‘The Peace Table’ is a technique used to teach children how to develop and maintain a harmonious and cooperative home. From the book: How to Raise an Amazing Child: The Montessori Way Written by: Tim Seldin
From time to time, children fall out with siblings or friends. It may be over something as simple as whose turn it is to play with a toy or over a bigger issue such as friendships. ‘The Peace Table’ technique provides a structured place and plan whereby children can follow a solution-oriented process. The procedure reconnects children with their hearts and builds their emotional IQ. Some of the life skills taught include the ability to identify, express, actively listen to, demonstrate compassion and manage feelings. Also, how to stick up for themselves, resolve conflict and take responsibility for their own behavior.
The environment is prepared with a child-sized table, two chairs and a tangible symbol of peace (at Creative Therapies we use a felted white dove with a bell necklace.) Initially, it may also be helpful to have this information including script and prompts available for reference. If you are short on space, it is fine to put two chairs together, a rug in the corner of a room, or even to designate a particular spot such as a step on the stairs.
Once at ‘the peace table,’ a specific procedure is followed. The child who feels especially wronged picks up the Peace dove and places it directly in front of him indicating he will speak first and uninterrupted. He places one hand on the table and his other hand on his heart, indicating that he speaks the truth from the heart. He then looks at the other child, speaks her name, and explains: 1-how I feel 2-what happened and 3-what I would like now to solve this problem peacefully. Ideally, the other child is to develop the non verbal communication skills of making eye contact, silently listening and nodding in understanding.
Then the first child gives the peace dove to the other child indicating it is now her turn to talk, uninterrupted, explaining: 1-what emotion I am having 2-my understanding of what happened, and 3-what I am willing to do now to solve this problem peacefully. If the children cannot manage this by themselves, an older sibling or a parent could mediate. If the problem is too involved, they may ask for a family council, where the whole family listens to both sides of the story.
The children learn from this regardless of their size, age, or position in the family, their point of view will be heard and they can expect to be treated fairly. There is no shame or threat in using the technique. It is a tool for beautifully and sincerely expressing oneself. The core experience is that arguments can be settled with honesty and good will to maintain a harmonious, cooperative home. The children often carry their ability to communicate their needs and resolve conflicts to places outside the home. In Montessori’s book, Education and Peace, she describes a need for positive and universal cooperation among all humans for a lasting peace. ‘The Peace Table’ technique is a concrete and valuable tool for children to understand that we can get along with one another through communication and cooperation.
It has been exciting, over time, to hear how families have implemented and benefited from ‘the peace table’. In some families it is not only the children who use the table. I have heard of the successful implementation of ‘peace tables’ used between teenagers, parent and child, students and even parents and other adults providing wonderful models for their children.
Implementing ‘The Peace Table’
‘The Peace Table’ technique may be used whenever a conflict arises, regardless of whether the event is perceived as large or small. If a child does request help, the adult is there only to initiate the three declarations through prompting. Children as young as four-years-old are able to practice and benefit from the use of ‘The Peace Table’ technique.
Initially an adult may role play the use of ‘The Peace Table’ technique to model how it is used appropriately. It is most successful when time is taken for training first, with children learning the skills before emotion is added in. The technique is meant to be short and simple with clear communication. In practicing, attention is paid to the language used and the tone expressed. Here is a role play to model for children:
- With eye contact say the person’s name: “Lauren”
- 1-What I feel? “I feel sad.” – (Note the five feelings are – sad, angry, afraid, excited and blissful)
- 2-What happened? “You took my pencil without asking.”
- 3-What do I want now to solve this problem peacefully?: “Next time please ask me when you want to use my pencil.”
The prompts are: 1-I feel… 2-You… 3-Next time…
Now the peace dove is passed to the other person, indicating it is her turn to talk.
One hand is placed on the table and the other on her heart.
- With eye contact respond using the person’s name: “John”
- 1-What emotions I have? “I am sorry.” – (Note emotions include: sorry, embarrassed, distracted, insensitive, hurried)
- 2-What happened? “I took your pencil without asking.”
- 3-What am I willing to do now to solve this problem peacefully?: “Next time I’ll ask you if I can borrow it first.”
The prompts are: 1-I am… 2-I… 3-Next time…
Finally, both gently place an open hand on The Peace Table and together say: “Peace.”
The conflict is resolved. The Peace dove is returned to its designated place.
As children become familiar with the technique the script will naturally soften around the edges. For example, as cited in Alicia Jewells book, Peace Rose: “William, I felt sad when you grabbed the paintbrush from me. Please let me go first.” “Okay, John. I’m sorry. Please tell me when you’re finished.” “Peace.”
“Jacob, I felt angry when you said, ‘You’re not my friend anymore.’ Please don’t say that.” “Okay Hannah and I felt angry when you grabbed my block. Please ask first.” “Peace.”
“Heather, I felt mad when you pushed me. Please keep your hands to yourself.” “Okay, Jackie. I’m sorry. In future I’ll do my best to use my words and not touch you when I’m frustrated. “Peace.”
The peace treaties are crafted by the children in conflict and kept in a binder as a record of disputes resolved and compromises reached. A ringing of a bell can signal the agreement, bringing the home to a momentary standstill as everyone pauses to applaud an act of peace.
As children have conflicts, an adult may ask, “Would you like to do ‘The Peace Table’ technique?” If the answer is “yes (please)” the adult may say, “Would you like some help?” If a particular child is struggling at ‘The Peace Table’ it can be useful to inquire, “Are you ready and willing to solve this problem peacefully?” As children become more independent or the conflict seems a simple one to solve for them, they usually require no assistance. The adult can take the cue to observe from a distance or allow the children to continue unattended. When children are accustomed to the ritual they may seek out ‘The Peace Table’ without being prompted. Then with ongoing success children gain the confidence to naturally integrate ‘The Peace Table’ technique into their being without requiring the structure of the table as often.
Incorporating a ‘Peace Shelf’
You may choose to also have a ‘Peace Shelf’ of materials to foster peace in the home/school and the world.
From the children’s book: The Peace Rose
Written by: Alicia Jewell
Peace Cards: Written commands and pictures encouraging actions of peace and friendship with examples such as: “Hug a friend,” and “Smile.”
Book: The Peace Rose written and illustrated for children by Alicia Jewell may be read from time to time to offer examples of resolving conflicts.
Zen Garden: A lovely miniature rock garden with sand and small tools for creating a peaceful scene.
Joy and Sorrow Boxes: These are a tremendous addition to the home. Both boxes include paper and pencils. In the Joy Box children may draw and write about things that make them happy. In the Sorrow Box, they can represent things that make them sad. Every now and then, the parent/teacher should empty the Sorrow Box to make the sorrows “disappear.”
Peace Mat: This is a favorite of children and helps soothe them when they are upset. Included is a soft square of fabric for sitting on and a small, peaceful object to hold. It is especially nice for a child who needs time to cool off in a special place. Also see the Creative Therapies handout titled ‘Feel Better Time.’
Gift Making: Children love to make gifts for friends and family. Ideas for the shelf include stringing beads on pipe cleaners to make bracelets and heart cut-outs for writing “love notes.”
Feeling Cards and Mirror: These cards are simply photos of children expressing various emotions such as anger and sadness. The mirror can be used by the children to see their own face expressing these emotions.
Emotion Card Match: This is a set of photos of the children expressing positive emotions for them to match. Given the goal of peace and because children absorb their environment we only use photos of children expressing positive emotions.