This post goes out to a legend of our time who sadly passed away last week. Marshall Rosenberg dedicated his life to peace and created tools that resolved conflict in the most tricky of situations. I read his book, Non Violent Communication, and became sure that if everyone read it, and put it into practice, the world would be a much more harmonious, beautiful, just place.
I felt it had massive potential for use in the home, that the principles and methods of talking and listening could transform parent- child relationships, that it could restore connection where a disconnect had taken place.
So, I want to kick off a short blog series, Parenting for Social Justice, with Non Violent Communication. (NVC, because life’s too short.)
Not because I am amazing at it (I am pretty sure my beg, every early morning, “Let me sleeeeeeeeeep moooooooore because otherwise I will diiiiiieeeeeee” flouts all the NVC guidelines) but because I TRY to bring this kind of communication in my life, and I believe it is KEY in raising social justice loving children.
NVC is a strategy for communicating, but it can also be a lens through which we see life. The four components are observations, feelings, needs and requests.
First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like. Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.
For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common.” She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?”
This picture shows how we can phrase what is going on for us using the four components- it is from a really helpful slideshow on NVC here.
NVC holds an awful lot of insight that I think is especially helpful for parents (well, like, on top of The Whole Thing):
Connection is the key to peace
It is the reason, the how, the why, the everything. Rosenberg is adamant that human connection is the way to unlock violent or angry situations. As parents our number one goal for each day should be connecting with our children. NVC shows us how to keep those doors of connection open no matter what.
The world needs more Empathy
“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. We often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”
NVC is a process that gets us into an empathetic place- it has been successfully used to nurture understanding in situations from warring street gangs to international conflict. When we parent with understanding and empathy we are likely to see our children showing understanding and empathy- things the world needs in order to prevent warring gangs and international conflict. The pathway to world peace begins in every home. (What’s good enough for the Gangs of New York is good enough for my Tribe in a Yurt.)
Our needs as parents are real
I love that NVC is about being real. Our feelings are valid and not to be hidden, and yet, yet, it asks us to take a breath and recognise what lies beneath our feelings and how we can actually get what we need. Sometimes I get the impression that attachment parenting relishes martyrdom…. The fact is, if the intense sacrifice of parenting a baby stretches into the toddler and older child years we are denying the importance of our own needs.
The world needs more Self Empathy
And therefore Rosenberg doesn’t just talk of giving empathy to others, but of receiving empathy. We can not keep being empathetic to our children if we aren’t getting dosed up ourselves. We need to find support people to top us up, but mostly we need to be empathetic to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves is one of the most important foundations for empathetic parenting. Funnily enough, I think it is the thing we struggle most with. We experience guilt piled upon guilt and give ourselves a break NEVER. Dive into self empathy, your children will love you for it!
Being a judgey judger doesn’t help us connect
Importantly, it asks us to not judge our children when they do things we find difficult. We asked constantly to put judgements on our kids- are they good, bad, naughty? And it is hard sometimes to take our judgemental specs off.
We have actually been working with an NVC trained mediator recently and she inspired me with the idea that there is very little “good” or “bad” in day to day situations…. What there IS are people with basic needs trying to get them met in a way that we don’t really like! Never is this more apparent with children. Most of the time children are just expressing a need – for connection or belonging or security- with a strategy that really grates! “MUM I DO NOT WANT YOUR DISGUSTING PASTA FOR TEA!!”
What a change of perspective when we can see that our children are just working out the best ways of getting their needs met- and that we are able to have a sincere, kind discussion with them about this.
We need to find alternatives to R ewards and punishments
If there is anyone I going to listen to about how to avoid big, global conflict it is a dude who has dedicated his life to resolving it. Rosenberg says “Punishment is the root of all violence on the planet”and he isn’t referring just to institutional punishment but punitive measures taken in the home- smacking and shaming and bribing. He advocates more connection based, more empathetic ways of communicating with our children- only when children experience empathy will they be able to give it. When children act out of fear of punishment, or in order to receive a reward, they are not acting from the heart, which lessens the good will and peace in the world.
Here is Rosenberg with his dad hat on, using NVC in one of those really tricky situations (that I know too well) when your child hits another:
In such situations, I recommend first empathizing with the child who is behaving violently. For example, if I saw a child hit someone after being called a name, I might empathize, “I’m sensing that you’re feeling angry because you’d like to be treated with more respect.” If I guessed correctly, and the child acknowledges this to be true, I would then continue by expressing my own feelings, needs, and requests in the situation without insinuating blame: “I’m feeling sad because I want us to find ways to get respect that don’t turn people into enemies. I’d like you to tell me if you’d be willing to explore with me some other ways to get the respect you’re wanting.
Take a deep breath
And then, to finish, I think NVC holds one very practical tip that I reckon could be the big change from a volatile parent-child relationship to a peaceful one, and that is: taking a big deep, reflective breath before we react or reply.
Parenting can trigger an emotional response in us- sometimes my child’s behaviour unleashes a small, angry dragon in my belly. If I react from that dragon place out come the bribes and warnings and manipulation. But if I take a moment to understand my feelings, to empathise, to listen, then my fiery breath is much less fierce, and stinky.
NVC conversations are slow and quiet, they involve silent space, reflection and observation. Have a look at this Youtube video to get a sense of how softly, softly these parenting chats can go.
So there we have it, boom shack, a little overview of how NVC can work in the home. NVC has bought about so much peace worldwide- I believe if it is implemented between adults and children the impact will be multiplied a google times.
Parenting for Social Justice series
You know, I have an undergrad and post grad degree in social policy, and spent the majority of my career in policy and campaigns- determined that this was the way to a fair world.
Then I had children. I began to see that social justice begins in the home; that peaceful adult- child interaction has just as much a role as the UN, the NGOs, all the Nobel Peace Prize nominees. I will raise warring tyrants or peacemakers (or somewhere in between!) depending on how I treat my children.
This series has been on my mind for a year- I want to take a look at how common themes and concepts within the global social justice movement apply to childhood.
I’d love to explore this with you, if you have any ideas we can look at, it’d be awesome to hear from you.
A just and beautiful world is nurtured every time a child is loved and respected….