Raising Peaceful Children in a Violent World
by Naomi Aldort
A ten-year old boy said to his uncle, "Did you see the plane go through that building? Wasn't it cool?" "It would have been if it was a fictional movie," replied the uncle, "but, no, it wasn't. I felt scared and sad." This boy is growing up attached and until September 11, had never watched TV. Indeed, he is a compassionate and kind person whose current interest in bombs and war is his way of releasing fear and connecting peacefully and responsibly with his emotions. He may be too scared to let himself comprehend the impact of what he saw on TV.

Although parents of young children may not see such reactions yet, the fear of raising an aggressive child exists even among the most conscientious parents. Indeed, even children in attachment parenting families often surprise us with their intense interest in cruelty and guns. A child may seem joyful or disconnected when they hurt someone, or they might express delight or curiosity in watching a scene of cruelty.

The young child has no tools to comprehend intentional cruelty and is therefore better off without exposure. Yet, by a certain age, which differs for each child, it is not only impossible to shelter a child from the world but it can be counter productive. At that time we need to escort him through the experiences and help him sort them out.

The events that unfolded on September 11, 2001 are an expression of human beings and their intense emotions. We may want to deny this fact and call it "inhuman." Yet, sadly, it is an aspect of being human which we have seen manifested.

Since September 11, the Trade Center Towers and the whole of Manhattan have been built and destroyed six times in our home. They were made from Lego's, from paper, and as a 3D puzzle. These creative acts combined with free verbal expression are the children's way of dealing with their emotions, learning to include these possibilities and to stay sane and happy.

Fear is a major part of being alive. Yet, our fears and discomfort need not get in the way of trusting a child's ability to face reality. Children can handle knowledge about human aggression when not exposed too young and when free to express themselves, to be listened to, and to feel our confidence in their choices of play. When a child shows an infatuation with guns and violence, he is not on the way to criminality; he is releasing fears about the violence he experiences around him.

Acts of violence and terror are the expressions of intense hate, anger and powerlessness. It is the result of being raised under the dominating control of adults who render the child completely helpless. A loved child who plays war games is far from that category. Psychotherapist Alice Miller believes on the basis of her extensive research that there is no criminal who was raised without experiencing violence in childhood. Yet there are people who were raised with violence who are peaceful adults. The human capacity for compassion is so great, that even a hint of validation of a child's feelings can give him the freedom and power to choose kindness.

Why would a child experience violence in a loving home? The answer has to do with our culture. We cannot hide the whole community from our children for very long. Children absorb these qualities in spite of our intent to protect them. They see us talk to each other in negating, violent ways and they experience themselves helpless in the face of greater powers every day. In addition, this culture is one of competition, which in essence means the wish for another to fail. When extreme, this wish translates to hate and creates isolation and fear. Children need safe outlets for expressing negative and even violent feelings and they need to do so without denial of the existence of cruelty. They can then make choices that represent their own compassionate nature.

Do not be surprised when your sweet boy takes to war games and guns or when your daughter kills slugs with gusto. Isolating a child is not the solution because it denies his feelings and his way of making sense of it all. Our best protection, therefore, is in providing peaceful day-to-day relationships and open communication about the complete nature of being human and its varied manifestations.

This article originally appeared in Kangaroo Kids, Volume 5, Issue 3, Winter 2001. Kangaroo Kids is published by Northwest Attachment Parenting.

Reprinted and revised with permission of the author.

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