By James O’Dea
There are two areas where peace practice is essential between children and their parents and grandparents. One is listening — something people think they know all about and they don't. The other is how your child processes his or her energy in conflict situations.
There are different kinds of listening — when they don't match, conflict arises.
Take for example, when we're being criticized, we literally shut down parts of the brain and zero in on more primitive fight or flight mechanisms. Your criticism gets drowned out by the body’s biochemical cocktail of threat. You won't be heard.
Another example is when a person is speaking to you with a desire to be understood and supported but you are listening to them as if a problem needs to be solved or a situation fixed in some way. We describe what is needed in this situation as compassionate or heart-centered listening. When listening styles don't match communication breaks down.
Or have you ever found your child is debating you and responding to everything you say as if it were a debate or argument to be won when in fact all you're trying to do is to be understood. When we listen in debate mode we are so busy processing the argument in our head that our attention gets narrowly focused on whether what the other person is saying supports or counters what we are saying.
There is a whole chapter in my book Cultivating Peace on listening precisely because it is something to be learned and practiced at a more advanced level for anyone involved in making peace at home or in the world.
The other area to watch closely and develop practice around is how you and your child or grandchild process energy in conflict situations. The goal here is to be able to process difficult energy and transform it but so often we prefer to dodge the difficulty rather than fully meeting it.
When a child meets a disappointment or experiences some form of rejection it is important to observe how they process the difficulty. Do they tend to let off steam with emotional outbursts or even tantrums? This is a style I call the energy bouncer. If this becomes the dominant energy processing style of a person they always use blame of others or aggression to deal with their problems — they literally push the energy that needs to be dealt away from themselves and towards others.
Or the exact opposite energy processing style is one I call the energy sponge. In this situation when a child responds to rejection they blame themselves — ‘must be something wrong with me’, ‘I must do better or try harder.’ When they grow up there always taking on too much until they become saturated and burn out. Sound familiar?
Where we want to go is to transform any energy that comes at us. To do this we have to learn to let the sting be painful. Allow the pain in and let it get processed. Some things are just miserable and when we stay with the misery for a little while and acknowledge it, we can begin the process of getting stronger and healing.
Listening styles and energy processing are just some of the elements that affect good communication at home and in the world. But peacemaking begins at home. I would encourage you to learn more about these things; join the next Peace Ambassador Training starting in April and pick up a copy of Cultivating Peace. www.jamesodea.com
James O’Dea is the father of three beautiful sons. He is the Lead Faculty and Co-Mentor of The Shift Network’s Peace Ambassador Training program, an advanced course that provides rare access to the leading peacebuilders from around the world. He is also currently Co-Director of The Social Healing Project funded by the Kalliopeia Foundation and former Director of Amnesty International in Washington, DC and former President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
James is the author of award-winning Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador and also Creative Stress: A Path for Evolving Souls Living Through Personal and Planetary Upheaval. To learn more about James, click here.
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This article appears in:
2014 Catalyst, Issue 5: Parenting with Presence