Category Archives: Nonviolent Communication

A Dark Night’s Wee Challenge

Yesterday evening, I took SillyBilly to a little holiday party at a friend’s house. This lovely woman invites people with young children from the local anthroposophical community to her home to sing carols, have a little potluck, and see her magnificent Christmas tree. She decorates her tree with the symbols Steiner described, real red roses and apples, and real candles, with a smattering of straw stars. It’s truly magical.

Unfortunately, Napoleona had a cold, so Anthropapa stayed home with her and it was just me and the boy. Also unfortunately, SillyBilly was really starving and we didn’t eat until after the tree lighting and carol singing were done. If I had known, we would have nibbled something on our way over.

Needless to say, he started to behave, shall we say, not so politely, until we could get some food into the growing boy’s cavernous, echoing stomach.

As we were walking home in the dark, looking up at the stars, I decided to tell SillyBilly how I felt about his behavior. Trying to do a little NVC, you see, sharing my feelings.

I said something like, “when you yell at me and act rudely in front of our friends, it’s embarrassing!” (This doesn’t quite pass NVC muster: I really should have said something more like “when you yell at me, I feel angry, because I want you to respect me.” But of course then he would have asked me what respect means, and then we’d be off on another conversation!)

He responded, “What does embarrassing mean, Mama?”

Oh. Well….um.

How do I explain that?

“All the other kids were sitting quietly while you were yelling.” Nope, don’t really want to go the lemming route.

“I’m worried that people will think I’m a bad parent because you act that way.” Strike two! No way this is going to make sense to him, and in any case it’s something I’m just making up in my own head. More likely people are thinking that he’s probably hungry, or going through a stage, or something similar to what they’ve experienced themselves. Or other thoughts that I could never guess. And let’s not even talk about why I would want him to start caring what other people might think, when he’s only five years old.

I let the conversation die out, mumbling something about please don’t yell at me, we use our kind words and voices, etc. etc.

Now, from the comfort of my computer desk, I wonder what embarrassment is really all about.

Merriam Webster tells me, among other things, that to embarrass is “to cause to experience a state of self-conscious distress: abash,” and for abash, “to destroy the self-possession of, confuse or put to shame (as by arousing suddenly a feeling of guilt or inferiority).”

So, I was feeling self-conscious, confused, ashamed, guilty, or inferior?

Well, let me see…

Self-conscious? Check. Everyone was looking at us.

Confused? Not so much. I knew he was hungry and perhaps a little overstimulated.

Ashamed? Ooh, that’s a tough one. MW says it’s “feeling shame: humiliated or disconcerted by feelings of guilt, disgrace, or impropriety about something discreditable or indecorous.” OK, humiliated–not that much; disconcerted by feelings of disgrace or impropriety–yes. Feeling he was being discreditable or indecorous–yes.

Guilty? I could say that I felt guilty for somehow allowing him to be “out of control” and disturbing the party. But that just makes me wonder why I think I have to control him in the first place.

Inferior? Definitely–in the face of all the other serene Waldorf parents and kids, I felt like a complete slacker anthro mother.

So, I’m seeing that I need to find another way to talk to him about how he acts in public that doesn’t throw all of my feelings of parental inferiority on his shoulders. I can see quite clearly (and did at the time) that he was simply unable to be much “better” given his physical needs at the time. I can also see quite clearly that the source of my embarrassment was completely internal.

From what I’ve been told and what I remember, I was always a “good girl.” I learned how to act in public at a young age, and I wasn’t a very outgoing person in any case. SillyBilly is extremely outgoing, and really does fine in public in general. (We spent several hours gallivanting around town today and he was an angel.) And I’m still fairly introverted in some respects (evidently I’m an ISTJ according to a recent online test I took), so it’s sometimes hard for me to relate to him on that level.

The other challenge is that with NVC, there’s a lot of talking. With Waldorf early childhood methods, there’s not so much talking. How to balance them? I could still do the self-observation and self-empathy, but not go into the whole dialogue with the kids. But then, how do I get my needs met? Do I just have to wait for my needs to be met when they’re older and not in the self-centered petty tyrant stage? How do I wait that long?



Filed under Deep Thoughts, Nonviolent Communication, Parenting, waldorf education

Nonviolent Mama

Recently I’ve been feeling a little stressed out. I’m trying to fit in more work while still taking care of the kids, and I’ve not been getting enough sleep — I stay up too late doing “fun” stuff like reading blogs after a hard day.

So, I’m ashamed to say, my parenting skills have suffered. I’ve been frustrated and yelling a lot. Yelling quite loudly in fact. Here’s what’s been happening:

Naptime starts with me reading a story, usually SillyBilly on my lap and Napoleona in her bed. Then SillyBilly sits in the living room while I sing and rock Napoleona to sleep. Then in theory I would bring SillyBilly into the bedroom to rock him to sleep.

But lately SillyBilly has decided to thwart that last bit. He’ll act up, refuse to be quiet, wiggle around, etc. Sometimes he’ll take so long to settle down to sleep that it’s only half an hour until Napoleona gets up. Sometimes I get him into the bedroom, and then he’ll make enough noise to wake Napoleona up. And when that happens, she won’t go back to sleep. This all makes me very, very upset.

You see, naptime is a little haven of quiet and solitude during my day. Just me and the cats. I can do a little work, do a little blogging, read, sleep, whatever, and be all alone.

When SillyBilly interferes with that, I get angry. Angry that he’s not listening to me, angry that he’s not obeying me, angry that I’m not getting what I want. But, I don’t want to be a yelling, spanking, angry Mama. I definitely don’t want them yelling or hitting either. (Recently I heard SillyBilly saying “Goddammit!” quietly under his breath, as if to practice what he’d heard. Wonderful.)

So I went looking for help. I reread our copy of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. I’ve been struggling recently over how to incorporate NVC principles in my interactions with my kids. The structure of stating our observations, feelings, needs, and requests seems overly wordy and analytical when working with small children. This time I noticed that I could work with empathy more than the words, empathy for both myself and the kids.

I realized I need to look at the situation in an entirely new way:

At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Thus anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up—to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.

I need quiet time alone, and when I don’t get it I feel angry and frustrated. But yelling and spanking are not going to result in a quiet, peaceful afternoon. So I have to find ways to get what I need. This may mean paying for more day care so that I don’t feel compelled to work during naptime; this probably means I need to go to bed much earlier so that I’m not so tired when I’m with the kids.

The first step to fully expressing anger in NVC is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger…. We are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person’s behavior as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause…. Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault—we choose to play God by judging or blaming the other person for being wrong or deserving of punishment.

I was blaming SillyBilly for his actions, when really he was just being a normal 4 year old being tired but not wanting to sleep. I wasn’t getting angry because of his actions, I was getting angry because I was not getting what I wanted. I can still express my frustration and anger to him, but if I stay conscious of the fact that he’s not to blame, then I can keep my cool and just use calm words instead of yelling.

Now, normally in NVC we would use conversation to work through the conflict, expressing our needs and making concrete requests. But that would not work for me in the situation of trying to get SillyBilly to quiet down while trying not to wake up Napoleona! So I read about the concept of protective force:

The assumption behind the protective use of force is that people behave in ways injurious to themselves and others due to some form of ignorance. The corrective process is therefore one of education, not punishment.

If SillyBilly is being noisy while Napoleona is sleeping, I have to be prepared to take him out of the room. But the key is that I can’t blame him, I just have to help him understand why I need him to be quiet.

What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking? We soon realize that punishment and reward interfere with people’s ability to do things motivated by the reasons we’d like them to have.

This is the trickiest part for me. Part of me just wants the little bugger to comply with my requests, because I’m the Mama dammit! And I think to a certain extent that’s valid. I think parents need to have a sense of authority over their children — not authoritarian, but authority. I am the adult, I am the parent, therefore I have the responsibility and the authority to direct the children in their behavior. But ultimately I would like them to learn to act out of love and kindness, out of empathy for other people’s needs.

This last bit is the hardest because it’s a long-term proposition. Three and four year olds can’t really empathize — they don’t have that kind of consciousness yet. So we face a long road of repeating instructions and modeling the behavior we want them to exhibit.

So far things have been improving bit by bit. I’ve been trying to head SillyBilly off at the pass by expressing my need for him to take a nap right before naptime, so that it might be in his awareness a little more. The weather has been beautiful, allowing us to spend more time outdoors in the mornings so that the kids are more tired at naptime. We’re making a plan to ensure we have enough money to cover sufficient day care so that I can work during “normal” working hours and get enough rest.


Filed under Nonviolent Communication, Parenting

Nonviolent Communication and Children

“[The] objective of getting what we want from other people, or getting them to do what we want them to do, threatens the autonomy of people, their right to choose what they want to do. And whenever people feel that they’re not free to choose what they want to do, they are likely to resist, even if they see the purpose in what we are asking and would ordinarily want to do it.”

-Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately

“Young children respond to being shown how to act and live rather than being told. I tried to teach through the example of my actions and left the teaching through words and logic for a later age….When I want to establish a boundary for the child I try to be as conscious of myself as possible. I try to put any form of emotion behind me. It helps when I can speak with a quiet voice. I do not allow myself to be moved from the stance I have taken, and if necessary I repeat what I have said. Thereby I assure the child of the enduring relationship I have to him.”
-Margret Meyerkort in Lifeways: Working with family questions

Recently I have been trying to work with the principles of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) designed by Marshall Rosenberg. My questions surround how these techniques work with children. The center of the techniques is to calmly verbalize the conflict situation: When I see (hear, observe, etc.)…I feel…because I need….Would you please…? For example: When I see you hit your sister, I feel scared because I need her to be safe. Would you please use words instead of hitting?

In theory, and sometimes in practice, this works great even with children. But I wonder how this works with the anthroposophical/Waldorf idea that young children need to be guided with authority, and that the young child cannot rationalize yet and should be directed primarily through actions instead of words.

Many times instead of using words with Napoleona, I will simply move her bodily away from whatever is happening that I would like to stop. In fact, she has an uncanny ability to become totally deaf when I am verbally asking her to stop doing something! Waldorf parents are familiar with this is a sign of the overriding “will” phase of early childhood, where the child is ruled as it were by the will and bodily senses and not the intellect or emotions.

But SillyBilly is a bit intellectual and awake for his age, so sometimes I have tried the NVC technique with him, and sometimes it works. I have definitely seen that if I try to remove emotion from my voice, he listens to me more easily and the situation doesn’t deteriorate. The big question here is, in using all of these words am I working with his actual state of being, or am I promoting wakefulness in an unbalancing way?

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonviolent Communication, Parenting