ORTHODOXY TODAY SMART PARENTING: RAISING CHILDREN DISPOSED TO PEACE
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. (Jn 14:27)
Even a casual acquaintance with news reports demonstrate the ubiquitous use of violence to solve problems on a worldwide level. Violence, the opposite of peace, has reached down to our children, who post beatings of their peers on social networking sites. They boast and gloat over the ferocity and fierceness of their behavior.The prophet Isaiah (32: 17) foretold: "And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever." To underscore the importance of peace, Isaiah tells us that it will be ushered in by the one to come: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Is 9: 6). This Prince of Peace is Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Peace was not meant to be given only to Himself. It was meant to be able to be shared by all mankind. The peace given to the Apostles and subsequently to all the Church by Jesus during the Last Supper is one of the most important gifts He has given us. In fact as St. Paul tells us it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness..." (Gal 5: 22). St. Basil (2001) tells us what this means:
Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to Paradise, our ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven, our adoption as God's sons, our freedom to call God our own Father, our becoming partakers of the grace of Christ , being called children of light, sharing in eternal glory and, in a word, our inheritance of the fullness of blessings, both in this world and the world to come.
The introductory blessing of the Divine Liturgy -"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, always now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen,"- announces tht we ere in the Kingdom of God. It seems then no accident that the first petition of the deacon or priest on behalf of the assembly is "In peace let us pray to the Lord."
Be in the world but not of it
Let us meditate on the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: "For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds." (2Cor 10: 3-4). The weapon of our worldly warfare should be sought in peaceful resolution of conflict.
The spiritual root of violence
The spiritual root of violence is the passion of pride. (Morelli, 2011) St. Hesychios the Priest writes on what engenders the world's evils: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city [and] . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God." Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High." St. Maximus the Confessor makes specific the contrast between the peace of Christ versus the passion of pride which leads to destruction. St. Maximus understands it as the afflicted person has the right to have exert control over others to obtain worldly objects.
...Christ, [is] the conqueror of the world of the passions and the source of all peace. He who has not severed his attachment to material things will always experience affliction, since his state of mind depends on things that are naturally changeable, so it alters when they do [which leads to what is] corrupting and destructive. (Philokalia II p. 162).
Cognitive-Behavioral root of violence
In a previous paper (Morelli, 2005) I wrote about the cognitive-behavioral cause of violence, that is to say: anger, calling it a "beast."
Contemporary research psychology has helped in specifying the cognitive structure activating and supporting anger. Besides aiding in helping to unravel the cognitive antecedents of anger comes about, this research also helps us to employ psychological techniques that can aid in overcoming and preventing anger and its behavioral consequence: violence. The cognitive-behavioral model of emotional dysfunction (Beck, Shaw & Emery, 1979; Ellis, 1962) has been shown to be effective in this regard. In Morelli 2005b I wrote:
Beck points out the theme of anger is "significant intrusion." We feel some one has intruded on us or on someone or something we love and possesses that we consider to be an extension of ourselves. According to this model, emotions such as anger are produced by distorted or irrational beliefs, attitudes and cognitions. Situations (something that someone has said or done or events that have happened) do not produce or cause our upset.
We upset ourselves over people and events, by our "interpretations" of them, thereby making ourselves dysfunctionally angry, anxious or depressed or simply functionally annoyed, concerned and disappointed. If our thinking is clear, rational and non-distorted we have normal feelings like: bearable nuisances, caring and livable letdowns. If our "interpretations" are irrational or distorted we get enraged, intensely worried and despondent. Ellis has long pointed out that emotions such as anger add to our problems like in a 'domino effect.' Originally we have a problem, the "Activating Event." Our angry emotional response is a new problem added to the original, which in turn is linked to other dysfunctional outcomes, etc.
A list of the cognitive distortions provoking the dysfunctional emotion of anger and it's often violent behavioral effects is discussed in Morelli, 2005. These irrational beliefs can be summarized by two cognitive errors:
Demanding Expectations, the belief that others must or should be what they want them to be. For example, a child may have a belief that other children should do what they say. They may also believe they have the "right" to have first dibs on all toys that are being played with.
Over-evaluation, the perception that something is more than 100% bad, terrible or awful. In the example above, the child may think it is the 'end of the world' if they do not 'get their way".
In intervention the child's level of cognitive development must be considered (Morelli, 2011b, Piaget 1970). Piaget has provided a working model of the stages of development.
Sensory-motor stage: ages birth to about 18-24 months. Functions and interacts with stimuli in the immediate present; has no plans or intention or internal (imagery-symbolic) representation of reality.
Preoperational stage: ages 2-7. Internal representation (imagery-symbols) begins; pretend play predominates; Motor skills continue development; Egocentrism begins (the child assumes others sees the world the way they do) Children cannot conserve**i** or use logical thinking.
Concrete operational stage: from ages 7 to 12 children begin to think logically but are very concrete in their thinking. Children can now conserve and think logically but only with practical aids. They are no longer egocentric, they begin being able to see the world the way others perceive it.
Formal operational stage: age 12 onwards (development of abstract reasoning). Children develop abstract thought and can easily conserve and think.
Using these stages I have shaped specific techniques teaching a child cooperative behavior. For children in the late Sensory-motor and early Preoperational stages I have found a 'I give you-give back to me game' quite useful. The game is simple. We give different toys back and forth to one other. Children appear to learn that if they give something away, they will get it back again. We repeat this game during these years with different toys. They do not develop a sense of permanent loss of the object (toys). My appraisal suggests they are developing a sense of rudimentary trust on an emotional level. This is a specific way of peacefully interacting with others in game play.
As the child enters the Concrete operational stage, and certainly the Formal operational stage, the parent can verbalize the value and goal of sharing and cooperation and its relation to peaceful resolution. Children can be prompted to make up sharing agreements for toys, games, and video play. Role modeling scripts can be practiced. Initially, the parent may have to model such cooperative dialogue with the child. "Ok, lets take turns, you choose the first game and I'll choose the second game." etc. I have found it imperative that this technique be incorporated with behavioral consequences. (Morelli, 2005, 2006). If the children cannot find a peaceful resolution, by cooperative agreement, they are told that everyone involved will loose the use of the activity until the next day (a negative punishment technique for inappropriate behavior). The next day they will have an opportunity to work out a plan to peacefully 'share' what they were doing without fighting.
As children grow into the late Concrete operational stage and onward, parents can link the concepts of cooperation and peace to specific situations that exist in the child's life outside the home, such as problems at school, extra-curricular activities as well as helping the child to relate such solutions to local, national and world events. Links to Christ's teachings should be prompted in this endeavor. For example, a child might be asked how a 'belligerent' response to disagreement or conflict squares with Jesus actions during His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane:
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.”…And those that had laid hold of Jesus led Him away… (Mt 26: 47-56)
The spiritual dimension of peace and personal behavior can be expanded with late pre-teens and adolescents. Dealing with disagreements can be discussed in terms of St. Paul's instruction to the Ephesians (4:31):
Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God as forgiven you in Christ.
Discussion then can be extended to all being made in God's image and baptized into Christ's body, the Church. To actualize the image of God in us we have to respond to God's grace to be like Him; to find in ourselves those imperfections that are barriers preventing us from being "like God"; that prevent us from peacefully relating to one another. In keeping with St. Paul's words, our emotions, such as anger and fighting, are just such an imperfection or barrier.
The Domestic Church: a haven of peace
It is critical that peaceful resolution of disagreement and conflict be modeled by the parents, the leaders of the 'little church in the home' themselves. The home can come to be seen as a 'haven of peace,' so to speak. Parents can help the child to cognitively encode the conflict resolution script by pointing out to the child that the parents follow the same process in peacefully resolving disagreements with each other.
"You know Johnny, Mom and Dad don't always agree. Do you remember how we both wanted to go to two different places for vacation last year?" How did we decide where to go?” Hopefully the child will recall the peaceful compromise: one year one place, the next year another alternatively splitting the vacation in two...etc. I always point out that acquiring the spirit of peace is more important than any material object or activity. This should be the Christ value system. Peace should describe the domestic church and all who make it up.
Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls will be saved around you
St. Maximus the Confessor
St. Basil the Great. (2001). On the Holy Spirit. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
Morelli, G. (2005, September 17). Smart Parenting Part I. http://www.orthodoxytoday... .
Morelli, G. (2005, October 14). The Beast of Anger. http://www.orthodoxytoday... .
Morelli, G. (2006, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II. http://www.orthodoxytoday... .
Morelli, G. (2011, April 08). Pride is the root of all vice. http://www.orthodoxytoday... .
Morelli, G. (2011b, May 01). Smart Parenting XX: The theology and practice of love made simple. http://www.orthodoxytoday... 
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds). (1979). The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (eds.) (1981). The Philokalia: The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol. 2). London: Faber and Faber.
Piaget, J. (1970). Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. NY: Orion.
**I** The mental construct that objects remain the same in fundamental ways, such as form, number and weight, even though there are external change in shape or arrangement.
Archpriest George Morelli, Ph.D.
Chairman, Dept. of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York
2579 Luciernaga St.
La Costa, CA 92009