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
|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
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
- Promote babywearing,
- Recommend that parents avoid
unnecessary baby gear, which can interfere with the
- 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
- Support educational
alternatives such as unschooling and democratic
schools, which nurture the child's natural love of
- 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 being
- 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
|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
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
1 Excerpted from "How
Do We Prevent Crime?" by Dr. Elliott Barker
2 See "The
Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society" by
3 See parenting research at
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
Article version 2.3, copyright 2014 Jan and Jason Hunt.
Published by The Natural Child Project at naturalchild.org.
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