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Available November 2011
Parenting for Peace
Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers
Marcy Axness, PhD
If we really want to change the world, let’s raise a generation hardwired for peace and innovation from the very beginning. A child whose brain develops its capacity for self-regulation, self-reflection, trust, and empathy is a joy to parent. As an adult, this individual will have the heart to embrace and exemplify peace, the mind to innovate solutions to social and ecological challenges, and the will to enact them.
Such a person is never a genetically predetermined given, but the result of dynamic interactions between genetics and environment, beginning before he or she is even born. Foundations for this level of health begin forming during the prenatal period, and some aspects of optimal development are influenced as early as conception.
In the midst of our global human, economic and environmental crises, we have overlooked a profound means of cultivating a sustainable, peaceful future: the choices and attitudes with which we bring our children to life and shepherd them into adulthood. With compassion, good humor and engaging examples, Parenting for Peace points out fundamental missteps we’ve made through the ages, and explains why they’re counter-productive. It gives straightforward guidelines using a unique 7-step/7-principle matrix for parents to foster their children’s development in a vibrantly growth-oriented fashion, rather than a protection-oriented fashion. This is an essential guide for raising a generation of peacemakers.
Marcy Axness teaches prenatal development at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and provides training for education, childcare, adoption, and mental health professionals. She’s a member of Mothering magazine’s online expert panel, has won multiple awards and an Emmy nomination as a documentary writer/producer, and is a popular international speaker. She counsels parents and pre-parents in her private practice.
What others have said about Parenting for Peace:
While library shelves bulge with books on parenting and childhood, our situation has only deteriorated. Somehow, as with our ecological perils (with which the crisis in childhood is intimately linked), the subject registers on too small an audience. That serious lapse could be turned around through Marcy Axness’s work. Marcy has written the most comprehensive, all-encompassing, scientifically valid parenting book yet given us. It is captivating, engrossing, and remarkably clear, free of jargon, easy to read, and loaded with common-sense insights that remain with one long after the reading. I know of no one so well equipped educationally, intellectually, emotionally, and intuitively to speak to our times on behalf of this, our gravest and most ignored problem, the abandoned and unbonded infant, child, and adolescent. No one could read Axness’s work and remain indifferent. It surely deserves the most rigorous sponsorship and publicity.
Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of The Biology of Transcendence
I so appreciate the wonderful work Marcy Axness is doing in helping us all to evolve.”
Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief
I was overjoyed as I read Parenting for Peace, not only as a new parent, but as someone who has fought the establishment to prove that there is an audience out there starving for this type of information. I know parents, soon-to-be parents, grandparents and many others will read this book with enthusiasm.
Betsy Chasse, co-creator of What The Bleep Do We Know (4th highest grossing documentary in U.S. history)
What is more important than raising a generation of peacemakers? In Parenting for Peace, Dr. Axness brings a clear voice to the number one task for families and societies: to raise citizens committed to cultures of peace through the gift of knowing peace right from the start. And we can do so by raising ourselves in consciousness.”
Raffi Cavoukian, children’s entertainer and founder of Child Honoring
The Only Question, Always: Growth or Protection?
If you only remember one point from this book, this is the one, since it pervades and informs each moment of your existence: At every level of and at every stage of life, an organism is either in growth mode or in protection mode. Expanding or contracting. Reaching out or withdrawing in. Unfolding or reinforcing. The entity may be a single cell...a community of cells that is a person...or a community of people that is a family, an organization, a community, a country. When we perceive a threat—either real or imagined, either conscious or below the level of our conscious awareness—our nervous system’s collection of sensory processing neurons, receptors, and signaling proteins/hormones—together more simply called the stress axis—shifts us into gear for protection, as our feeling and doing brains call for a dose of fight-flight-or-freeze hormones. This kicks off an intricate cascade of survival responses throughout the body and the mind: pupils narrow to focus on the threat, blood vessels constrict to minimize blood loss from the anticipated injury, the heart and lungs speed up to oxygenate the system for optimal performance, and, typically, the more instantly reactive lower brain centers take over, pushing aside the wiser but slower-acting neocortex. (Don’t expect a very frightened, anxious or angry person to remember a phone number or calculate a 15% tip.) The threat doesn’t have to be a tiger about to pounce, or an intruder coming through the door; it can be a project deadline nipping at your heels, or an insulting relative on the phone.
Another handy way to think of the Growth/Protection posture is to think in terms of being Connected/Disconnected. Next time you’re “stressed out” (if you can remember), check in and ask yourself, “Am I feeling connected, or disconnected?” Funny enough, very often the simple act of tuning into yourself and asking that question helps you feel connected again! You don’t need to wonder, “Connected to what?” When we’re really connected, it’s at all levels from cellular communication channels to organ functioning to the direct neural communication continually taking place between the coordinated nervous systems residing in our brain, heart and gut , to our relational human impulse of reaching out to others. When we’re connected, we’re in growth mode; when we’re disconnected, we’re in protection mode.
Our stress system is designed for occasional activation by a stressor followed by a resolution of the stress. This resolution initiates a cascade of pleasure hormones which gives us that Ahhhh feeling we’ve all had when we were preparing for something terrible (“I forgot to feed the meter, and it’s afternoon tow-away time!”) and then discovered that the something terrible didn’t happen (“My car’s still there!”). When stress is not intermittent but constant and unremitting, healthy growth is inhibited; indeed, cell biologist Bruce Lipton points out the mutually exclusive postures of protection (the survival posture adopted under stress) and healthy growth (only possible in the absence of threat or stress). As you’ll soon see, this “growth or protection” concept will become one of your most helpful parenting tools!
The organ most vulnerable to growth impairment due to stress is the brain, particularly the healthy development of the prefrontal lobes! The ways in which this is so—and more importantly, what we can do about it—will become clear in the coming pages. For lo these 40,000 years with this wondrous, potentially uplifting addition to our neural architecture, we as a human race have thwarted its development—and thus our own glorious evolution—through our threatening actions, both subtle and extreme. And many of those actions have taken place in the context of parenting.