Peace isn’t a want, it’s a need.
It’s hard to say my home is peaceful — we have five kids, ages 9, 7, 4, 2, and 2 months. But 2 years ago, we made intentional changes in our parenting that have brought peaceful moments to our daily life — kids working, cooking, and playing together without the screaming, jealousy and sibling rivalry that used to plague all our time together. Changing our parenting was very hard — our unexpected switch to homeschooling really forced my husband and I to get on the same page with our parenting techniques and be very intentional about our parenting choices. But whether you homeschool or not, every family needs peaceful times together. Peace isn’t a want, it’s a need. If your family is going to stay together, love each other, and be a family, you need to teach how to live in peace. Here are the five approaches that have helped our family be more peaceful:
1. Attitude is a choice.
I say it all the time, like a broken record: “Attitude is a choice.” We teach our kids the difference between emotion and attitude. You may not be able to control your emotions or feelings inside, but you can control your attitude. Our four year-old may be consumed with jealousy that his sister got the biggest taco, but he needs to control his attitude and ask nicely to share rather than grabbing it off her plate.
When I was a brand-new physician, I learned to control my attitude the hard way. A baby I had spent several months caring for in the hospital died unexpectedly. I spent two hours with a team of health care providers doing CPR, pushing cardiac drugs, and trying to save his life. And he still died. I sat with his family and cried. By the time it was all over, I had a backlog of patients who had been waiting too long to see me. Tired and stressed, I fought back the tears and saw my next patient. While seeing my next patient I was impersonal and made a comment this family found rude. They complained to my boss about my bad attitude, and I got in trouble. I learned the hard truth — it doesn’t matter if my last patient died; I have to walk into every patient room with a smile on my face and a good attitude. Attitude is a choice, even if emotion is not.
If I don’t teach my kids attitude-control, someone else will, and not very nicely. Sometimes, as a form of discipline, my kids even have to write essays about how to choose a good attitude. It might seem harsh, but learning attitude-control is fundamental for success in any walk of life. Kids with bad attitudes struggle to make and keep friends at school. Grown-ups with bad attitudes are the first to get fired, no matter how smart, attractive, or skilled they are.
Oh, and I have to control my attitude at home, too. When I am not cheerful, my kids throw it right back at me: “Mommy, attitude is a choice!” They love to say this if I get angry, which brings me to #2…
2. Words can hurt more than spanking.
I don’t spank or hit my kids, but it took me too long to realize that I could be just as hurtful with my words. I’ve said things I could never publish in a blog post. I did it because it worked — it actually made my kids change their behavior. But behavior change that comes from hurt, physical or emotional, isn’t long term effective behavior change. As parents, we have to use kind words, even when we are frustrated and angry. Yell less, or hopefully don’t yell at all.
Instead of getting angry, label behavior. I got this from Sesame Street — there’s one scene where Cookie Monster is accused of lying about stealing cookies. Frustrated and upset, Cookie Monster says, “Me glutton, not liar.” If Sesame Street can use words like “gluttony” to label behavior, so can I. So now we use words like “jealousy,” “gluttony,” “patience,” “kindness,” “diligence,” and “charity.” It sounded weird at first, but now I love it when six-year-old tells her teasing brother, “That’s not charity!”