Parenting for peace

The arts have long been proven to help children develop aesthetic, cultural and moral values — as well as a better self-understanding and a connection to their souls.

by Betsy Chasse — 

How can we expect our children to grow up and create the kind of peaceful world we would like them to live in if we do not give them both the vision and the skills to do it? We have been raising generations of children to become good consumers and better workers, but they are turning out to be consumers and workers without spirit or soul.

There is a great and appropriate push to make our children better educated; however, most public school students spend time focusing on passing their state tests and meeting the “No Child Left Behind” monocultural educational standards, while funding for music, art, theater and other creative classes has been mostly wiped out. Yet the arts have long been proven to help children develop aesthetic, cultural and moral values — as well as a better self-understanding and a connection to their souls.

The arts even provide context and a deeper understanding for the very scholastic subjects we are concerned about our children passing today, such as language and mathematics. Unfortunately, public education seems more interested in getting kids through the system than making sure our children actually learn and grow emotionally. But we cannot place the blame solely on the system itself, for we have been participants in creating that system.

Many groups and organizations are working to bring art and cultural programs back into schools, but without governmental support and backing from the parents themselves, it really is just a stop-gap measure. Now, more than ever before, we must ask ourselves what we can do to support our children in their emotional and spiritual growth to help them become leaders who can create a future they deserve.

We also need to question whether the education we seek for our children is really for them or whether, perhaps, it is really for ourselves, first. “Mention parenting or early childhood education and people naturally think about children,” says Michael Mendizza, co-author of Magical Parent, Magical Child with Joseph Chilton Pearce. “Children don’t need early childhood education. Parenting is about adults. We hear the words ‘parenting is about adults,’ nod our heads up and down, but deep down we know it is really about kids. This prejudice is blinding.”

As adults, we may be blind to the obvious, but our children are not. Values are learned by experience and by what children see, not only in their homes but in the world where they live. All one has to do is turn on the nightly news to see that the “grown-ups” aren’t getting it, either culturally or morally.

So what are our children to do? Without a real commitment to shift our values, how can we teach our children? And without a shift, how will real and necessary change occur? “We want our kids to be happy, successful, secure, productive participants in the social web called life,” says Mendizza, “In order to develop these qualities in children, we have to experience and express them ourselves. We need to model all the great things we want for our children. That means we must be healthy, sane, intelligent, creative, happy, successful, secure, productive, engaged participants in the social web called life.”

More importantly, we need to develop our inner strength and values and then teach our children perspectives and attitudes that will enable them to get along with others, resolve conflict without wars and be cooperative members of a global society. We need to practice this and by example, teach our children “The Four Cs” — consciousness, caring, compassion and conflict resolution. Not to mention respect for self and others, kindness and service.

This is a meaningful change of emphasis with regard to parenting, and in complete alignment with Pearce’s basic points about effective early childhood education — understanding the model imperative, taking your cues from the child and playing on the surface, and allowing optimal learning to take place beneath the level of our awareness. Studies indicate that 95 percent of what a child learns occurs via direct experience. The rest is picked up from school. So who are their greatest models? Whom do they idolize and desire to emulate most? Mom and Dad.

When you stop to think about it, Pearce’s three basic points are all about modeling. First we must understand the critical need for providing an enlightened model for our children. Then, we should take our cues from them as to how and what they are asking us to model. And finally, we must remember to model via play, which is the child’s — and actually the adult’s — optimal state for lifelong learning and performance.

Various programs are cropping up to help parents determine which healthy attitudes and actions to model, and to learn how to best model them. In addition to the Waldorf Schools and Montessori programs, community projects like Mendizza’s The Nurturing Project revolutionize the way local communities mentor and support parents and the people who care for children.

The Nurturing Project embodies Pearce’s “model imperative.” It helps parents and childcare providers recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy modeling; teaches them how to interact with children by developing listening and communication skills; provides guidelines about reducing stress and conflict; and teaches how to develop critical and creative thinking skills. Mentors in business, health services and childcare teach through direct experience and modeling.

What does this mean for you and your child? Mahatma Gandhi really did have it right when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Every parent has a story about a time when their child copied a behavior they wished they had not modeled. We are not perfect, and we never will be. But if we can strive to live together with respect as healthy, engaged participants in the “social web called life,” we can achieve a greater consciousness for ourselves and ultimately for our children.


Betsy Chasse is a mother, author, filmmaker and owner of Elora Media, a company dedicated to creating books, music, videos and more to inspire every child’s creative mind. She is one of the three filmmakers who created the wildly successful film, What the Bleep Do We Know?

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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