A New Bridge to Walk Across

The Peaceful Parenting Newsletter
Issue #31

A free e-mail newsletter from Naomi Drew

Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.

Jawaharial Nehru
former Prime Minister of India

Dear Friends,

This issue of Peaceful Parenting will provide you with the opportunity to permanently alter your reactions to conflict.

Conflict can provide us with the opportunity to problem solve and relate to one another on a deeper and more honest level. It can also be enormous opportunity for growth and a vehicle for establishing healthy new patterns in the face of anger.

Conflict can trigger long-ingrained internal responses -- the pounding of the heart, the rushing of adrenaline, constricting of the muscles. But we don’t have to fall into the pit of those reactions. It actually is possible to be faced with old negative reactions and still deal with conflict successfully.

The secret is in knowing that the bridge between any conflict and its positive resolution is the space we allow before reacting. Creating this space takes three essential things:

  • awareness
  • choice
  • and the willingness to leave old patterns behind.

Below we will take a look at each of thesesubtle steps. Using them will give you the power to transform your relationships and create more peace in your homes, schools, and in your life. Remember peace starts with you.

Three Steps Across the Bridge

The bridge to dealing with conflict without being cowed by anger is within your reach. It will take these three things to walk across it:

1. Awareness - The first essential is noticing our own reactions when we get angry. Be an observer, not a reactor.
What happens in your body when your child does something that make you mad? For many of us it starts with a quickening of the pulse and a surge of energy that makes us want to lash out. Think about your reactions the last time you got angry. What happened inside your body? What thoughts came into your mind? Make a mental note.

Next time you are faced with conflict and anger, your job is to notice and then take a step back. The greatest tendency is to move forward into the anger, allowing it to infuse our words and actions. Inevitably the conflict and level of anger escalate as a result. Our children (or partner) react to our reaction, we react back, and a small spark becomes a raging fire. It doesn’t have to stay this way.

Instead of moving forward, take that step back, notice your reactions, and then breathe. Not a shallow breath but a deep abdominal one. Notice, breathe, and detach even for just a few seconds. Doing this is your first step onto the bridge.

2. Choice - When we get angry, the anger often grips us by the throat and we are left with a sense of not being able to choose a response. The anger fuels what comes out of our mouths, and too often we end up doing and saying things we regret. When my boys were little I can remember making ridiculous threats in the face of anger, things I could never follow up on: No TV for a month! No dessert for three weeks! I would have been punishing myself by following through with either of these, but in the heat of anger, reason falls by the wayside.

When we observe ourselves and take that critical step back, we remove the grip of anger one finger at a time. By detaching from our reactions, we can then choose what we are going to do next instead of being driven by that adrenaline surge.

We might choose to give a our child an appropriate consequence, or tell him how angry we are without going out of control, or give ourselves some time out so we can think about the next step, or give our kids some time out so they can think about what they just did. By observing and detaching we enable ourselves to see choices that would have been otherwise obscured by the smokescreen of our reactions.

3. Willingness to leave old patterns behind. Ask yourself this question: Do I really want to give up my angry reactions? Before you answer, let me make an important distinction -- this is not about giving up your right to be angry; it is about giving up over-reactions to anger that make matters worse.

Anger is a normal part of the spectrum of human emotions. It is not something to be repressed or denied. Nor is it something to be used as a weapon against another person. Anger is something to be acknowledged and channeled into appropriate actions, like saying I feel so angry because you just ignored what I said for the third time! No video games tonight.

What we want to avoid when we get angry is saying or doing things that diminish the dignity of the other person or hurt them emotionally or physically.

Certain circumstances might make us unwilling to give up our angry reactions: If we have been stuffing our anger, or not being honest about it, or letting ourselves be taken advantage of or disrespected. If any of these have been going on over time, we may have stored up layer upon layer of resentment. If so, this is the opportunity to change the pattern. Anger needs to be addressed moment to moment. Stuffing it only creates brittle layers that
will eventually ignite.

If this has been your pattern, try writing down all the things you have been holding in, and letting the paper take the brunt of your emotions. Then do something physical, like taking a brisk walk or a playing a game of tennis, and allow any residue of angry thoughts to come up. Once you have released the bulk of your anger, you might want to talk to the person you have been angry at, letting him know what you just became clear about, but doing so respectfully.

Now stay on top of it. For example, if your child is in the habit of ignoring you, have a face to face with her and let her know that you see how much anger you have been carrying around about this issue. Let her know that if she ignores you again you will give her one reminder, and after that a consequence. Decide on the consequence now, even doing it together. This way, there will be no surprises and no unrealistic threats.

Then, next time your child ignores you ( and she will -- children test ) give one reminder and then GIVE THE CONSEQUENCE. If you neglect to follow through, you will reinforce the negative behavior.

Being willing to leave old patterns behind means changing your behavior so your children can change theirs -- hard work, but well worth the effort.

Action Steps For Parents and Kids

1. Have a family meeting and talk honestly about things that have been making you angry. Be direct yet respectful and speak in I messages.

2. Tell your children about the three steps to a new bridge:

Awareness - observing ones own reactions instead of lashing out.

Choice - choosing a response rather than just reacting.

Willingness to Change - giving up the payoff we get from dumping our anger on another person in exchange for having more peaceful relationships.

3. Make a commitment as a family to walk the bridge together.

4. Celebrate in some special way if you do this for a week or two. Then recommit for another few weeks -- incremental steps across the bridge to a more peaceful family


Hope and Healing/Peaceful Parenting Events:

Feb. 8 - 10:00 a.m. Creating Peace, Hope, and Healing. Workshop and signing. Saraswati Yoga School, New Hope, Pa. Call 215-862-4520 for details.

Feb. 11 - St Paul, Minnesota. ALERT Peace Educators Conference, Talk and signing. 4:30-7:30 p.m.

Feb. 12- 1:00 - 5:00. Minneapolis, Minnesota Peace Educators Conference. Peacemaking Workshop. E-mail for location and details.

Feb. 13 - 11:00 - 2:30 Talk (books available for signing) The Annual Nobel Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg College (Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 554540). E-mail for details.

Feb. 13 - 7:00. Book Signing - The Red Balloon Bookstore, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Call 651-224-8320 for details.

Feb. 19 - Highland Park, NJ. Peaceful Parenting workshop and signing sponsored by Highland Park PTO. e-mail for details.

Feb. 23 - 10:30 pm. Creating Peace, Hope, and Healing workshop and signing. Brothers of Israel synagogue, Trenton, New Jersey. Contact for details.

Feb. 27 - Camden County College. 9:45 - Keynote speech to Camden County peer mediators and advisors.

If your organization or school would like to schedule a workshop or speaking engagement, you can reach Naomi at

Naomi Drew is the author of four books, all available through
Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids (Kensington Publishers)
Learning the Skills of Peacemaking (Jalmar Press)
The Peaceful Classroom in Action (Jalmar Press)
Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World will be released in September of 2002 (Kensington Publishers)

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Copyright 2002, Naomi Drew, All Rights Reserved.
This content may be forwarded in full, with copyright/contact/creation information intact,without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profit format. If any other use is desired, permission in writing from the author is required.

Love and Peace to All of You.


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