The Path to Peace Begins with Criss-Cross Applesauce

Everyday I am refining translation skills in a language I learned long ago; translating from Papa to Kiddo isn't always easy.  Like many dads, I am challenged to think about complex ideas and beliefs about our faith and to deliver them to my children in a way this is meaningful. As translator and teacher I have to also be mindful of actively reinforcing and shaping behaviors that point to and are consistent with our faith. Whew, tall order!

Today, Benedict XVI delivered a message entitled Religious Freedom the Path to Peace (January 1, 2011).  His message (see video here) dealt with religious intolerance, the emotional and physical suffering it causes; and in its gravest form, the death of innocent people. In my opinion, religious intolerance has the effect of bruising and disabling the spirit of people throughout communities and homes of the faithful everywhere, if parents are not actively providing countermeasures to emotionally deal with such severe transgressions in society.  Without proper teaching, our children will grow up to at worst be indifferent if not participants to intolerance, or at best they will "mature" into adults stunned to inaction, allowing the evils of their day to persist among themselves and their neighbors.

How does his message apply to me as a father of two young children?  Well, the message seems clear enough.  I have a responsibility to guide my children toward understanding human dignity, one's role in community, tolerance, mutual respect, control of one's impulses, concern for an another, forgiveness, organization of emotions and accountability for one's actions.   Our Pontiff put it this way, in part, in his address on how this theme relates to the family:
The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.
Our Pontiff also noted the role of justice in pursuing the path of peace by essentially respecting human dignity.  If my children are not taught to respectfully relate to each other and the family, how will they respectfully relate to others in the years to come? I infer from our Pontiff the obligation to instill a core value based on the love of Christ, so they will be able to participate with and endorse future leaders of world religions toward
[C]ommitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious consolidate the spirit of good will, openness and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world.
Setting the foundation for such lofty goals like this can be a challenge at home.   However, with creativity, it can be done and can be taught in "Kiddo".  For me, it is best approached by using what my children are already familiar with, for example Cris-Cross Applesauce.  When my children are tending toward more than the usual playful banter that is expected at their ages (four and six), and they start entering into an area of impulsive disrespect, then they are each timed-out to Cris-Cross Applesauce facing away from each other (to eliminate the impulse for taunting), with a quick "if you can't be nice, you cannot play."  Little ones get the message real quick: Nice = Play.  Before they are freed from timeout, they are each given plastic coins, the number of which is their respective ages.  To shape their behavior, as soon as they are sitting politely still and hands in their laps, I immediately reinforce positive actions (as I do elsewhere) with praises, smiles, a quick scrubbing of the hair on their heads with a joyful remark in proximity to, "Fantastic!  You did that soooo well and you both are such good listeners and polite!!  Give me back two coins each.  A couple more and you can play."

It doesn't take them long to realize (a) Play is more fun and (b) Timeout can be fun, too, but "I'd rather be playing."

My girls are not in timeout long, since each moment of sitting respectfully still is rewarded with relinquishing a coin and getting out of the sentence. Once in awhile, I create a little competition to see who gets out first, which makes an otherwise seemingly punitive experience a positive and challenging one.

The brief time it takes to implement this shaping of behavior (usually about 4-6 minutes), sets the foundation for:
  • Knowing mutual love and respect is the rule;
  • Accountability is required for improper actions;
  • Self-mastery of impulses is necessary;
  • Loving discipline is more times than not close at hand;
  • Forgiveness is expected.

These principles little by little are internalized, embedded in the brain's memory, where they are able to draw from and recall positive ways to interrelate with each other, reinforced by affectionate direction provided by your's truly.  As they grow older and more experienced, it is hoped by extension these principles and behaviors will expand beyond the world of stuffed animals and play.  The goals are long-term to be sure, but they lead to the path of peace our Lord lived.  Ultimately that peace creates the internal ability and awareness to share in the brother- and sisterhood of their peers.  This strategy is training ground for having the ability to mange themselves, which is useful to interrelating with those who believe and who do not believe in ways they are most familiar as Catholics. If I have done my job then, they will as our Pontiff points out:

[S]ee others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family, from which no one is to be excluded.

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