As parents we [need to be aware of] how we communicate with our children. We [must] ask ourselves whether it is lending to a relationship built on mutual respect, caring and trust. In the book, Raising children compassionately: parenting the nonviolent communication (NVC) way, Rosenberg makes a winning argument for re-focusing on the quality of relationships with your children and the strength of that connection. He suggests that we need to take a giraffe perspective, where we strive to be conscious of how communication builds present and future bonds through awareness.
Rosenberg seeks to turn our communication in a direction that leads us away from using coercion and moves us toward strengthening connection. In that way, we can grow mutual concern and respect, where both parties feel like they are heard and that their needs are interdependent. So that instead of using coercion or forcing your child to always do as you say, you can take the giraffe perspective and shape what you say to reflect the values you wish to inculcate. An example could be instead of saying: If you don’t stop running with the wrong crowd, you wait and see what I will do with you… Reframe it to: I am very worried and concerned about all the trouble you are getting into with your friends, can we figure out how to turn this situation around? Coercion while effective in the moment, has its limitations. It creates resistance. It also removes the sense of autonomy we have been fighting for since the age of two. And it does not build the critical thinking skills that our children need for when we are not around.
Note that this type of skill requires that we maintain the ability to give our full attention, by being present to our children and listening to them with empathy, especially when they are unhappy. It means taking the time to really focus and listen without jumping in to give advice or trying to fix everything. This is important since every single one of us when we are in pain needs presence and empathy not judgment.
Requests and not threats
Nonviolent communication (NVC) is about empowering both the parent and the child. It is off the beaten track and may not be everyone’s cup of tea since it tries to teach language that opens us up to working in the best interest of the greater whole and not solely out of fear of punishment or hope for reward. When we practice NVC we begin to speak to our feelings and our needs by making requests and not threats.
How to practice NVC
1. Make observations about a situation and how it may or may not be enriching our lives: I am observing that you don’t let me know your whereabouts after school
2. State how we feel when we observe this action: I feel afraid/irritated when I don’t know your whereabouts
3. Express what our needs are: I feel irritated when I don’t know your whereabouts because as your mother I have a need to make sure you are safe….
4. Identify what we are requesting from the person that will be mutually beneficial to both: When I know your whereabouts then we can spend more time talking about your day instead of having an unpleasant exchange when you get in the car.
Practice makes permanent
If we do choose to parent in a non-violent and empowering way, it may feel unnatural. Our friends and family will start to give us the side-eye, or feel that we are too permissive. However, what is a habit and what is natural are totally different. It is natural to want to connect and communicate in ways that build loving bonds, respect and appreciation. It is a poor habit to speak to our children in ways that push them away or cause them to tune out. It requires a more conscious effort to create a new habit of consistently maintaining positive lines of communication with your child.
The change you want starts with you
In the book: Respectful parents, respectful kids: 7 keys to turn family conflict into cooperation, we hear the good news that we don’t have to change our child’s behaviour in order to end conflicts. The only behavior we really have control over is our own. When you change your behavior, your children’s behavior will change too.?
Being honest about our needs
What we can also change is how honest we are with ourselves. Communicating nonviolently requires that you are clear about your own needs. When our days are full, or we aren’t getting enough sleep, relaxing or eating properly it is often difficult to respond with empathy to the needs of our children. The emotional costs of running on empty will not only tell on you, but also on your children and the quality of your interaction with them through more nagging, threatening, yelling, or punishment. Left unchecked you are then likely to become resentful of your child’s needs.
Giraffe language is speaking from the heart
In essence, we all have the capacity to be violent. Like NVC, the giraffes’ height affords a long view into the distance and provides a heightened awareness of future possibilities and the consequences of our thoughts, words and actions. As a communication tool, it stresses the expression of feelings and needs and invites us to be more big-hearted in our interactions, and turns vulnerability into a strength.