“Stop and breathe” is a way to start at home, at school, and even internationally
As we watch with worry the escalating rhetoric between the United States and North Korea it’s easy to see that the two leaders involved are not working to gain the trust of each other and to de-escalate the conflict. They are refusing to become conflict “partners” committed to working out their disagreements in a way that preserves the dignity and safety of each nation. Neither Trump or Kim Jong Un demonstrate that they know how to stop and breathe. Instead, they are putting the two nations on a collision course.
We have all experienced the unhappy, frightening, or even dangerous situations resulting from conflicts where one, both, or all parties is clearly dangerous. If we reflect on those times, they usually are very similar: someone won’t STOP his or her actions, and therefore the possibility of physical harm increases.
Even in early childhood classrooms, children learn that conflicts can’t be addressed til all are calm. In the new children’s book, “The Barnyard Buddies STOP for Peace,” the Barnyard Buddies start with the letter S – which stands for “STOP and breathe,” and then go through a complete conflict resolution process using the letters S-T-O-P. This simple process, which works equally well for adults, starts with stopping!
Every conflict resolution process has a slightly different twist. “The Barnyard Buddies STOP for Peace” demonstrates an approach focusing on safety first. The first step is “S” for STOP and breathe. But it could be S for safety. When people stop and breathe, it derails violence and conflicts shift. This happens in the classroom, the home, the community and even between countries.
Prepare for conflict and practice the skills
Conflict is a part of life that we can plan for, like having a baby, getting a new job, or retiring from a job! It can be hard, and stressful. It also can be life-changing, even wonderful! But one thing is for sure, it’s so much easier to handle if we are prepared! We form our conflict resolution styles very early, some say as young as 18 months! Any changes we can make, in our own behaviors, and/or in specific skill development for children, can bring benefits to our shared future. In a classroom or home where peace is intentional, children practice learning to stop and breathe, and then they learn the rest of the conflict resolution skills. With practice, they develop a habit of using them. Finally, they will be able to access those wonderful tools, independently, for life.
We were told this story by a woman who attended one of our family programs: “My husband and I were arguing in the kitchen after we each had put in a long day of work. Neither one of us were at our best, which led us to yelling at each other with our six-year-old son standing by. After turning around from putting something in the oven, I noticed neither one of them was there. Puzzled as to where they could be, I went looking. Lo and behold, I found them sitting at the low-lying breathing table, on the cushions, slowly breathing in and out. I was so moved, I sat down with them. We breathed and the tension eased. Eventually, we talked.”
Developing the skills to stop and breathe
Defining a space is one way to make the action of stopping to breathe very concrete for children. But even with nothing designated as a location, the practice can be internalized by repetition. The sentiments of this woman have been echoed over and over throughout our years of working on conflict resolution education. When people learn to stop and breathe — to just stop the tirade, the outburst, the angry or abusive word or action, the path to a better tomorrow can emerge.
Rushing to solve a conflict when emotions are hot, is a recipe for disaster!
The four steps in our conflict resolution process spell the word STOP. We chose this acronym because it is extremely important to emphasize this important key: if emotions are hot, before acting or trying to work anything out, just stop and breathe. That way the brain has time to reset from its fight and flight mode. During the fight and flight time the emotions are not in any kind of balance and people can get emotionally or even physically hurt. It takes several minutes for this reset to happen. So, after we experience our initial anger or other strong emotion, we need to stop, breathe, and wait to talk. This allows the higher cortex to take over from the limbic brain.
A Simple Way to Share the STOP Process
One benefit of children’s books, is that they also reach adults who may not otherwise explore these topics! When parents read to their children, they learn too. Teachers can click this link then download the FREE coloring page. This provides the entire STOP process outlined in the book. One benefit of this page is it can be instrumental in educating adults at home. Students can color it in the classroom and take it home, asking for it to be posted on the fridge so the easy process is right there whenever something comes up at home.
The process doesn’t end at step S, Stop and Breathe.
If working with children in a classroom or home, tell them, “We stop and breathe first, then we are going to work this out and everyone can talk who has something to share.”
If you have a special location in the classroom or home for problem solving, that helps make working out a conflict a growing time and not a feared event. You may even want to have a small table designated “Peace Table.”
When you provide a place to “work it out” children become much more engaged in learning and practicing their conflict resolution skills. After a while, children are so good at this they can do it anywhere. We went into some detail on this in a book we wrote years ago called “Peacemaker’s A,B,Cs for Young Children: A guide for teaching conflict resolution with a peace table.”
Who is responsible?
By taking the responsibility to STOP ourselves, every time, instead of lashing out, hitting, screaming, saying hurtful things, we are taking a huge step FOR peace. We also are role modelling for children what we want them to do. When we guide them to stop and breathe, we create a generation of people who can support and sustain a culture of peace. We are demonstrating respect and care for ourselves and others. This is an essential place to start for all peacemaking efforts.
Choose a time when there is no pressing conflict to learn new skills for solving them.
When everyone is calm, in a classroom or a home, that’s the time to learn new skills – like how to breathe in and out, slowly and peacefully. This link will give you some ideas. Breathing helps us center ourselves, and provides a wonderful tool for children’s entire lives! Keep in mind the learning styles of the children. Encourage them to share what helps them calm themselves. Combine that with writing or drawing, and now you are creating the culture as the children become peace authors or artists! You could even do it at circle time by asking each child to introduce him or herself and say a way that they like to calm down. Posting these pictures can provide reminders if needed.
Stop and breathe with “The Barnyard Buddies!”
I have heard many breathing and cooling off ideas from children, learned in their preschools and schools. It’s terrific that many have started working on this important skill!
What we contribute in the book, The Barnyard Buddies STOP for Peace and it’s companion music, I STOP for Peace, that we think is particularly special, is the way we tap into children’s emotions, not just their intellects. By incorporating skill-building into a children’s book with engaging, indeed, loveable characters with real emotions, kids begin to think, “What would the Barnyard Buddies do to solve this?” Or, “What would Mrs. McCloud (the peacemaking owl who serves as the Buddies’ coach) do?” That’s when we are getting to their hearts and not just their minds. At that point STOPPING becomes a tool for life and we have a chance to reduce domestic violence, and other forms of violence, as these kids grow up and self-identify as peacemakers with statements such as: “I STOP for Peace.”
Work FOR something. It feels better and you last longer!
We need to remember to spend our time working FOR something. That’s a great way to keep our energy up for a long journey. If we only think of being against the angry outbursts, for example, we will become exhausted. Instead, we can be for stopping and breathing or for peaceful conflict resolution where all are heard. It takes three times more energy to be against something than to reframe it and be for something else.
We are gathering children’s stories
We can prompt children’s journey into the world of sharing, caring, getting along and practicing peaceful conflict resolution by encouraging them to write, tell, or draw a way they stopped for peace! When we publish that story, children can celebrate becoming peace literate. Children who are for peace have begun to create a new world, one in which we all want to live! Sharing those stories with others, is a powerful, inspirational step for peace. Encourage children to share their work FOR peace in written stories, art, or even music. Here’s the link.
Our next book, “I Can See Peace,” (coming soon!) introduces the concept that peace is all around us, it just gets interrupted. It shows how children in any socioeconomic group, with any kind of family, with any level of mental or physical health, can still find peace, somehow, every day. Both books are wonderful support for mindfulness programs.
Next time, Step T — Tell how you feel!