Children

Raising children with non-violence

“You are going to do what I tell you to do now, you get me?” Ruth Beaglehole jumps out of her chair and towers over me, all of a sudden, in the middle of our interview. With a sly grin, she takes her place again. “That doesn’t feel very good, does it?” The founder of Echo Parenting & Education, Los Angeles, was recently in Chennai to conduct a workshop by Parenting Matters, spreading her philosophy of raising children with non-violence. Edited excerpts from our chat:

What are the kinds of violence that children face due to adults?

One very common form is hitting of children by parents as punishment. Even words can be violent… Shaming them, bullying them. We talk about schoolyard bullying all the time, but we forget that even teachers can be bullies. And then there’s domestic violence that they witness at home. We keep hearing that children have to respect adults; we don’t hear enough that adults too, have to respect children.

Raising children with non-violence

How does witnessing or experiencing violence affect children?

When adults are frustrated and lash out physically, it teaches children very early on that love includes violence. Children who witness domestic violence, learn to live in fear of the world. They model themselves after their parents, and so there is a portion of children who become violent themselves. Other times, girls who saw their mothers being hit, grow up withdrawn and uncomfortable using their voice. Of course, there are also children who grow up breaking that cycle. Maybe they find an adult role model: teacher, uncle, grandparent, who helped them understand that it is their parents’ problem and not theirs.

Even in cases that aren’t this extreme, a child shouldn’t grow up fearing the world, feeling that she doesn’t matter. Because these messages get wired into the brain, and they grow up with low self-esteem. What the adults do influences what they feel and think, not just about themselves, but also about the world.

The world is not a bed of roses. Why should we shield them from that fact?

It’s a question that I get a lot. I’m going to tell you a funny story. There’s a lot of pesticides and toxins in our fruits and vegetables, right? So should I feed you a lot of pesticides when you are a baby to increase your immunity? That sounds silly, doesn’t it? We feed children healthy food, because we want their developing bodies to be healthy. The world is cruel and mean out there, but that doesn’t mean I raise children the same way. Instead, we teach them to be resilient, go through all this stress and still come out the other side feeling good about themselves. We aren’t telling children that they can get away with anything they want.

What are the non-violent ways to teach children discipline?

I always joke that at the end of my workshops, somebody is coming to put a henna tattoo on everyone’s arms, that reads ‘empathy’; it is the key tool. Parents have to be empathetic but firm in the rules they set. We have empathy mirror neurons: if I hear and receive empathy, that builds my self worth, and when I go out into the world, I am able to be empathetic to others. At the same time, I also learn not to be too harsh on myself. The other tool is effective communication. If children are upset or acting out, we need to teach them to ask what the cause is; if they need understanding, support, attention; how to ask for it, and not blame others. They need to be able to understand and give names to their feelings, and verbalise them.


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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 3:46:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/ruth-beaglehole-parent-educator-on-raising-children-with-non-violence/article25764152.ece

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