Creating a Peaceful World through Parenting
Nurturing Compassion from the Beginning
by Jan and Jason Hunt
"If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we
shall have to begin with children. And if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have the
struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to
peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously
or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering." - Mahatma Gandhi
We all hunger for peace. Yet far too often this seems to be just a dream, hopelessly out of reach. Instead of
the peaceful life we all want, we have strife in our families, in our communities, and between our nations. We
lose hope of anything better, and begin to think that nothing will ever change. Our dream of peace remains
This is a hard dream to relinquish, because it began at birth. Every infant beams when there is peace in the
home, and looks perplexed and cries when there is not. To an infant, conflict is a puzzle. As infants, we not
only want everyone to get along, we expect it. We are born expecting peace. Even as adults, we are shocked and
saddened by every new story of brutality. We still believe that life can and should be peaceful. But we know
that each day, in far too many places, there will be conflict, fighting, killing, and even war. If we are all
peace lovers in our infancy, what makes us so divisive in adulthood? What goes wrong? How can it be fixed?
|We wake each morning with the hope that things will change, but every day there is another sad
and shocking story. We are all bewildered, and want to understand what went wrong. It seems to be human nature
to focus on the most recent events, not those further back in time. So we wonder what could have been done on
the days before a tragedy that might have prevented it. What last-minute interventions could have made a
difference? What could have been done differently at the scene to save lives?
|There is nothing wrong with these kinds of questions - they may help to prevent
future acts of violence from taking place. But to reduce the potential for violence in general, it may be more
constructive to look at the earliest links, not the most recent ones. While there are many factors that can lead
to violence, the best prevention is always the earliest - the one that keeps the first domino from falling.
As psychiatrist Elliott Barker wrote, "How do we go about the task of decreasing the number of
psychopaths or the amount of psychopathy in our society? To me it is the same question as 'How do we increase
the number of people in our society who have well-developed capacities for trust, for empathy, and for
Here are some possible ways we can accomplish this:
- Encourage young men and women to consider carefully their readiness
to love and nurture a child.
- Offer local maternity classes and support groups that focus on the parent-child connection, such as La Leche League meetings.
- Give parents the support they need, so they can have
time to fall in love with their baby - everything else can wait.
- Remind parents of the substantial benefits of breastfeeding
with child-led weaning.
- Educate everyone on the importance of responding to a baby's cries
quickly and compassionately.
- Encourage parents to teach their babies sign language
so they can communicate their needs and feelings before they have words.
- Inform parents of the benefits of family cosleeping.
- Promote babywearing, especially skin-to-skin.
- Recommend that parents avoid unnecessary baby gear, which can interfere
with the parent-child bond.
- Help parents learn about compassionate alternatives to punishment
to foster cooperation based on love, not fear.
- Counsel parents to give every child a voice by
listening openly and non-judgmentally to their children's communication.
- Teach communication skills to improve
relationships among all family members.
- Support educational alternatives such as unschooling and democratic
schools, which nurture the child's natural love of learning.
- Train family and marital counselors to emphasize the critical importance of treating children with dignity and respect.
- Intervene on behalf of children whose needs and feelings are not
- Campaign for children's rights at home, school, and everywhere else.
- Above all, remind parents to take their child's feelings and
needs seriously and respectfully, from day one.
Parenting choices such as babywearing, breastfeeding, cosleeping, and a comforting response to crying benefit
the child in many ways. They help to provide a capacity for empathy and emotional resilience, and prepare the
child for a lifetime of mutually respectful and trusting relationships. These practices also offer significant
benefits for the parents, as their relationship with their child will then be easier and more enjoyable.
|We all do what we think is best for our children. Unfortunately, we often receive misguided advice to use
approaches such as spanking, time-out, denial of privileges, and cry-it-out. While this advice may be
well-meant, such strategies inevitably create anger and frustration in the child, which can build up over time
and lead to aggressive behavior. They can also damage the child's self-esteem and hinder their ability to
connect with their parents or anyone else.
|Without a strong connection to someone they fully trust, a child who is abused,
bullied, angry or frustrated (at home, school, or anywhere else) can feel they have nowhere to turn for support
and understanding.2 Aggression may then become their only outlet for
communicating their feelings of anger, powerlessness, and desperation.
Adults know that the more kindly they treat a friend the more cooperative and helpful that friend will be,
because they will be motivated by love, not by fear. It's no different for a child. Parents who relate to their
children with patience and empathy model peaceful problem-solving skills that the child can use throughout their
The most constructive thing we can do to create a peaceful world is to focus on increasing the capacity for
empathy within every child. The importance of meeting a child's needs with understanding and compassion has been
recognized by psychologists and researchers for decades.3 Let's start educating
everyone about the critical importance of the early years. Focusing on those years can not only help to prevent
future tragedies, but can give our children the best possible start toward a joyful and fulfilling life.
1 Excerpted from "How Do We Prevent Crime?"
by Dr. Elliott Barker
2 See "The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in
Society" by Alice Miller
3 See parenting research at naturalchild.org
Quotation: Mohandas Gandhi, Montessori Training College, London, October 28, 1931
Jan Hunt, M.Sc. is the director of The Natural Child Project and
author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby. She offers email and phone counseling worldwide, with a
focus on compassionate parenting and natural learning. Her son Jason, a lifelong unschooler, is the co-director
and webmaster of naturalchild.org, and co-editor with Jan of The Unschooling Unmanual.
Article version 2.5, copyright 2014 Jan and Jason Hunt.
Published by The Natural Child Project at naturalchild.org.
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