Susan North Points Young Ones to Light and Peace

Silver Lake Resident, Parent Educator and Mediator Susan North spent a week as an Author in Residence. North teaches wisdom she wished she'd had as a parent. She shares methods she's developed combining her skills as a mediator and experience in educating children and adults.

For those in the area surrounding Silver Lake in Los Angeles, she comes in person to share her secrets. And for all, she's codified her systems in her book, The Opposite of COMBAT. Originally written for parenting of siblings, readers are finding the content useful in other circumstances. As Susan taught the students in Maryland, disagreements as large as international disputes resemble our early differences on the play yard. 

Here's Susan's own highlights of her week in residence in Maryland. 

Last month, I had the pleasure of serving as Author in Residence at Barnesville School in Maryland.  In addition to working with faculty and parents, I was given the opportunity to engage in peace education with kids in a wide range of ages.  Twelve lessons packed into one week!

With the youngest kids (preschool-first grade) we talked a lot about feelings.  Some people call this “emotional literacy.”  It's great to be able to identify emotions you feel, and to recognize those feelings in other people.  This is how we learn empathy (“feeling with”.)  They were able to name so many emotions, I was really impressed!  We talked about starting a conversation, especially a difficult conversation, with “I feel”:  I feel frustrated when you knock over my blocks; I felt insulted when you said that.  And let's not forget the positive emotions:  I feel happy that you shared your cookie with me.  We sang three of Dr. King's favorite songs: Down by the Riverside, We shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine.   We learned that light can mean a lot of things: comfort and safety in the darkness of a cold  winter, love in our hearts, and also wisdom and learning, which we sometimes call “enlightenment.”

With the second, third and fourth graders, we looked at how we can communicate about feelings for maximum effect – we can be honest and  clear about how someone else makes us feel with out lashing out, insulting or accusing.  We looked at a model of a brain that we can make with our hand:

And for fun, we played “Mediator, Mediator.”  A mediator, “someone with patience who loves to untangle things,” is sent out of the room.  A circle of kids get all tangled up in a tight jumble while holding hands.  They call for the mediator, who untangles the knot.  This takes patience on all sides!

With the oldest group, the middle schoolers, we explored conflict in depth.  We looked at what happens in your brain and your body when you're feeling strong  emotions like fear and anger.  We talked about all the risks and challenges in conflict, but we also thought about the opportunities conflict can provide us if that conflict is managed well – self-reflection, building trust, strengthening friendships.

On Day 2 the middleschoolers brainstormed about conflict on three scales: the home, the community and the world stage.  They really dug deep, coming up with a broad range of conflict scenarios and themes. (Invite the whole commuity to take a look)   And then we looked at similarities in conflict across scales – small, medium and large.  It's interesting to examine how the same basic theme plays out in the home, in the community and internationally.  For example,  two siblings are fighting over the remote .  How different is that from two countries arguing over water rights to the river that divides their two countires?

On our final day, the middle schoolers ended with a brief introduction to mediation technique.  I taught them The TABMOC Protocol, which is a memory aid for mediating a dispute.  It's the opposite of COMBAT, which explains the title of my book.  They asked such great questions about mediation!

The week culminated with an all-school candle-lighting ceremony.  Each class lit a candle in honor of a great peacemeaker or an idea about peace.  We all sang “This Little Light of Mine.”  Thank you, Barnesville School, for being a place of light and peace.


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