Peacemakers in process. Fostering conflict-resolution behavior in children

MOST parents hope that somehow their children will grow up to be kind, upright, law-abiding citizens. Some even dare to hope their children will be peacemakers. There may be parents, however, who have few concrete ideas on how to go about achieving these goals. This aspect of parenting is often left to instinct. Mom and Dad hope that somehow their values will ``rub off'' on junior. So a less haphazard approach to effective parenting for peacemaking is more than welcome.

Parent educators Kathleen McGinnis and Barbara Oehlberg have made a fine contribution to this cause with their book Starting Out Right: Nurturing Young Children as Peacemakers (Meyer-Stone Books, Oak Park, Ill., 127 pp., $9.95).

In easily read pages, the authors set down basic guidelines for parents who want to foster peace in their children and in themselves.

In the opening chapter on ``Foundation Blocks,'' McGinnis and Oehlberg say that self-esteem, self-discipline, independence, and good social relationships - including the ability to share - are prerequisites to becoming a peacemaker.

Self-discipline, the authors comment, ``cannot be nurtured without choices; without choices there is only obedience.''

They emphasize that by ``coaching our children in the mastery of [the] problem-solving process, we are providing a tool for non-violent conflict resolution.

``When parents resolve problems for their child, they in effect communicate that children are not capable of solving problems, a notion that may linger well into adulthood.

``Parents can provide young children with opportunities to learn to trust their ability to solve problems by asking them questions that will permit them to `discover' an answer. Introduce to them the awareness that answers are already in their minds.''

Because of the authors' premise that children imitate the attitudes and values of their parents from early infancy, chapters begin with a list of adult strategies to encourage parents to evaluate their own attitudes and behavior toward racism, sexism, ageism, ``handicapism,'' and war and violence. Constructive ideas and a list of potential resources are included.

Next, strategies to use when working with children on these same issues are presented, with suggestions for games and activities to reinforce these ideas.

The final chapter, ``Rooted in Faith,'' gives the authors' ideas on fostering the spiritual development of children in relation to peace and justice. Parents from all religious backgrounds will find it helpful. What's needed, the authors write, are ``a sense of wonder, a spirit of joy and celebration, and an experience of a deep trust and love.''

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