Accepting Challenges, Embracing Mistakes

children need challenges, mistakes can be good,

Escalera al cielo by David Oliva

Interesting problems and exciting risks are life’s calisthenics. They stretch us in directions we need to grow. Children are particularly oriented this way. They think up huge questions and search for the answers. They face fears. They puzzle over inconsistencies in what is said and done around them. They relentlessly challenge themselves to achieve social, physical, or intellectual feats that (from a child’s perspective) seem daunting. They struggle for mastery even when dozens of attempts don’t provide them any success. It’s a testament to courage that they continue to try.

let children face challenges,

Illustration from ”Lustige Gesellschaft” by Franz, Count von Pocci

Sometimes children are accused of “looking for trouble” when they simply yearn to vanquish dragons of their own making. A child’s desire to challenge him- or herself is at times as unrelenting as physical growth.

As adults we do this in our own way. If we don’t have enticing challenges, we may develop a state of mental friction to compensate. It seems to be a very human trait to clutter up our days with trouble if we have no more engaging prospects. We worry, rehash old issues, overreact, or find complications where there may be none. As the roots of a plant become more tightly entangled once they are pot bound, an individual without the freedom to take on greater challenges often gets caught up in the same confining struggles.

challenges are necessary, life without risk, take risks,

Image by Keith Williamson

One thing we can learn from children is the way they are attracted to dilemmas that help them learn and grow. Children who are nurtured in a healthy, free range learning environment are invigorated by the challenges they seek out. They expand their own frontiers on a comfortable, self-regulating timetable. Perhaps people of all ages define themselves, in part, through the challenges they take on and the way they resolve those challenges.

Oftentimes we deprive children of normal day-to-day challenges because of our own time constraints. As adults we are often distracted and focused on moving forward. It takes considerable tolerance to keep from stepping in and doing for children what will take them much longer to do for themselves, such as solving problems, making choices, completing tasks, and accepting the consequences. But when we recognize that even these small challenges are catalysts for growth, it is easier for us to step back and let children face them as they occur. These are normal stressors. Dealing with them gives children the critical experiences that lead to self-reliance.

accept challenges, embrace mistakes,

So much about today’s “managed childhood” has developed in order to prevent young people from making mistakes. We think we know the prescription for success, but as we’ve seen, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow individuals to thrive. It also denies them the very human right to learn in the way best for them and to listen to the callings that prompt them. The “right way” to proceed in our culture usually means health, popularity, good grades, attractiveness, college degree, career, marriage, mortgage, and so on. We’ve created these societal expectations largely to cushion our youth from mistakes. But error is inevitable even if we avoid all risks. That narrow, preordained path is anathema to genuine experience. Setting rigid standards for children sends a message. It says to them that failure is the worst outcome and that our acceptance is conditional.

What we might do instead is recognize that courage is required to go one’s own way, that mistakes are inevitable, and that the outcome is authenticity. The real challenge lies in accepting each person’s possibilities. That’s how each of us proceeds when we do what we can with what we have in order to live our lives fully. The path not taken may be the journey regretted forever. That’s why we need to honor mistakes as important passages in our lives too. They help us face the next challenge with a wry smile and new determination, knowing another lesson has been learned.

Excerpt from Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything

Don’t Say It, Draw It: Non-Threatening Sketching Inspirations

Quick, draw something important to you. Try to do it in five minutes or less.

Is it an object, a person, an idea, a goal, a value, or something else entirely?

drawing to explore feelings, drawing as meditation,

Image courtesy of

Those of us who don’t draw often (or ever) may be uncomfortable taking pencil in hand to create an image. But if we draw something without criticizing, erasing, and apologizing for the result we find that the process itself pulls us out of our habitual patterns of thinking. Like a form of meditation, sketching can take us to a still point in ourselves.

We may rely heavy on the written word throughout the day but our species used images long, long before formalized symbols such as words. Images are much more primary. When we generate those images we’re going deeper, beyond the chatter and clamor of daily life.

drawing for non-artists, why we draw,

Back in college I was assigned a psychology class project. It was supposed to demonstrate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow insisted that most people are focused on basic needs, fewer are able to move up to higher level needs, and the rarest make it to what he called self-actualization.

I designed my project to be simple and get me a good grade. I also hoped that it would disprove Maslow just a bit. I had nothing against the guy, I’m just not fond of stuffing people in categories. And besides, I already I knew people whose most basic needs were barely met, but were damn close to the top of the scale. They not only cared deeply but consistently reached out to help others. Or they worked tirelessly for a greater good without ever seeking acclaim. Or they lived creatively and according to their own unique vision, inspiring others by example.

My project was easy. I asked people to make a quick sketch of something important to them. I asked college students, people on the bus, neighbors, strangers in coffee shops, college professors. Invariably they insisted they couldn’t draw. (Neither can I.) At least a third of the people I asked turned me down. Drawing is apparently pretty threatening. Or short blonde college students are, not sure which. But those who did participate created pretty interesting results. I got the expected number of humorous liquor and sex-related drawings from guys, shopping and chocolate drawings from girls. (These were hardly character-defining, after all, it was a spur-of-the-moment request.)

Many more drawings focused on subjects like family, educational goals (probably related to the preponderance of college students in my project), and activities of all kinds.

A surprising number of people drew something less tangible. Love, compassion, happiness, making a difference, God, higher consciousness. These were represented by abstract drawings or symbols.

The majority of people weren’t content to let the images speak for themselves. They also used words. They added labels, explanations, entire sentences—seeking to make their meaning clear.

Back then, I presented my project as evidence that Maslow’s hierarchy wasn’t proof positive that we’re all pedaling along on different tracks. I postulated that we operate across many levels depending on all sorts of variables. That assertion annoyed my professor, who was not amused by a student who dared question an icon in the field and who did so in a paper filled with drawings. He wrote nasty remarks all over my paper (right over the drawings I collected) even though I closed with a lovely quote by Maslow.

“The concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing.” Abraham Maslow

The range of images drawn for my college paper were very similar to those collected in a project by Catherine Young for the Schoolof Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design Program. Catherine explored how people around the world represent what makes them happy.  The response to Draw Happy  was so great that the project remains ongoing, with hundreds of participant’s drawings.




I have no beef with Maslow. But I’m still interested in what drawing does for us as whole beings. Those of us who aren’t artists might consider drawing as an unexplored avenue. Down this particular road are new ways to express ourselves, expand our creativity, and take a break from our relentless multitasking.

I harbor fantasies of indulging in illustrated journals and like to pore over an enticing selection of books on the topic but the fact is, I don’t even write in a journal. And my vows of sitting down to sketch at least once a week have never taken hold.

But there are much easier ways to spur ourselves to draw.

How can you add some non-threatening sketch time to your life?

Draw rebus pictures     Chances are you don’t write to-do lists out by hand. And most people text rather than write notes (let alone postcards). Try this. Occasionally write these things longhand using rebus pictures. You’ll inject some personality in a fun, cartoonish way. Rebus, if you don’t remember from preschool, are simple pictures used to replace words. Even a quickly rendered image is pretty easy to recognize.

Draw studies     Keep a supply of blank note cards or a tiny sketchbook for this project. You might choose to draw only saltshakers, or lamps, or shoes. DaVinci did all sorts of studies of this sort. He drew page after page of noses, bird’s wings, running water. This is a daydreamy exercise that invites you to find all sorts of nuances in your subject. You may not only become proficient in drawing saltshakers, but may notice saltshakers wherever you go.

drawing as self-discovery,

Draw the same thing repeatedly     Draw something you regularly encounter. Draw the tree in your back yard as it appears in different seasons and times of day. Draw that souvenir bottle on your windowsill–in light and shadow, surrounded by clutter, filled with flowers. Draw the same scene over and over from different angles, as it might have appeared a hundred years ago, as it might look to a creature that sees only in temperature, or from a worm’s eye view.

drawing to release stress,

Draw your feelings     We don’t have a lot of creative outlets to express reactions to bad news, personal disappointments, big changes, grief, haunting regrets. Our feelings don’t go away while surfing the net. Whip out some colored pencils to illustrate your fervent opinion in satisfyingly jagged lines. Render your angst in exactly the right shade of gray, magenta, and orange. Or pull together your fractured ideals in a twisting vine that reaches across a wall you’ve drawn brick by brick. Chances are your mood will lift. Drawing might just empower you to take bolder action.

sketch your way to peace,

Marendo Müller

Draw on memories     The past continually inhabits the present. Try bringing it forth non-verbally by sketching it. Draw a favorite toy from childhood, the necklace your mother used to wear every day, your view of the chalkboard back in fifth grade, the door of your first apartment. You’ll be surprised what these drawings evoke.

drawing memories, drawing feelings,

Draw abstractly     Take away the burden of recreating representational images. Draw a favorite smell, a new idea, a mood, a strong impression left when waking from a dream already forgotten, a taste, a laugh.

sketch your way to relaxation

Alfons Anders “Begegnung”

Doodle  Doodling is great practice for those of us who don’t want to call what we’re doing “drawing.”  And this non-directed activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge.

“A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”  Paul Klee


Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be The Artist You Truly Are

What Movies Tell Girls

how movies affect girl's self-image, damaging effect of media on girls, For years my daughter’s favorite movie was Just Visiting. This old remake of an older hit French comedy was packed with plenty for my little girl to adore. Magic, time travel, and plenty of humor. Some quotes from the film are still in rotation as favorite family sayings. Although it didn’t lack for laughs, it was missing something more vital. Strong female roles. Sure, women star in the film. Passive, pretty characters who only gain a stronger sense of themselves through men. Well, there’s also a stereotypical witch. Don’t even get me started on that. I’m not about to stomp my foot and decry one B movie because the women’s roles aren’t up to good-for-my-daughter standards. But when I take a look at movies available in theaters and on Netflix, foot stomping seems imperative. In the real world girls and women have full, interesting lives. Their conversations are complex and rarely limited to shoes, hair styles, and attracting the “right” XY chromosomes. But in the entertainment world, females are often little more than gloss. Little more than women’s roles in the past. sexualized roles in movies, One way to gauge a female character’s presence in any movie is the Bechdel test. This method doesn’t imply that a particular movie has merit, it simply demonstrates character treatment based on gender. To pass the Bechdel test, a movie has to meet all of the following three qualifications:

  1. Have at least two female characters (with names known to the audience)
  2. who have a conversation with each other
  3. about something besides a male.

Recall the last five movies you saw. How many really pass the test? I’m not sure Just Visiting passes. But according to the Bechdel test database, recent movies such as Limitless, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,  The Tree of Life, Water For Elephants, Your Highness, Beastly, I Am Number Four, The Lincoln Lawyer, No Strings Attached, Source Code, and Avatar don’t pass. Kids’ movies aren’t much better. Bechdel test failures include Hop, Rango, Rio, Jack and the Beanstalk, Megamind, The Secret of KellsFantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Ice AgeDawn of the Dinosaursand Shrek Forever After. Another way to pay attention to gender disparity in movies is to simply count the number of female speaking characters. Top movies for kids from 1990 to 2005 averaged less than one female out of every three speaking characters. And in both animated and live action movies from 1999 to 2006, researchers noted that females were outnumbered by males in speaking roles as well as crowd scenes. Worse, girls and women were typically portrayed in stereotypical, often hypersexualized roles. It seems girl power, even in today’s family films, has a lot to do with sexy clothes.

Jeff Brunner

This gender disparity is more than annoying. It’s damaging. Sexualized stereotypes are linked to a slew of problems in girls as well as women including eating disorders, poor self-esteem, and depression. Girls and young women who frequently consume mainstream media content are more likely to believe that a woman’s value is based on physical attractiveness. Even very young girls are beginning to self-objectify, to think of themselves as objects to be evaluated by appearance. And there’s a lot of media consumption going on. Half of kids under six watch at least one DVD a day. That’s some heavy reinforcement of Hollywood ideals. In our house Just Visiting has given way to new favorites. I’ll be watching them with popcorn, a snuggly blanket, and some attitude. My foot is just itching to stomp. Here are a few resources to light the way. About Face Adios Barbie All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype to Celebrate Real Beauty Beauty Redefined Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders (Excelsior Editions) Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture Mothers for a Human Future New Moon Girls Packaging Girlhood Pink Stinks Resolving the Confidence Crisis Taking Back Childhood Teen Voices The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls 101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body

Creating A Better World

“We become what we think about all day long.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

positive thinking, the shift, better world attitude,

Anastasiya Markovich

Long before I became an adult I launched a quest. This was inspired by a something that weighed on my childish mind, an urgent calling to alleviate the suffering of others. Even when I was a misbehaving little girl who ignored her chores and fought with her sister (often), I still felt the weight of this obligation. My parents cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines to avoid my questions as well as my despair over every sorrowful photograph. And my entire family dreaded driving past a chained puppy or crying baby, knowing that I would agonize the rest of the day over this momentary glimpse out the car window.

For some reason my quest took the form of trying to understand why people acted cruelly. So in my spare time I read everything I could find on the history of suffering, evil, and misery. I learned about the Inquisition, U.S.betrayals of Native Americans, the Holocaust, the genocide ordered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—if it was awful I studied it. I worked my way through every book and resource possible.

right thought, optimism changes world, hope,

Fritz Fuhrken

This project of mine stretched well into my teen and early adult years. It was grim. It haunted my dreams and colored what should have been youthful optimism. I began to realize that every single human has the capacity for cruelty. We just pretend we don’t. A bad mood may be contagious but the shadow we hide can wreak havoc on a personal and even a global level.

One day as I sat in the sunshine while my firstborn played nearby in the grass, my dear friend Leslie came over for a visit. She found me reading yet another horrific book, a stack of similarly dire non-fiction at my side. And she’d had it. She told me I was ignoring the beauty all around me to immerse myself in misery. She told me to look at the light shining on my child’s face, the bright green grass, and all the love in my life.

She was right, of course.

Still I defended my quest. I told her it was an obligation to know what was wrong with the world in order to right it. I waved around books that described the evils of pesticides, the horrors of factory farms, and the title I was currently reading, something about political prisoners.

She disagreed. She said it was time to focus on what was good.

I told her I was I finding good. What I read exposed me to heart-expanding accounts of people who demonstrated the best of humanity no matter their circumstances.  Those who were dying of hunger, yet gave their last bit of food to others.  Those who had no reason for hope but who kept art and music alive.  Those who faced the worst despair, but did not give in to it.  The best lesson I learned from years of study? Every single person has a choice, even if it seems there are no choices. That choice is the attitude they take.

the shift, making the shift, the secret in action, the secret applies to peace,


It was time to work on my own attitude.

Gradually I stopped trying to understand and fight against all the reasons for suffering. I also became a little less frantic about doing everything possible to counterbalance the wrong I saw everywhere. I noticed that people in activist groups I belonged to faced the world with the same despair I felt, battling evil so fiercely that they had no way to expand on all the good that also flourishes.

So I began volunteering less time to lost causes, marched in fewer protest rallies, and gave up stomping around with petitions. I did more that seemed to boost the positive—gardening, singing to my babies, and guerilla acts of encouragement.

I became certified to teach non-violence workshops which I taught to school systems, incarcerated teens, and senior citizens. As I taught, the lessons sunk in ever more deeply. The long and life-affirming history of non-violence can’t help but heal a heart heavy with the world’s troubles. The process of non-violence—reacting with love rather than hate—is more empowering than any other force we humans have ever used. It transforms greed, intolerance, and cruelty. It’s humanity’s way forward.

peace through non-violence, achieving world peace, optimism,


Growing more positive, I began to find value in mistakes, doubt, crisis. A lifelong insomniac, I started sleeping a little better. Always one who tried to laugh rather than cry, I found myself laughing more— about falling downawkward encounters, and my near constant ability to embarrass myself.

It may seem difficult to sustain a positive outlook these days. My own family has been through grief, injustice, unemployment, and other sorrows. And our world struggles while formerly stable structures crumble. Just look at what’s happening to prescribe-and-placate medical models, inflexible financial institutions, condemning religious frameworks, and rigid corporations. But I believe these current conditions of breakup, economic chaos, and environmental decline are exactly those which are (slowly) leading to beneficial change. Collectively we’re waking up to the weakness of limited thinking and short-term fixes. Hopefully we’re also waking up to the reality that we’re in this together—rich and poor, developed and developing nations, young and old, left and right.

signs of hope in the world, peace emerging,

Jules Henri Lengrand

I’ve come to believe a better world is made by building on what works rather than focusing on what’s broken, as long as the truth is told about that brokenness and healing is sought.

I see beings on this planet linked in ways that defy description and see my fellow humans as heroes in the making.

And I see SO much good happening, good that’s too often overlooked. Consider:

1. War and global violence continue to decline.

Armed conflicts aren’t going up, they’re going down.

The world has seen a 70 percent decline in the number of high-intensity conflicts since the end of the Cold War era. Genocide is down 80 percent. Weapons sales between countries have diminished by 33 percent and the number of refugees has fallen by 45 percent. Even measuring from as little as 15 years ago, the number of armed conflicts has dropped from 44 to 28.

Why? Project Ploughshares credits peace building efforts.

Chances are, the reasons for peace are complex. Yet a stronger international resolve to focus on peace building and basic human rights is taking place. Imagine the far larger potential for enduring peace if we intentionally educate our children and ourselves in the proven methods of non-violence—-negotiation, mediation, reconciliation, even basic listening skills.

2. Freedom is stretching across the planet.

By evaluating variables including civil liberties, democratic institutions, and independent media it’s possible to assess how free each nation in the world really is. Back in 1973, 29 percent of nations were deemed free, 25 percent partially free, and 46 percent not free.

In a little over 35 years, the number of nations ruled by authoritarian regimes dropped from 90 to 30. Countries around the world considered to be free increased by 50 percent while those not free had dropped by more than half.

Independence has a long way to go. But positive signs—protests, dissent, political upheaval show us that ordinary people are speaking up for freedom.

3. Longevity is improving yet total population faces a downturn

Fulfilling the cherished hopes of their parents, more children around the world are born healthy. Mortality rates for those under five years of age have fallen by 60 percent since 1960.

Meanwhile, life expectancy has risen 21 years since the mid 1950’s. Try to suppress your optimism while looking at this analysis of longer lived well-being around the world.

This doesn’t mean the planet will be too crowded. Overall population will continue to rise for several more decades but we’re facing a major downturn. Already birth rates are near or below replacement rate in countries all over the world. Increased education and affluence tend to inspire women, no matter what country they live in, to invest their time and resources in fewer children. As Fred Pearce clearly explains in The Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet’s Surprising Future, our little Earth will likely reach a (painful) peak of 8 billion people around the year 2040, then the total number of human will begin to decline so rapidly that nations will struggle to keep their populations levels from slipping too low. They may create perks for becoming parents and incentives to attract immigrants.

4. Literacy rates continue to improve.

Global adult literacy rates have shot up from 56 percent in 1950 to nearly 84 percent today, the highest ever.

Women’s rates haven’t risen as quickly due to inequality and poverty, but in some areas, particularlyEast Asia, 90 percent more girls are able to read than 10 years ago. As female literacy goes up, other overall positive indicators tend to follow including decreased domestic violence, improved public health and greater financial stability.

5. Intelligence is on an upswing.

From generation to generation, we’re getting smarter. In fact, to accommodate continuously increasing intelligence the IQ test must be renormalized (standardized to keep the average test results at the 100). This is called the Flynn Effect.

Between 1932 and 1978, mean IQ scores in theU.S.rose 13.8 points. If your grandparent received IQ score results of 98 back in 1932 they’d have been deemed of average intelligence. That same grandparent, if administered today’s tests, would be considered to have a borderline mental disability by current scoring standards. IQ scores have risen even higher in some other countries. Of late, developing countries seem to be experiencing the biggest surge.

Plenty of explanations have been proposed, but the increase can’t be definitively pinned on genetic improvements, improved nutrition, greater familiarity with testing or better schooling.

According to Cornell professor Stephen J. Ceci, the most direct gains are not in subjects that are taught (math, vocabulary) but are shown in parts of the test that seem unrelated to schooling (matrices, detecting similarities). In fact, test gains have been enormous in areas requiring the child to apply his or her own reasoning, such as arranging pictures to tell a story or putting shapes in a series. Although teaching children does return positive results, what a child learns through the natural stimulation of everyday life has a more profound effect. For example, a study to determine the effect of schooling on rural children inIndia found that the increase in overall intelligence from a year of age is twice the increase from that of attending a year of school.

IQ test scores don’t relate to what truly provides satisfaction in life. But the Flynn Effect is intriguing. Factors we can’t completely explain are giving us the intellectual capacities to deal with an ever more challenging world.

6. Compassion is huge.

Never before in history have so many people worked tirelessly and selflessly to benefit others. Paul Hawken writes in Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming that the abolitionist movement was the first major movement by human beings to advocate on behalf of others without seeking advantage for themselves or their particular social or political group.  Since that time, such efforts have grown with astonishing vigor.

There are now over a million organizations on the planet working for environmental stewardship, social justice, the preservation of indigenous cultures, and much more.  These groups don’t seek wider acclaim, they seek to make a difference for the greater good.

Humanity, which is clever and kind enough to bring about so much improvement, is also awakening to the vital importance of living more sustainably on Earth.

I know we can live more peacefully and wisely.

Thank you Leslie.

global indicators of hope, better world emerging, the shift happening, the secret on a global scale,

Salvatore Di Giovanna

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth
and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and
for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.
Think of it … always.”   Mahatma Gandhi

Gentle Nurturance=Gentle World?

why we shouldn't spank

Image courtesy of

A little girl about three years old trails behind her mother in the store. She seems tired and distracted, as if it’s difficult for her to keep up. Her mother is busily shopping while pushing a cart with a baby in a carrier at the front, oblivious as her daughter lags farther behind. Every minute or so the girl says, “Mommy,” but her mother doesn’t look back so the girl hurries to catch up. Not long after the mother turns to another aisle the little girl loses sight of her and wails loudly. Her mother, surely distracted and now embarrassed, hustles back to grab the child, shakes her, and through clenched teeth issues a threat. The child cries quietly and resumes following, more closely at first but again lags behind in the crowded store. A few aisles over she loses sight of her mother again. This time the mother picks the child up by the arm to smack her fiercely.

The problem continues to escalate. The entire time this family is in the store the mother repeatedly threatens and hits a child who may be ill, or needing a nap, or simply isn’t able to keep up. No one intervenes. In the checkout line they stand under an overhead TV screen blaring with news. Crime, war, and looting at the scene of a disaster are shown in vivid video clips. The little girl, tears still drying on her face, reaches up to the baby sleeping in the carrier and squeezes his toes until he too is crying.

Many of us probably see such scenes on a regular basis. Those of us who are parents know full well that gently nurturing a child’s growing body and mind isn’t always easy. Sometime days it feels as if good parenting requires sainthood. But gentle nurturance is the way that we adults constantly demonstrate, in hundreds of seemingly insignificant ways, that a child is a person worthy of love and consideration. We wipe a face softly rather than harshly, we take an extra moment to see what a child sees, we find ways to distract a grumpy toddler or a moody teenager, we share real work with our children so they know the satisfaction of a job well done, we turn away from our own amusements to take part in what delights our children, we teach our children to wait their turn, we cuddle and guide and care.

raise children tenderly for a more peaceful world

Image courtesy of

This doesn’t mean we empower children to do whatever they want or raise them without limits. It simply means that it’s possible to touch a child with kindness and respect, to consider situations from the child’s point of view, and whenever possible, to listen to what a child has to say.

Gentle nurturance resounds through a child’s entire life, bringing forth a greater potential for happiness and success. Children treated with love and consideration become adults who treat others well too.

no spanking leads to better behavior

Image courtesy of

There’s plenty of evidence that this is the case. Let’s take one example, that of corporal punishment. Ninety percent of American parents say they have spanked a toddler, 61 percent in the same week they were asked. If it “worked” parents who spank would have more compliant children. But that’s not the case. In fact, children tended to act out again within a few minutes after being spanked or hit by a parent.

Spanking leads to children who are more easily frustrated, have more frequent temper tantrums, demonstrate greater defiance, and who are more likely to physically harm others.

Spanking is also associated with lowered IQ scores. A U.S. study found children who were spanked had lower IQs four years later compared to those who were not spanked. The more frequently the children were spanked, the slower their intellectual development. Researchers speculate one factor may be that regular physical punishment is a chronic stressor for young children.

Negative consequences aren’t limited to childhood. Children who are punished by spanking, slapping, or grabbing even occasionally run a higher risk of growing up to have mental health problems, according to a study of nearly 35,000 people. Those issues include depression, anxiety, and drug or alcohol abuse as well as more complex illnesses such as narcissism and antisocial behavior.  

Even crime is associated with physical punishment. Take time to read this linked article, titled “The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime” by Adah Maurer, Ph.D. and James S. Wallerstein (courtesy of The Natural Child Project) which features data including the following chart:

Degree of physical punishment






Violent inmates
at San Quentin












High School


















Corporal punishment is just one factor among many. There are plenty of other elements to consider as we raise children to respect themselves and others.

raising children peacefully

Image courtesy of

It has to do with consistent and fair discipline. (See Positive Discipline)

It has to do with understanding a child’s temperament and informed parenting as Kloppenmum so aptly explains.

It has to do with free play  and plenty of time in nature.

It has to do with our expectations and our ability to listen.

It has to do with responsible media exposure.

It has to do with an understanding that we as a species are innately kind and cooperative.

And so much more.

Image courtesy of

But corporal punishment is the example I’ve used because there are larger cultural factors to consider when force is used on children, whether physical or other forms of coercion. There’s a connection between harsh treatment of children and harsh societies. Researchers Carol and Melvin Ember, in a journal article titled “Explaining Corporal Punishment of Children: A Cross-Cultural Study” conclude that force is commonly used against children in highly stratified societies, societies with low levels of democracy, and those with a propensity toward violence.

And there’s more evidence. James W. Prescott, former administrator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, analyzed cross cultural data using 20,000 statistically significant correlations from 400 studies. The information included presence of physical punishment, freedom or repression of sexual practices, social status of women, degree of affection toward children. He concluded that societies based on affection were highly unlikely to be violent.

These conclusions are of global significance to you, me, and everyone else in today’s world.

peaceful world starts with parenting

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This isn’t easy to see on an individual basis. Plenty of anecdotal accounts contradict these assertions, but individual exceptions don’t prove the point. I was raised by loving parents who, yes, spanked a few times and yes, tended to lose me in stores. I don’t see many after effects . (Well, I detest shopping.) The point remains. A gentler world can emerge from gently raised children.

This starts in our homes, stores, everywhere. I know what it’s like to shop with kids (I have four) so I can understand the time pressure and distraction the mother of that three-year-old girl must have been under. But each moment of parenting provides us with an opportunity to help our kids find positive solutions. This builds inner strength and fosters skills they’ll need to deal with future difficulties. Trouble is, parenting skills take patience, conscious attention, and lots of opportunities to observe other parents we admire. The time required is exactly what’s missing in the lives of busy parents. What are some things that could have helped when the little girl couldn’t keep up with her mother?

Connect. “Mommy needs to see where you are. I miss you when you lag behind.”

Empathize. “Oh Sweetie, you’re having trouble keeping up with Mommy.”

Problem solve. “How can we stay together?”

Engage her help. “Can you help me find the cereal you like? Do you remember if it’s in a yellow package?”

Distract her. “Let’s count all the other _____ in the store today (little girls, women with hats, times the loudspeaker interrupts, etc).”

Celebrate and appreciate. “I’m so glad you’re staying with Mommy and helping me watch the baby. Let’s _____ after we get home.”

And it would have helped if this mother had the resources to avoid taking a child to the store who was tired, or sick, or needing closer attention.

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It’s important to recognize that in our society, parents tend to be isolated. A whole tribe of extended friends and family aren’t there to watch, guide, nurture, and enjoy each other’s children. Cultural forces of work and time pressure and distance divide us. Parenting is too often a solitary venture, performed under the gaze of strangers who judge one’s parenting in every store and sidewalk.

As Urie Bronfenbrenner noted, we need to understand what forces affect family so we can to best enable them  “to perform the magic feat of which they alone are capable: making  and keeping  human beings  human.”

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