am the parent and deserve to be listened to.
Key #10:
I have fair, reasonable consequences for negative behaviors which I only use when necessary.
Key #ll:
I listen with all my heart to what my children have to say, and teach them to be good listeners for others.
Key #12:
I teach my children how to handle anger in nondestructive ways and I model this consistently.
Key #13:
I resolve conflicts peacefully and teach my children to do the same.
Key #14:
I find ways to help my children succeed.
Key #15:
All my actions are guided by love, compassion, fairness, respect, and integrity. I nurture these attributes in my children.
Key #16:
I live my commitment to peaceful parenting; my commitment guides all my actions.
I remember daily that we each have an impact on the world around us and I teach this to my children.

These keys are woven into every chapter you are about to read. As you do, you will discover how to integrate them into your life and the lives of your children. Like Kate and Jeff, you will learn the secrets to becoming a peaceful parent and raising peaceful kids. By reading each chapter carefully, doing the recommended exercises, and modeling what you learn, you'll help yourself feel more grounded in the principles of peaceful parenting. When this happens, you'll be wellequipped to help your children:

  • be better listeners
  • talk out differences instead of fighting
  • reduce the frequency of future conflicts
  • calm themselves when angry
  • avoid explosive outbursts
  • develop greater empathy, self-esteem, and conscience
  • accept differences in others
  • become more responsible human beings

Philosopher Norman Cousins said, "The starting point for a new reality is now." By providing yourself and your children with new skills, you will help shape a more peaceful reality in your home and in your lives. How do I know this? Because I've lived these skills and concepts myself as a parent, teacher, workshop leader, and author, and have witnessed their results over the past twenty-five years.

My first book, Learning the Skills of Peacemaking, was one of the first to introduce peacemaking to the public schools. When I wrote it, I had no idea how it would be received. To my amazement, educators around the country started embracing it and sharing it with their colleagues. Teachers and administrators were excited, saying it met a need no other book had met before. Learning the Skills of Peacemaking was soon translated into Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Portuguese, bringing the same strategies you are about to learn to adults and children in different parts of the world.

"When are you going to write a book like this for parents?" became the question most repeatedly asked by parents whose children were learning peacemaking in school. At the same time, teachers began noting changes in their students, along with improvements in their relationships with loved ones at home. As one teacher said, "When I first learned about peacemak ing, I figured it would just be for my students. But everything I was teaching in school made so much sense, I decided to try it at home, too. Now I have more time to teach because my students are getting along better, and at home my children are having fewer conflicts!"

Parents whose children were learning peacemaking in school were ex cited about the differences they began seeing at home, too. A mother of three girls commented, "My girls used to bicker with each other constantly. Now they know how to cool offwhen they're angiy and work out their disagreements in a much more civil way. I wish I had some way of learning how to use these skills myself." Over and over, people who had been touched in one way or another by Learning the Skills of Peacemaking kept asking for something like it they could use at home. Finally I knew I had to write this book.

Peace Starts With Each Individual

This is the most important underlying idea in Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids. The days of close-knit extended families have passed, and most children are raised by parents who both work, or by single parents. Our lives are so filled with constant, pressured activity that theres little time for rest, reflection, and relaxed interaction. The nature and texture of family life have altered profoundly, hindering our sense of peace and connectedness. But there are things we can and must do to increase our sense of peacefulness, and the effects of our own example can be profound. When we take steps in our daily lives to get along with others, work out conflicts, listen when people speak, communicate respectfully, let go of anger, and respect differences, we affect the world in a positive way. Starting gradually, with ourselves and the people we are close to, our relationships begin to improve, causing a ripple effect. Before long, we see that by living the skills of peacemaking, we make a positive difference in our own lives and the lives of every person we touch. This brings us to another important theme.

We Are All Interconnected

Our molecules interchange continuously. We breathe the same air, travel the same roads, experience similar challenges, think similar thoughts, and want much the same things for our children. This goes beyond the boundaries of our own country. In our global society, where we read the same headlines and view the same images transmitted by satellite or com puter, we are far more connected to each other than we realize. Take a look at the global money market: The Nikkei goes down in Japan, and the American stock market falters. A rain forest is felled in Brazil, and the air that we breathe is compromised. On a more personal level, we live side by side with others. One of the great challenges of our times is to discover ways we can coexist peacefully, sharing the same resources and setting the groundwork for a livable future for our children.

We are, in fact, interconnected, and are thus faced with the question of how to make our connections work.

If all schools and families began teaching and living the skills of peacemaking, we would have the potential to change the texture of human relationships and the world at large. Try to imagine for a moment your family being one of many to do this. Think about respect, acceptance, responsibility, care for others, and nonviolence being nurtured by larger and larger numbers of families. Imagine this starting right in your own home.

Think of your family as one link on an interconnected chain that spans all of humanity. As you teach and model the skills of peacemaking, you will affect your children's lives well into the future. The attitudes you convey, the actions you take, and the decisions you make create the quality of your family's link in the larger chain of humanity, multiplied over time, Thats how much power you have as a parent; that's the difference you make from the moment your child is born. What you teach today will touch your children and the world around them for the rest of their lives and into the coming generations.


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