Dear Friends of reGeneration,
Caring parents, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or economic-level, love their children and yearn to see them flourish.
Parents living in regions of conflict or poverty want their children to be well-educated and protected from the traumatic stresses in their environment.
These parents know what has taken hundreds of years for researchers to scientifically validate – that toxic stress can have a lasting impact on the growth of a child.
Toxic stress negatively affects the entire trajectory of a child’s life:
- brain development
- academic achievement
- mental and physical health
- the capacity for empathy
- the likelihood of committing violent crimes as an adult.
Toxic stress is responsible for “lower brain states,” where calm, rational thinking used for good decision making is lacking. Instead, there are intense emotions, impulsive reactions, and rigid and repetitive responses. When under extreme stress, the ability for children and adults to be self-reflective, empathic, creative, and capable of considering the other person’s point of view is hampered. Capacities of the “higher brain,” the problem-solving neo-cortex, become impaired.
So how does toxic stress affect peacebuilding?
Childhood Toxic Stress Undermines Peacebuilding
It is generally recognized that there are two levels to peacebuilding – top-down and ground-up.
Top-down peacebuilding refers to the governmental level, where political leaders develop agreements or treaties. In entrenched conflicts, it is generally understood that for top-down peacebuilding to be sustained, it must be built on the work of ground-up peacebuilding.
The aim of ground-up peacebuilding involves ordinary individuals building microfoundations for peace in their everyday lives. It involves bringing together people from conflicting groups to interact purposefully in a safe space without demonizing each other. The new relationships show resilience when challenged by external events or provocation when parties do not return to former patterns of conflict.
Ground-up peacebuilding relies on empathy and the capacity to think clearly for problem-solving. Since toxic stress impairs empathy and rational problem-solving skills, it is tragic that children and adults living in regions of high conflict and poverty suffer huge amounts of toxic stress. Chronic exposure to toxic stress creates the most difficult conditions to address the challenges of their region successfully.
How To Do Ground Up Peacebuilding Amidst Toxic Stress
I believe that trauma-informed education is essential for ground-up peacebuilding. Both trauma-informed education and peacebuilding restore a sense of physical and emotional safety and develop the capacity for building relationships and cultivating skills for problem-solving.
As a psychotherapist who has specialized in trauma recovery, it has been exciting to see the new field of trauma-informed education begin to take root and grow. So what exactly is trauma-informed education? The following are defining qualities of trauma-informed education:
Nurtures Social-Emotional Skills: Much of trauma-informed education for children is based on helping them develop strong social-emotional skills. People with strong social and emotional skills understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Individuals with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally, and socially.
Addresses Toxic Stress in the Body: Additionally, trauma-informed education must include a biological understanding of toxic stress. Under extreme stress, the child’s endocrine and nervous system switches into modes of fright, flight, or freeze. The body of the stressed child needs movement, play, relaxation, and calming breath integrated into the curriculum. This helps children regulate their nervous system.
Strengthens Children’s Moral Imagination: Lastly, the therapeutic power of the arts and nature are critical in trauma-informed education. Renowned peace mediator John Paul Lederach, author of The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, wrote that the arts and nature are essential to developing a capacity he calls moral imagination.
Lederach describes moral imagination as the capacity to imagine and generate positive, constructive processes that are rooted in day-to-day challenges of violence and yet transcend these destructive patterns. Albert Einstein stated, ”We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The moments of possibility that pave the way for constructive change do not emerge through the rote application of a set of techniques or strategies, but rather arise out of something that approximates an artistic process.
The children that will be inheriting the world we are leaving them will be needing tremendous capacities for moral imagination in order to address the challenges they will be facing. Like climate change, it’s not a question of whether we should address violence, but rather ask ourselves, “How will we be experiencing violence if we don’t address it?”
You Can Build Peace Today
reGeneration’s Middle East liaison and group facilitator trainer, Itaf Awad, says that in order to have peace, we must have healing. The peacebuilder programs that reGeneration supports include all or some of the healing features mentioned above.
In the volatile Middle East, the Hebrew/Arabic bi-cultural Waldorf schools reGeneration co-sponsors provide a developmentally oriented, holistic trauma-informed education that incorporates the arts and nature.
In Los Angeles, reGeneration’s local youth leadership program includes social-emotional learning through listening circles, a community-building group process that is foundational for restorative justice reparations.
We invite you to join us and give children and communities the resources they need to become agents of peace.
reGeneration just launched its I am a Peacebuilder Campaign. As a Peacebuilder, you can support:
- scholarships for low-income Jewish and Arabic students
- social repair and violence prevention in Israel and Palestine
- Los Angeles Interfaith Youth Bridgebuilding
Please click here for more information and to make a donation.
Shepha Vainstein, LMFT, president and founder, reGeneration Education