[Moore, T. 2003. Creating a Peaceful Place. In Children and Families, 17 (Winter): 12, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]
Every time we read the newspaper, watch television, or listen to the radio, we are reminded that the world is unsettled right now. Children are also aware of this. They may not grasp the details, but young children pick up underlying currents in our society. Perhaps they aren’t able to say they are afraid of war, terrorism, or the other scary things that are at the forefront of today’s news, but they are able to sense if the adults around them are anxious or fearful. In many Head Start families, it’s possible that parents and siblings might soon be going to war, if they haven’t gone already. Children need a secure environment. Both children and adults help create that atmosphere by acting in a pleasant, peaceful way towards others. Through games, activities, and our own actions, we can help children learn that there are rules for settling differences of disagreements and that fighting or hitting is not appropriate. Help children cope and encourage harmony in class with these tips:
1. Talk about sharing. Explain that when a child doesn’t share, his friend might feel hurt, sad, or angry. Talk about all the ways we can be peaceful: sharing, doing something kind, cooperating, being polite.
2. Create a serene setting. To help avoid confrontations, make sure your have an adequate number and assortment of toys.
3. Practice sharing in class. Just as a pianist learns to play by practicing scales, children understand how to share once they’ve tried it many times. To practice sharing, bring in a special item and ask the children to take turns using it.
4. See it; then do it. Ask children to bring in pictures from magazines of photos of relatives doing something kind. Create a kindness collage with all the pictures.
5. No one’s a loser. If your center plays competitive games such as races, make the experience positive for everyone. Talk about the value of participating compared to winning. Pay attention to how the children in your class respond to games. You might be surprised by what they can and cannot handle. I’ve seen certain children play my game “Rock ’n Roll Patty-Cake” and end up hitting each other in their excitement.
6. To calm a child who is consistently aggressive, position a teacher of teacher assistant close to that child during active play. This enables the teacher to quickly intervene if the play becomes too rough.
7. Discuss what you’re doing with parents. Encourage them to monitor what their children see, including wrestling and violent sports competitions. Don’t put parents down for their decisions, but let them know that as children act out the violence they’ve seen on television or elsewhere, they disrupt classroom activities. (If you shoe cartoons in class as a treat, view them yourself first. Many cartoons – even beloved Bugs Bunny – often show characters hurting each other.)
8. Deal with conflicting values. If you learn that hitting or spanking is allowed in a child’s home, simply tell the child, “We don’t hit here.” What if a parent encourages his child to hit back or stick up for himself in a fight? Let the parent know that violent responses are inappropriate for the classroom. Ask your parent coordinator or social services professional to speak with the parent if needed.
9. Model peaceful behavior. Avoid gossiping or complaining about others in front of children. Children are watching and listening – and learning!
10. Read stories about characters who learn to share and get along. Children enjoy hearing about friendships and love. These stories will help offset the fear that’s present in many communities.
© Thomas Moore, 2003 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.