Peace is necessary for learning. Abraham Maslow, who studied learning and human development in the 1930's and 1940's, in his work on the "hierarchy of needs," said that learning just isn't going to happen until some other things happen.
First level, humans need food, water, air and sleep. Without those, they just can't concern themselves with anything else.
The second level of human needs, according to Maslow, is safety and security. If they don't feel safe and trusting, they can't concern themselves with other things.
Third level is the need for love and belonging—friends, supportive family, some kind of feeling of being part of a social unit.
So for learning to happen in ANY situation, safety and some peace are required.
Can there be too much peace? For learning, yes. Learning requires mental arousal. If an environment is so still and barren that one's curiosity isn't sparked, then people might be closer to a state of sleep than of excited curiosity. Life can be too dull and quiet for learning to spontaneously happen.
Can there be too little peace? Yes, and in many ways. There can be too much noise, stimulation and chaos. So finding the balance place and the comfort level is part of creating a peaceful home.
Peace is a prerequisite to natural, curious, intellectual exploration.
What is peace, then, in a home with children? Contentment is peace.
Is a child happy to be where he is? That is a kind of peace. If he wakes up disappointed, that is not peace, no matter how quiet the house is or how clean and "feng shuid" his room is.
Peace, like learning, is largely internal.
Mother Teresa could have found a more peaceful place than Calcutta, but she was helping people find peace in non-peaceful surroundings.
Back to Maslow for just a minute, though—if my focus is helping my children learn, Maslow's ideas can help. If a hungry child can't learn, I should feed him. He can learn better. If a child can't learn if he's thirsty, I need to make sure there's always water or juice or something for him to drink. If a child needs to feel safe, he won't learn by someone yelling, "Learn now, or I'll hit you."
Children's needs must be met for natural learning to blossom. Part of that learning can be learning about how to keep their own needs fulfilled. Helping children consider whether they're comfortable, hungry, thirsty, sleepy or restless helps them be whole and healthy people.
To have peace in your house, be more peaceful.
In English there's a phrase, an idiom, a lump of words: "peace and quiet." People speak wistfully of "peace and quiet" as though one requires the other, but I haven't found that to be true in practice.
Is quiet always peace? I can think of lots of times of holding my breath to be quiet, out of fear. I've seen families where people passed through the house quietly, out of habitual fear and avoidance. Some quiet can be very scary and dangerous. Some families live in fear and quiet, not peace and quiet. Quiet fear is not peace at all!
Some parents wear their compassion on the outside and say we need peace in the whole world first. That's a little like saying the ocean should be drained before we take the water out of the basement. Does every war have to stop before we can stop hitting our kids? Does every bit of urban violence need to end before we can stop yelling at our kids? Do lions have to stop eating gazelles before we stop harassing our kids? To think in those terms is to justify our own lack of peace. It seems to me that a child who has known strife at home won't blink at it outside.
The more local and personal peace there is, the more peace there will be in the world. That doesn’t mean that if Holly's sleeping quietly there will be less violence in the Sudan, but it does mean that there is more peace in the world. And it means that when she's grown, she will be more unhappy to see or hear of neglect and abuse than she would be if she herself had been neglected and abused and thought it was normal.
If we raise the level of peace our children expect, they will know what peace feels like.
Adults need to know what peace feels like too, though, and some feel it for the first time when they really start to understand unschooling.
What Progress Looks Like
How did I come to make progress on peace in my own life? After I was grown and married, friends persuaded me to attend meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics, an al-Anon group, which involved itself with healing the inner child. From them, I learned ideas like
HALT (hungry? angry? lonely? tired?)During the time I was active in those meetings, I had Kirby, and then Marty.
"How Important Is it?"
"If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you're pissing all over today" (an indelicate but memorable way of saying "live now" and "pay attention to today").
When Kirby was a baby, I started going to La Leche League meetings. I wish I had gone before he was born. From LLL, I learned that a mother and baby should be partners, not adversaries. I read, heard about and saw attachment parenting, child-led weaning and separation from babies when the babies indicate a desire to get down and go.
From my teen years, I had learned meditation and breathing exercises and knew how to calm and center myself quickly. More than that, though, I knew what it felt like to be calm.
How might others make progress now? Inner child work was common when I was a new mother, but now cognitive therapy tends to replace that. If we avoid thoughts that are negative or non-productive or illogical, we move toward a better, lighter place. People can work on thinking and on being.
How will you be, as a parent, and why? What's keeping you from being the way you want to be?
Inventory your own tools. What do you already know that can make you a more peaceful parent? What tricks and skills can you bring into your relationships with members of your family?
Below are several things can help you move toward peace, and each will help the others develop: breathing, understanding, choices, awareness and principles.
There are physiological and emotional advantages of breathing. One way to learn this is with meditation. The "meditation" most think of in this country came from Hindu practices. The Buddhist style meditation is referred to often as "breathing" or "sitting." Christian meditation is sitting or kneeling or walking. It involves contemplation while the Eastern versions involve trying to avoid contemplation in favor of blankness.
Moms with little children cannot easily do these things.
Other ways to work on breath and breathing might be yoga, maybe running, bicycling, walks or swimming laps.
Moms with little children cannot easily do these things.
What those moms can do is find other things involving breathing and rhythm. They can sing, walk, rock or bounce babies, go to the park and push a swing. How and why they do those things will make a difference. If they're done sweetly and patiently and mindfully, both mother and child will benefit. Done merrily and generously, they will create peace.
Peace is not an element "that can neither be created nor destroyed." Peace is entirely a condition and a mood. It's very, very fragile. It has to be created and maintained and protected.
Counting to ten only works if you're breathing slowly and deeply and looking at (or thinking of) the sky or something else airy and big and peaceful. The purpose of counting to ten is to let the adrenaline pass and to think of some good options from which you can choose. If you count to ten holding your breath, holding your frustration, with a roaring anger in your ears, the adrenaline isn't dissipating—it's just being focused into a beam of extraordinarily dangerous power.
While you're breathing, you might want to think, "I love these people," or "whatever I say could last forever." Think of what you want to be and what you want to create. See what you want, and what you don't want.
Nothing has ever made me feel better about me than the feeling that I was being a good mom.
If you work on understanding what you want, you will have more peace within yourself. Understanding takes inquiry, observation, reading and a lot of thought. These will help to understand yourself as well as you can too, but that can come gradually. Online unschooling sites and discussions are excellent opportunities to increase one's understanding of natural learning and peaceful parenting.
Unless you considered two or three courses of action, you didn't really make a choice at all. Consciously think of two choices before you act—then make the better choice. Your range of choices will get better as you do this. While you're helping your child learn to choose, you can also learn to choose.
Look directly at your child. Practice watching your child without expectations. Try to see what he is really doing, rather than seeing what he’s NOT doing. Just look.
Smell your child's hair. They say dogs can smell fear, but moms can smell love, or something, when they smell the top of a young child's head. Something biochemical happens, and something intellectual can happen.
BE AWARE of who this child is and of your potential to help or to harm.
What is the opposite of peace here? Lack of awareness. In cases of violent crime or crazed fit what do people often cite? "I was unaware; I forgot where I was; I didn't think…" If you can choose to be more aware over less aware, that will help.
One aspect of awareness is working on your ability to be quietly alert, like a mother hawk, aware of the location of your child, her mood and your surroundings.
So what's the "rule" about peace?
There's not a rule about peace.
There will never be perfect peace. We can't even define "peace."
There can be a closer approximation to ideal peace. People can come nearer to the way they would like to be, but only incrementally, choice by choice.
If you want to live peacefully, make the more peaceful choice.
Peace is all about choices.
Choose to breathe consciously sometimes.
Choose understanding over ignoring and ignorance.
Choose to make choices.
Choose awareness over oblivion, when you can.
Make choices based on your principles.
To have peace in your house, be more peaceful.
Dodd is the mostly-peaceful mother of primarily-peaceful children, in a
generally peaceful home in Albuquerque. Her dog is at peace with her
cats. Sandra once taught Jr. High English, in a long-ago age, but met
Keith Dodd and they lived happily ever after (so far so good).
There is a sound file of a 2006 presentation of "Big Noisy Peace" below.
"A Loud Peaceful Home" first appeared in Issue 2 of Connections: ezine of unschooling & mindful parenting (now defunct), and later was published in the online VHLN Newsletter, of Victoria, British Columbia, in March 2008.
Some things that help me stay 'in the moment' are looking into my kids' eyes, smiling, fixing a snack for us to share together, playing games like Mario Kart (it's awfully hard to wander off in thoughts about the scene you're writing when you're dodging banana peels and bombs) or Munchkin or Scrabble, singing, reading together, watching movies, looking at family photos together.
When I'm playing with one of the younger ones—cars or Lego or dolls, say—and I find my thoughts starting to drift away, often I'll remember something Sandra wrote about smelling your child's hair. It's on the peace page and the context is about staying calm and peaceful, but it applies to being mindful and present, too:"Smell your child's hair. They say dogs can smell fear, but moms can smell love, or something, when they smell the top of a young child's head. Something biochemical happens, and something intellectual can happen."It's true! The biochemical thing—that flood of sensory awareness—can trigger an intellectual response, a choice, a decision to put other thoughts (whether they are bad ones or good ones) aside at this moment and listen to and smile at this amazing person you are with right now, this minute. And then, afterward, you have something new and nice and happy to think about.
I was speaking at The Hotel Albuquerque, in Old Town, at the Live and Learn conference.
The sound file mentioned at the beginning of the one above is here: Peaceful Parenting