My vision is to help you to begin creating a family culture which supports well being. We all exist in relationship to, not separate from our environment. In addition supporting you to take care of yourself emotionally I would like to offer some guidance on how to communicate in a way which encourages positive relationships.
The core philosophy of NVC is “Human beings have enormous power to enrich life. We can use words to contribute to people’s enjoyment, their wisdom.”, Marshall B. Rosenbergh, founder. It offers an approach to communication where feelings and needs are clearly stated in an atmosphere of mutual respect. This can be useful in conflict situations because it provides a way of understanding the other person’s point of view. Often the underlying needs and feelings are similar to our own, finding this common ground can help us to empathise instead of feeling at odds with them.
What I would like to advocate is parenting approach where we communicate respectfully with our children using these principles. In this way positive relationships can be constructed and we guide them through what we demonstrate with our actions.
Here is an example of how this can play out in a parenting situation:
Blame and shame: “Will you hurry up and get ready, you’re going to make us late”
Name don’t blame: “Sweetheart mummy is feeling a little bit anxious right now, I wonder if you would be willing to get ready more quickly?”
The first scenario is likely to create anger and resistance whereas the second scenario let’s the child know that they are not at fault and invites them to empathise with you. You may be surprised how empathic children who have been raised with an awareness of their own emotions are capable of being.
Understanding your child’s behaviour
I would like to offer a re framing of your child’s more “challenging” behaviour. Dr Gordon Neufield in the book he co-authored with Gabor Mate, “Hold on to your Kids” describes some common behaviours and what is going on psychologically for the child in that moment. “The fearful child is following instinctual orders to avoid. The insecure child may be compelled to cling and hold on. Frustration often induces a child to demand or cry or attack. The shamed child is under orders to conceal. The resistant child automatically counters the will of another. When a child is impulsive impulses rule”.
In “The Whole Brain Child” , Payne Bryson and Siegel, the authors talk about the way in which children who are expressing strong emotions such as fear or anger may have slipped into what they call “downstairs brain”, in more technical language the Amygdala, sometimes known as the reptile brain which is associated with the flight, fight or freeze response. When children slip into this part of the brain they temporarily loose contact with the pre frontal cortex, the part associated with rational thought. This was useful at an earlier time in our evolution when we needed this automatic response to help escape from predators – thinking was a waste of energy, instead we needed all of our resources to run away or fight.
Dr. Neufield explains “the brain is only doing its job in moving the child according to the emotions and instincts activated.”. It is therefore a mistake to punish a child or label them as naughty for exhibiting such behaviours. Instead they can be regarded as teaching opportunities, moments where we can help the child to learn how to help them to self regulate as well as offering us the chance to bond with a child and help them to feel safe. We will look at strategies for this later in the chapter.
Sometimes actions which cause adults frustration might simply be play or exploration to your child, in the case of a friend of mine this looked like shoving pound coins into their car cd player. There may also be limit testing. I have a vivid memory of being small and turning the handle on a coffee bean dispenser in a fancy delicatessen, watching a sea of brown beans cascading onto the floor was delightful. I was old enough to know that I shouldn’t do this but wanted to test the limits of what was acceptable.
Limits and Boundaries
In these situations it is important to set appropriate boundaries. In a study conducted by Brene Brown it was discovered that the single trait shared by the most compassionate people was clear boundaries. I imagine this is because if we override our personal boundaries we neglect what is important to us. Beneath the surface anger and resentment can accumulate making us more likely to snap or become passive aggressive.
Here is an NVC based approach to compassionate boundary setting using a real scenario that happened when a world renowned author on compassionate communication came for dinner. My son was four at the time and spinning a blue tube around to make a noise:
Acknowledge the child’s feelings – I imagine you’re really enjoying making that sound and it’s giving you a lot of pleasure.
Name your own feelings: The high pitched sound is hurting my ears.
Make a request: I wonder if you would be willing to stop while we have dinner?
What is realistic?
It is important to have age appropriate expectations of the child. Someone who is under four might find it very difficult to control the impulse to make a noise. In this situation, further exploration of the child’s needs may be needed. It might be appropriate to offer an alternative activity or for them to continue making the sound elsewhere in the house. It could be that they are looking for social interaction and are bored by adult conversation. For my energetic four year old sitting quietly at the table for more than a few minutes was too difficult a task, at age six it wasn’t a problem. Each child is different, you will know your own child better than anyone and gain an understanding of what is realistic for them at each stage.