I’ll be sharing more ideas on this topic – as well some new songs and games – in my presentation, Songs for Inner Peace, at the Children’s Music Network Conference Saturday Sept. 20 in Leesburg, VA.
I grew up in the sixties and seventies, a time of many movements. There was the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement. There was the Anti-War Movement – or was it the Peace Movement?
The names were often interchanged. Now, as a kinesiologist working with neurologically directed movement, I know that names make a difference. Names signal unconscious responses in the deepest parts of our brains and bodies. Words can set the tone for how what we experience is interpreted.
Let’s do a little experiment. Say the word “anti-war” and notice how your body responds at a subtle level. Jot your impressions down.
What I personally notice is that I stop moving. I am perfectly still. Even my breath stops. I am not noticeably anxious. Do I feel safe? No. Do I feel anything? No. I’m just waiting. I’m in an arrested state of vigilance.
Now say the word “peace.” Notice your body and jot down your impressions.
As soon as I say “peace” I exhale. My body relaxes. Suddenly, I am hearing the things around me – the cicadas chirping, the “meh-ing” of a neighboring goat. I see the mottled shapes of sun and shadow on the grass at my feet. These things must have been going on while I was in my “anti-war” response, but then, I was totally unaware of them. I was filtering for danger. But since there was no actual danger, only its potential in the warning “war,” I saw, heard, felt, smelled, was emotionally connected to nothing.
On the surface, “anti-war movements” and “peace movements” can seem to ne working toward the same end. But as Marshall McLuhan so famously put it, “the medium is the message.” As long as we hear the word “war” – even with “anti-“ in front of it – our bodies and minds get ready for war. When we hear the word “peace,” our bodies and minds receive a very different signal.
Imagining NO! “Anti” is a very complicated term, developmentally speaking. The concept of “NO” doesn’t register until we are almost two years old. Up until that time, the baby/toddler is learning “YES!” Everything is “YES!” There is nothing other than what is right here, right now and nothing can be any different than what it now is or is promised to be.
To be able to see something, and simultaneously imagine the opposite - this is a huge cognitive step. Two year olds get a bad rap (who hasn’t heard of “the terrible twos?”) That’s because ”NO” is such a huge developmental leap that, when it appears, that’s ALL there is. Just “NO!” The two year-old can’t hold a complicated thought form like “NO to this but YES to this other thing.” When NO! appears it takes every ounce of cognition just to block out what is there in front of him. The “terrible twos,” with all of their world-blotting “NO’s” are actually healthy - because understanding “NO” is the foundation for every bit of emotional and intellectual maturity to come. We need the complete experience of unadulterated “NO” for us to ever really know what “NO” means.
Neurologically speaking, our systems are wired very simply for “YES.” The survival system takes everything it encounters at face value – it has to, whatever it is might be dangerous. Is that a snake or a stick? We freeze until we know for sure. Before a “NO” happens, there has to be a “YES” to something – especially to a potential threat – and until we are signaled otherwise, the “YES” is the information upon which we base our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
When you hear, “Don’t think of any elephant,” what do you think of?
Choosing YES! As teachers, parents, practitioners, it is helpful to remember how complex and dangerous “NO” can be to the young child. Of course, children need to understand “NO.” They need to know not to run into the street, to put their hands on a hot stove, to hit their friends and siblings.
But NO should be an occasional occurrence. For young children, the effort of NO is huge. It blots out huge swaths of activity and consciousness, usually way more than is intended by the adult. Young children don’t parse the universe into discrete objects and happenings and consequences; they have not yet developed the analytic capacity for this. Around age seven, left brain development comes to the fore, Piaget’s law of Conservation comes into effect, and compartmentalizing “NO” and “YES” begins to be possible. Even at seven – at any age! – we want to create an environment that proportionally much more “YES” than “NO.” But for young children, too much “NO” is a real development-stopper.
Let’s go back to that simple exercise, noticing the body’s response to the words “anti-war” and “peace.” Let’s substitute the words “NO” and “YES.”
When I say “NO” it’s a lot like “anti-war” – everything stops. It’s not as intense a freeze – I have more awareness. But I’m definitely filtering for what I need to do to keep my back covered and my head protected. Learning can’t happen; the only input I’m open to is survival-related.
When I say “YES,” I immediately breathe. I look around. I notice things. I’m open and ready to learn.
Changing our Defaults. Most of us grew up with more “No’s” than are really healthy for a developing child. And, no matter how hard we try to create positive models for children, when we are under stress we tend to revert to “No!” The voices of our parents and teachers come out of our own mouths.
My posts are full of movement “tricks” for resetting our survival defaults. For example, From Fight, Flight, Freeze! to Breathe, Smile, Move! is a list of ways that adults can achieve grace under pressure.
Intellectually, the best antidote for stress is curiosity. Don’t just assume that what behavior that triggers you means what you think it means. Get in the habit of asking, “What does this mean to this child?” That added bit of curiosity – and the intellectual distance it provides - can turn on the pre-frontal cortex, and you can go into creative problem-solving mode. And with the help of a functioning pre-frontal cortex, you might come up with some interesting questions. Like “How can I reframe this situation, so that “NO!” becomes “YES!” to something else we both want?”
Keep me posted! And if you have comments, email them to me, and I’ll make sure they get posted, too.