I have received a question from one of my workshop participants (Parenting From Your Heart with Nonviolent Communication) that they have agreed to allow me to post and answer on the blog. My response is not that of a certified trainer and is, as always, reflective of my own best understanding of NVC. Here is her question:

Without an understanding of child development, how can NVC be helpful?

Example: one mom wants to explain her needs around materialism to her 4 1/2 year old son and another mom is frustrated because her child wants to jump in puddles instead of walking straight to the parent’s desired destination (distracted every 2 minutes)… but child is 2 1/2.

She says that she, “can see how empathy is appropriate [in both situations]. My concern is that I have seen moms NVC-ing children around the mom’s needs not being met. I am relieved, refreshed and hopeful being in your class because I see that you are trying to teach about heart connections rather than giving a parent permission to meet their needs at the child’s expense. I am concerned that the verbal processing with young ones around mom’s or dad’s needs not being met puts pressure on the child. I also see the beauty of authentically expressing disappointment, frustration or sadness in front of children. I want to make sure that my children don’t feel responsible for my feelings or needs not being met.
For example:
My needs for order may not be realistic for the situation. My need for support shouldn’t be placed on the child’s shoulders. How does NVC deal with this so the child doesn’t feel that responsibility?
I suppose that just being aware that I have a need for order and this is causing my grouchy feeling is a huge step in the right direction. Then being able to talk myself down by giving myself empathy and understanding. Without the NVC tools, some parents may not ever get this much self awareness.”

Here is my answer:

I think that this question gets to the heart of the primary challenge we face in living NVC. Children will always bring this work to light faster than any other people in our lives, so the arena of parenting is an excellent one to practice and take note of this in.

I agree that empathy is the foremost support that NVC can offer — first the parent giving themselves empathy, and, as they find the spaciousness, offering it silently or verbally to their children.

Then we must turn to the zen of NVC to address the next part of the question. You say, “I want to make sure that my children don’t feel responsible for my feelings or needs not being met.” First, a celebration of that awareness — hurray! I have companionship with you there! How can we accomplish this?

I believe that the answer lies in our attachment to specific outcome and our ability to make a fast and effective request. Both require a fair degree of skill and will in the practice.

You use the example of your need for order: “It may not be realistic in the situation.” What is not realistic? Your need or the strategy you are requesting? I would venture to say that your need is always realistic. You might be very clear about what strategy you think would meet that need (20 maids in 20 hours?), but at a loss as to how it could be met in your current environment where you and your children are the only ones at home. In this moment, grappling with a need that feels greater than what we can see an answer for, our options (as I see them) are:

*Do a Jackal count: Are the howls in our conscious or subconscious thoughts blaming our children for their laziness, messiness, etc.? Do a good listen without trying to change anything and decide how much space to give yourself for empathy before engaging with your kids on the topic accordingly.

*Self-empathy — feel the pain of your unmet need of order. Anxiety, disappointment, sadness, frustration. How many layers of needs can we tease out? If that need for order were met, then what? A need for spaciousness, self-connection? A need for connection and fun? What are the feelings attached to each?

*Getting empathy in person or by phone from someone other than our children.

*After sitting with it awhile, do we have a broader scope of options to support us and our families in this dilemma? Has there been a shift? Are we experiencing more peace and acceptance? Is there clarity about whether and what we might request from our children or others?

If I am charged with judgment about my child’s contribution to the disorderliness of my home and I express myself, even with observation-feeling-need-request about my frustration, it is likely that my child will feel the energy I would (perhaps unconsciously) like to saddle them with in bearing my pain. I don’t want to hold it alone. It is easier to shove it off on someone else. The words, the tone, the energy translates.

It can also happen that I am fully owning my feelings and needs and express them accordingly as my child still takes responsibility. First, I must cultivate an acceptance that this could happen despite my best intentions (for a variety of reasons depending on where they are at this moment), and be in choice about whether and how to express.

In the latter case, a lightning-fast and effective request, especially a connective one (e.g. “Can we work together to find a way to meet both of our needs right now?”) will be most likely to support the child’s empowerment and clarity about what would contribute. You would be requesting them to take some action, not to sit with and potentially take on the nebulous darkness you dispel. They also find themselves supported in choice and invited to engage rather than to play a captive-passive role of receiving energy and information that they don’t have the skills or maturity to cope with (particularly from a primary caregiver).

This question is one we would do well to consider deeply and practice daily in all of our dealings. What is the energy we express ourselves from? Is our reaching out a request or demand? What attachments do we have around it? How actively do we pursue acceptance of what is when our awareness of attachment is discovered?

In addition, I believe that we have the responsibility to learn what is developmentally expected in our children so that we are not surprised or bewildered (in addition to our sometime frustration) by the ways that they commonly seek to meet their needs. We can do this most easily by cultivating awareness in community with other children and their parents. Take an informal poll. What are the primary frustrations and delights you see at different phases of development? Caterpillars do not suck nectar from flowers and nor do butterflies eat the leaves.

The opportunity to find gold within us — full presence and compassion — is always alive, and the children in our lives put the heat to our making. Where else do we find the depth of care, passion, and responsibility to live in utmost integrity? Where else will we be questioned with such brutal honesty at our points of greatest challenge?

Alchemists, we are, every one.

I appreciate the opportunity to play with your question. I welcome any thoughts or points that require further clarity or discussion and plan to address them as time permits.