The day after Columbine I was asked to address a kindergarten class on the meaning of violence. I had to think about that for more than a moment.
It had to be an explanation on their level of understanding. Tactile, graphic, simple and being direct were the four components needed for their absorption of this concept.
I demonstrated to them with several knots made from jute rope how tension builds inside the body, using the stomach as an example, from a variety of incidences they could relate to (getting angry when others made fun of them, feeling jealous, being upset about not being included or being kept from doing something). One knot equaled one upsetting experience. The knots all gathered in the stomach area until there were too many and they ‘exploded’ by being thrown out violently.
Not only did the children understand the concept, but they saw that with each incident there was more tension build-up that had to be released. If it was not released with self-help skills such as deep breathing and anger control techniques that provided a pressure release valve, an explosion was eminent. They realized with a big build-up that the angry feelings took control instead of the person taking control and releasing tension a little at a time as it occurred.
It was important to also teach them that someone who does not release the tension build-up and does not explode outwardly will become sick in some way. Simply put, violence destroys whether it is turned outward or turned inward. Whether violence is projected outwardly or held inside, it is harmful. Its powerful blockage inhibits optimal human functioning and positive growth. Yes, there is a time and place for it as a tool for protection in extreme situations but that would have been too complicated for those young minds to sort out that day.
It goes without saying that if someone is intending to seriously harm or kill a family member, I would not hesitate to call upon my survival instincts that are encoded in my DNA. I know there is a right way to use violence as a tool and a wrong way. In my value system, the right way would be to have the intention that I am helping the attacker’s soul and karma by preventing her/him from causing harm to someone else. If I only act out of anger, I create a different experience for my own soul and karma than if I act out of deep compassion for all involved. It does not mean I have to like the person or the act. It means that from an objective eagle-eye view, the person/attacker is lacking love, filled with hate, suffering her/himself and trying to get rid of the ‘illness’ by lashing out to cause others to suffer, sharing her/his suffering. Violence causes harm to the attacker as well as to the attacked. Consequence and punishment are forms of forced ‘conscience training’ but may not serve to fill the gap that only love and nurturance can provide. Again, a stitch in time saves nine. It is amazing what love and nurturance can heal and prevent.
Our DNA is encoded with all human experiences. Violence is one of the programs that has been available to humans, many times a necessary one. Peace is also encoded in our DNA. Who chooses the program that will be exhibited in any given situation? DNA is not on autopilot. We have the remote control in our hands, guided by the will or motivation to choose what serves the higher purpose or takes the lower road.
Young children who are introduced to healthy choices for managing anger and developing emotional intelligence are better prepared for the demands that a stressed out world places on its inhabitants. Increase in stress related illnesses and behaviors that once belonged to adults in the 1970’s are now commonly found in children under the age of five. Ulcers, migraines, eating disorders, behavioral disorders, sleep disorders, depression……..the list goes on and there is no inoculation. There is only prevention through education.
Kicking, biting, spitting, yelling and a huge menagerie of other behaviors are symptoms. Violence first appears as a thought and then grows into words, actions or both. Young children often test behaviors to see how the environment responds to their newfound abilities. As children grow older, these symptoms become power tools that manipulate, inappropriately express and release, and harm. When young children learn that they are harming themselves in addition to harming someone else, their world expands through new awareness and choices. In turn, they experiment with the new choices and learn for themselves which choice does, indeed, feel better and serve their short and long term best interests.
The following are some questions and techniques that can be utilized with young children to help them curb violent tendencies and learn healthier ways to respond in tense situations.
- Where do you feel tense inside? What caused that tense knotted feeling? Keep some tied knots around to get tactile with the conversation. You can even ask how many knots are inside. Be sure to specify child choosing a body part.
- Does it feel good to keep that feeling inside?
- When you (state behavior such as kick, hit, etc.) it hurts the other person and does not help you to feel good about yourself or how you feel inside your body. It hurts the other person AND you. Let’s talk about your feelings and find another way to get out the tense knots.
- If someone kicked you, what would be a good choice that you could make?
(Get an adult to help. Tell the person to stop. Ask, “Why are you hurting me?”)
- Do you have some ideas about how to get out the tense angry feelings so that you don’t hurt anyone or yourself in any way? (Blow bubbles and stomp on them, hammer on a peg board, color feelings on paper and talk about it, hit a pillow, take some slow deep breaths and blow them out with the angry feelings inside them, talk about your feelings and where you feel the angry tension inside, etc.)
- Role model. Talk about your angry feelings, where you feel them inside and how you are getting out the tension so that you don’t harm yourself or anyone else.
- Create a language system that fits into your family that includes talking about tension release. Talk about the knots of tension as daily activities unfold or when a child returns from playing or being at preschool.
- Count slowly, deeply while inhaling,1,2,3,4,5, hold breath for three seconds, 1,2,3, then exhale, 1,2,3,4,5. Demonstrate this, then ask child to participate while you count. If child is old enough to count, ask child to count for you while you breathe deeply. Talk about how the tension goes away and unties the knots when we breathe deeply and slowly.
- Help children to know that they can breathe deeply and slowly to get rid of the knotted tension before they decide how to respond to something that irritates them. Again, demonstrate. Role modeling is the most powerful form of teaching children skill building behaviors.
How utterly fortunate we would all be if violence wasn’t rampant and all children were given the opportunity to learn how to communicate clearly, identify feelings and body tension, and be encouraged when they exhibit peace keeping skills. Such short, easy exchanges with children pay off in a huge way. They develop self-respect and mutual respect, gain confidence by using self-help skills and are excited to see what they can do to help create a future on earth to look forward to. Imagine early education giving a foundation in self-help and self-control skills that is so entertaining children find the training irresistible. That would be some world, wouldn’t it! And that stitch in time would save way more than nine!
Here is the center stage question: What can we do right now to begin making a ripple that creates a tidal wave to get these skills established as one of the basics? Begin with any child you have contact with. Talk to children about their feelings, where they feel anger and stressed out feelings in their bodies. Share your experience with anger and other emotions. Talk to them about options of how to handle that tension that won’t get them into trouble and will help them to feel good. Speak to teachers, administrators, other parents and politicians about the importance of relaxation calming skills and other self-help skills as BASIC ESSENTIALS in education for functioning healthily in today’s world.
Let children know that violence is not acceptable unless their life is threatened. Speaking up, getting help, talking about feelings, breathing deeply, using self-help tension release techniques and communication skills are all acceptable. They must know that violence has devastating consequences whether it explodes out of someone or stays stuck inside a person and causes a serious illness.
Countless humans are wounded from violent words but those scars are not readily seen on the physical body and sometimes difficult to detect in one’s behavior. Countless humans are scarred from physical violence. Unnecessary violence is an abuse of power. It is also a culprit that limits children from becoming excellent problem solvers. Their creative intelligence gets short-changed as the animal nature bypasses I.Q. and smashes a growthful opportunity to bits. What’s more, if Einstein used only 15 percent of his brain, humans who choose violence when there is a healthy choice in solving the problem are operating at a severe deficiency in I.Q. expression.
We want change on the planet right now. The transition time for saving the planet is upon us. Projecting real ways to help turn the tide in our favor is absolutely essential. We want more control in this process with positive outcome. Even though there are no guarantees, time and history have proven that if you invest in prevention, you save the day, the future and avoid the waste of mistakes that set progress back ninety steps. The forward movement is obvious. Children are more important for the sake of this transition’s success and the outcome of a positive future than any other factor. We need them. In order to harness their help, we must give them what they need to use their own resources and tap as much of their brain power, emotional intelligence power, heart power and soul power that is humanly possible.
Experiment. Be open. Just for ten seconds imagine that children are empowered through their own internal resources and help us create the future that we would all want to sink our teeth into for the benefit of the planet and its inhabitants. Just because we have screwed up in the past does not mean we are destined to do it again. Negative thoughts and images will keep us bound, however, to just that. We act on what we THINK or IMAGINE is possible.
What I see is an incredible set-up for the younger generations to become healthily empowered with gratitude for life, the ability to practice the higher values professed and recommended by all major religions and spiritual philosophies (the good ones say the same things in different words). Imagine effervescent enthusiasm about what is possible for our humanness as we develop a greater percentage of our brain’s capacity and heart compassion, and the comradery of hunkering down together across the generational span to make it happen, one step at a time. It is so enlivening to think and feel this kind of vision that can be realized if we believe it, value it and act on it.
Idealistic? Yes! Realistic? Yes! If we can project an ugly doom-filled future, we can certainly balance it out with some utopia. I’m smart enough to know that we’ll still be human, have our lessons to learn, create bad and good karma and know what pain and suffering in an ideal world. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are all smart enough on this planet not to throw a good thing away. Earth is waiting. So are the children.
Vote green. See the whole person inside that little body playing in the sand box, be honest, fun and positive about our grand home, Planet Earth, when spending time around young ones. Let them know that violence is not a good option. Do let them know that you KNOW there are lots of ways to solve problems without violence. And then tell them a story about your life and how you managed a difficult situation without being violent. We are all teachers. We are all healers. Let children know you are learning from them.
Let’s empower each other and the children. Loving, nurturing, listening, sharing, role modeling, having fun, being honest………..it’s all free! What a great life coupon to cash in on!