Nonviolent Communication can change your parenting world, here’s a free resource to get started

Gentle parenting can have a profound impact on us parents as people. One way is in our everyday language.

The way that many people in our society tend to relate to one another promotes divisiveness, reflecting our mainstream culture’s struggle with how to cultivate unity and acceptance of diversity.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an approach to interpersonal communication that dovetails well with our parenting goal of high-empathy relationship-building. Many parents have commented to API on how learning NVC was a gamechanger not only in relating to and disciplining their children but also in how they individually related to others in their families, on the job, and through life.

Related: Practicing NVC

Related: Where to draw the line? Exploring boundaries, limits, and consequences

Our words and actions are the outward expression of our thought patterns. The NVC process aims to challenge our belief foundations regarding human dignity and respect so that our verbal and nonverbal language matches our goals for relating to others.

NVC offers a variety of online and in-person resources, as well as this free ebook.

API’s resources, including certified parent educators and local parent support groups, can help you take the next step in applying respect-centered language to your family relationships.

Speaking peace

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorEditor’s Note:  This post was originally published on 2/9/2015.  Written by Lysa Parker & Barbara Nicholson, API cofounders and coauthors of Attached at the Heart  — this article captures the essence of Attachment Parenting, and this year’s AP Month 2016 theme, “Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony.”

We often reflect on whether or not API has made a difference in our efforts toward peace. API isn’t about promoting just parenting strategies: We have a broader long-term vision we have often described as “peaceful parenting for a peaceful world.”

We are living in a time in history that is both grave and great.

I heard a commentator say once that “stumbling into peace is better than rushing to war.” That is not a strategic plan for peace, and we know that governments and nations are less likely to make that a priority. It is the citizens, each and every one of us, who will create lasting change.

We know that, like punishment, war provides temporary results. So, as our world goes through its painful transformations, we continue to do the work of peace each and every day in our homes. We tend to want to have a quick fix, but the most lasting and effective peace will take generations.

Those of us involved with API do so because we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to have an anchor in our own lives to help us transform, to undo our own negative internal programming, to learn to live — and speak — peacefully.

1286508_dandelion_weed_or_wonderIn a real sense, we are pioneers in creating a new paradigm in parenting and living.

It isn’t easy, and as we learn, we will make mistakes. But from those mistakes come wisdom. We can’t let our mistakes immobilize us, but let us look at those times as opportunities to understand ourselves. Our support group community provides us with a net of safety to share, to be validated and supported.

API Support Groups are a foundational community for practicing peace, with our children and each other. These communities provide the opportunity to practice and engage in the language of peace: Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

This language style has and continues to teach me so much. I wish I had known about NVC when my children were small. Still NVC benefits me as an adult, both in talking to my grown children and other adults. NVC creator Marshall Rosenberg gave all of us a gift of skills that teaches us to:

  • See the need behind the behavior
  • Give us the vocabulary for our feelings and needs
  • Teaches us to use “power with” rather than “power over” our children
  • See each other’s humanness at the need level
  • Move away from punishments
  • Bring about peaceful change that begins with working on our own mindsets

Gordon Neufeld of the Neufeld Institute and Gabor Mate have also made major contributions to our understanding and skills to parent peacefully. They have taught us to look past our child’s behavior to find the unmet needs and strengthen parent-child connections.

That’s a radical departure from our culture where we feel we have to punish for every misdeed.

What we say and how we say it can make the difference between building relationships or breaking them down. We have to learn this new language of peace to accompany our actions toward peace, beginning in our own families. It is the essential component toward creating a peaceful world.

Using NVC in the Family

By Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

barbara nicholsonNVC-language-for-lifeOver the last several years, I have been reading Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s classic book, Nonviolent Communication, and sharing some of his pearls of wisdom with my adult sons. Oh, how I wish I had this book when they were very young! And how I wish I had the wisdom to model this kind of communication for my children as we were dealing with sibling rivalry and other normal challenges of family life.

When we’re all together eating, playing games, or watching TV, my husband and I are amazed at how the “old tapes” can get played: The same dynamics that you think adults outgrow can rear over such insignificant comments! Four adult children with four very unique temperaments, talents and interests make for interesting combinations, to say the least. But no matter what the issue, it’s affirming to see how well the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) tools work!

There were several times when a simple misunderstanding could have escalated into a full-blown argument; however, reminding ourselves of what the core issue was — the feeling that was felt, the need that was identified — diffused the situation into an opportunity to really see the big picture. So often we don’t want to take the time to dig a little deeper, thinking that it’s too time consuming, yet arguments can linger over the rest of the day, creating a pall over what should be a loving day of connection and respite from our busy lives.

In my ideal world, not only would parents model these communication tools for their children, but teachers would be taught these methods in all training programs. What a gift for a teacher to be able to help her students who are having an argument on the playground to identify their feelings and unmet needs, to see that we have a universal vocabulary of feelings that are web of strength, not a weapon of name calling and division.

If this became our language of connection, we might even be able to change the way we communicate in business and government, changing our whole society in such a way that mediation becomes more the norm than the exception.

When I see my sons using NVC tools, even though it might be a little stiff and even though I usually have to initiate the conversation, I see the potential that all families have to greatly improve their quality of family life. It’s even a great tool to use with grandparents and other family members, especially over the holidays or other events when we’re in close quarters for extended periods of time. It’s a reminder to be a good listener, take the time to go a little deeper in our understanding of each other and truly bring some peace into the home.

Many communities now have NVC practice groups, and I encourage all API Support Groups to look into inviting an NVC-trained group leader to visit and perhaps lead a practice session at a meeting. It is a simple technique that we can use in every relationship, increasing our vocabularies at the same time! As Dr. Rosenberg states, this is a whole new language and essential to creating a more peaceful society. Of course, that — peace — is what we all want in our homes and communities.

Practicing NVC

After I checked out Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg from my library, I knew I would need to buy it for my personal collection.  It is excellent.  Not only is NVC extremely relevant to parents working towards healthy relationships with their children, but the principals are applicable in any type of communicative relationship….spouses, family members, co-workers, employers, neighbors, and just about anyone with whom we may potentially have disagreements once in a while.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NVC, know that this approach to communication is a cornerstone of attachment parenting.  Here are the concepts of NVC in a nutshell: it is about feelings and needs.  It’s about setting judgement aside and focusing on communicating how we feel and what we need.

While the book is an inspiring read, it can be difficult to put to practical use…at first.  It was difficult for me in the beginning because I wasn’t used to communicating this way (effectively).  But right away, even for the novice “nonviolent communicator,” it’s easy to start with small steps simply by raising awareness of critical moments in your daily communications; those when it would be easy to impart judgment on a situation.  Instead of judging, I try to re-think my viewpoint and re-phrase my words to be as objective as possible.

What I See: So instead of walking in to the living room and saying, “Oh, what a big mess in here,” I keep my observations clear and straightforward.  “I see books, blocks, scarves, and trucks spread on the floor from wall to wall.”

How I Feel: “I feel tired because I’ve picked up these toys two times already today.”

What I need: “I need order in this room, and I need help to make it happen.”

Will You? “JJ, will you please put the scarves in the basket?  Elia, will you put books back on the shelf please?”

What could easily have started as a judgment (Why are you so messy?), confrontation (You never put your toys away!) and demand (Get this cleaned up now!), turns out to be a cooperative activity, and my need for order is met.

I realize that with toddlers and very young kids, it may be difficult to get immediate cooperation with respect to a person’s needs.  As my kids grow, NVC gets more and more effective, and I especially love it for my husband’s and my interactions.  What takes practice is the ability to distance ourselves from any personal attacks and look for specific feelings and unmet needs.

Anyone new to NVC can start practicing the tactics intermittently.  If I have an observation, feeling, need, or request to convey, I practice stating it nonjudgmentally in as many situations as I can, whether or not there is anything else to express about it.  For example, at breakfast this morning I said, “I see Elia using a fork and JJ sitting down in his chair,” just to practice statements of observation.  To my husband I said, “I feel nervous about my meeting today.”  Or, while making cookies today, “I need the eggs cracked in this bowl.”  Or, this evening, “JJ, would you pick out your nighttime diaper?” All of those events happened independently and did not result in extensive communication, but they gave me a chance to identify and verbalize a sight, feeling, need, and a request.  I continue to look for small moments like those to help me practice.

Right now, I have to sort through my emotions and think hard about articulating my feelings and needs.  It is common for me to say how I “feel” without really stating a feeling.  For example: “I feel like you’re not listening to me.” This statement does contain the word “feel,” but it’s really an accusation, not a true description of how I feel.  I feel insecure.  I feel discouraged.  I feel angry.  Those are more accurate descriptions for how I feel when my need to be heard isn’t met.  The Center for Nonviolent Communication offers lists of common feelings and needs that I refer to often!

Regarding NVC, I also like that only one person in a communication exchange needs to be familiar with the principals to make it effective.  So I can help someone else (like my children) identify their feelings and needs and feel successful in communicating them. “Oh, Elia, I see that you lost your dinosaur toy!  That must make you feel sad…you loved watching him hatch and grow!  Do you need a hug? I’m sorry that he’s gone.  How about if we look for another dinosaur egg the next time we go to the store?”  By offering suggestions or making guesses as to what she is feeling, it gives her a chance to correct me–“No I’m not sad, I’m mad!” This creates a more meaningful conversation and is teaching my daughter effective, empathic communication.

If you haven’t read NVC yet, check it out, and you can join me in my ongoing efforts to practice it!  Effective communication is excellent.

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