non-violent communication

Parenting Community

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I have been thinking about what skills I might need in order to live in community.  I have thought about what would help to make me feel safe and comfortable.  What would allow me to feel fully present and myself?  Thinking about these questions made me realize that the times when I’m most comfortable are when I’m alone and don’t have to worry about anyone else.  Clearly, this defeats the purpose of community!  Second to that is when I’m with my family.  When we’re together, everything is as it is.  We mess up, we make it right.  We know that we will be loved and held even in our darkest times.  Family is forever.

Reflecting on time spent with my children, I can’t help but acknowledge the difficult times we’ve had.  There have been many things said and done that I wish could be taken back.  But they can’t, they can only be learned from.  Working to be a respectful parent, is actually working to become a more respectful person.  The time I sit and reflect on what I could have done differently, in hopes that next time I will do something different is reconditioning my mind.

Being detached from the outcome.  Being able to sit with difficult emotions.  Not trying to fix other people’s problems.  Using non-violent communication.  Sustaining judgement while solutions are found.  These are the skills I need for community life.  I already am learning what I need to know about living in community because what I will bring is who I am.  In community, I will make more mistakes, and say and do things I wish could be taken back.  And I will learn.

The challenge now is to apply what I’ve learned to adult contexts.  It is easy to fall into old patterns, and to expect more of adults, because, well, they’re adults.  Children’s responses are just closer to the surface because they’ve had less conditioning pushing them to conceal their innate responses.  But we are all people.  And all of us are at the mercy of our inner child and the stories we continue to carry with us.  Adult or child, we all want to be treated with respect, to be understood, and to be truly heard.  No matter what age, we want to feel valued.

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Grocery Store Meltdown

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Today is birthday week at our house.  My daughter, now 2, was born on April 6th.  Today is my eldest son’s birthday, he is now 6 and tomorrow, April 9th my second son turns 4.  Needless to say, birthday week is a crazy one around here.  I try to make each child’s birthday special for them, doing whatever it is that they choose for the whole day (within reason of course!) The children have not been sleeping well because they’re so excited!  Then factor in the cake and ice cream, increased levels of sugars in their diet – I let them eat cereal for breakfast and parfait with store bought granola for snack.  Add to that jealousy the children feel as they watch their sibling enjoy their special day.  Needless to say we’re a bit out of sorts.

Yesterday was our day off from birthday celebrations, so we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the things the boys wanted to have for their birthday meals.  The children, excited at the prospect of getting to choose their menu were having difficulty containing their excitement.  I usually have the littlest two ride together in the car.  But as they grow it is getting harder and harder for them to share the middle leg hole space!  My middle son was feeling uncomfortable and asked to come out of the cart.  Ensuring I had his attention, I confirmed that he had to stay near me and not touch things on the shelves in order to be able to stay out of the cart.

The two boys did a decent job of containing themselves in the aisles, but things started to unravel when they started playing horse and rider in front of the supplement shelves, lined with tiny bottles.  When I asked them to stop, pointing out the density of products on the shelves as well as the dirty floor, my younger son began to spin instead.  Dizzy, he knocked into the elbow height bottles, knocking every over.  Bless my eldest, who helped him to line them back up with careful precision.  Now spinning again, I had to remind my middle child to help with the mess.  He helped as much as he was able.

Shortly after, the boys decided it would be funny to play a game on me and head to the next aisle over on their own.  My eldest was gone only a few seconds before he thought better of the plan and came back to find me.  My younger son held out until I could maneuver the now heavy cart around the end cap to find him.  Reminding him what I had told him when I lifted him out of the cart, I placed him back in the seat.  He was not a willing participant, but I got him into the seat without too much commotion.  He continued to protest in new ways, clearly not wanting to be at the store any more.  His disdain turned into bothering his sister by squishing her leg and leaning over to compress her body.  I asked him to stop several times, but was unable to think of an alternative to him sitting in the cart…and taking the 2 year old out was not an option!  Despite my attempts to use sportscasting and non-violent communication by the time we reached the check out line she had grown tired of his antics and began hitting him in an effort to get him to stop.  He was quick to join the party, adding a chorus of cries to the mix.  I wanted to leave for the sake of my children.  But with three small children to manage by myself, a cart full of unpaid-for groceries and no other time to accomplish this errand, we had to find a way to move though the last of this shopping trip as gracefully as possible.

To maintain the limit, I stopped their hands gently, saying “I won’t let you hit each other.”  When my daughter tried to start the fight again, moments later, I held her hands firmly but gently, saying, “I won’t let you hit your brother.”  I asked her to tell me when she was ready to stop hitting.  It didn’t take long.  Once I released her hands, the hitting stopped.  For a time.  I tried entertaining them all with a game of ‘I Spy’ while we waited.  Participation was waning when my middle child decided he would like to get out of the cart.  I set another limit…”It is not safe for you to stand in the cart.  You must stay sitting down or I will have to put the buckle on.”  Cheekily he tried again as I was distracted with loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.  On went the buckles.  Then the cries of protest erupted.   It didn’t take long for my son to begin the hitting again.  Again, I maintained the limit, “I will not let you hit your sister,” holding his hands gently to stop him.  When he was finished trying to hit again, I released his hands.  He continued to cry for the duration of the check out process.

Once we finished, my eldest needed to use the bathroom.  I stood there and talked to my middle son about what had happened.  He expressed how angry he had been because I made him sit in the cart and put his buckles on.  I listened.  Then I asked if I could tell him my dies of the story…how I needed him to be safe by being near me in the store and staying seated in the cart.  Also by not hitting or being hit.  He understood, ending with, “I love you mommy.”  We hugged, rejoined with my eldest, and headed out of the store.

It was the first time I haven’t felt embarrassed at this type of misbehaviour.  I was able to keep my temper under control for the whole thing…an remarkably, I didn’t even have to think about it!  For the first time, in the moment, I felt like I knew what to do to help my children.  For the first time I wasn’t worried about what other people thought of my children, my parenting style, me.

After the whole thing was over, and we were heading home, I pondered what was different.  Nothing really.  That was probably the worst behaviour we’ve had at the grocery store.  The difference was in myself.  My ability to keep calm despite the fact that my children weren’t was new.  Detachment from my children’s behaviour was new.  Usually I feel like the way they are behaving is a reflection of myself…but not this time.

Ironically, this day, this one day where I felt like I nailed it given the circumstances, having confidence in the way I had handled it, a woman stopped me on the way out of the store saying:

“We’ve all been there.  And if people say they haven’t they’re lying.  You’re doing a great job.  Don’t worry about it!”

I uttered a quick “Thank you,” with as much of a smile as I could muster, feeling pulled from my disconnection from judgement and proud that I didn’t really need any congratulations this day.  I knew that I was doing right by my children.  Yes, they had a loud and unsavoury emotional experience at the store.  But people have big and difficult emotions and as a culture we hide them away all to often.  Perhaps we created a disturbance for other people who were shopping there, but really, that is their problem.  My problem is to figure out how to support my children through their emotional turbulence the best way I am able.  I am building confidence because I see that my efforts to be a mindful and respectful parent are working.  I am beginning to more consistently access my ability to be vulnerable, and in doing so I am finding that I am more connected to my children…and myself.  The difficult moments aren’t what matter…connection does.

 

Thanks to Janet Lansbury for her post which inspired me to share this story.

 

Setting Limits with Children Effectively

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When I read about respectful parenting or mindful parenting I was always confused about setting limits.  There are very few examples in the literature, which makes it hard to figure it out.  Once we did away with punishments, I found myself at a loss for what to do.  When I was no longer relying on punishments, I couldn’t quite figure out and effective way to help keep my children safe.  We spent some time trying to figure it out – which didn’t make any of us particularly happy, but has served us well in the long run.  But then, isn’t that how all change happens?  I thought I would share a bit about what I use to help set and maintain limits for my children, not because I am an authority on the issue, but because if I could help someone else through their parenting transformation, it would be a worthwhile thing to do!

When setting limits, the most important thing to do is to ensure all children are safe.  If the situation is something like a fist fight between children or they are engaged in an unsafe activity like playing with the stove for example, I stop the activity immediately.  Sometimes I can use words, sometimes a gentle hand to restrain a child, sometimes I have to put my body in the middle of it, and sometimes I have to move a child to a safe space by picking them up or guiding them there.  I try to communicate as clearly and calmly as possible through the whole thing what it is that I’m doing and why.  The key to success here is how I follow through on this.  Once I know everyone is safe, then I can take a moment to regain my composure if needed.

Most importantly, when setting limits, I need to keep my emotions under control.  If my children see me react in a big way, they know they’re hitting on something that is an emotional catch for me and will turn it into a power struggle in an instant.  This is the most important element for me, and the most difficult!  It is something that I still don’t do consistently, because, well…I’m human!  Before responding to any situation (unless it is a safety issue – as addressed in the previous paragraph), I try to take a moment for myself.  A deep breath often works well for me.  The point here is to gain some self-awareness about my own inner landscape and how it may be contributing to the situation.

When I started with limit setting over punishment, I began to notice my emotional reactions only after a blow-up – I would reflect on how I could have done things differently in hopes of making a different choice in the moment the next time around.  Then I began to intermittently notice in the moment that I was spinning my own emotional story about the event, which led to engaging with my own past hurts, judgements, etc.  This was/is a particularly difficult phase to be in.  It is painful to watch yourself do things you don’t intend…especially when they are hurtful to those around you!  Here is where I remind myself that no one is perfect.  Not only that, but it is in my imperfection that I am the most effective teacher for my children.  What my children see me do to ‘make things right’ after I have made a bad choice is the best kind of teaching – modelling!

Once I have myself as under control as possible I will relocate myself so that I’m close to the disruption, if I’m not there already!  Proximity can often solve an issue in an of itself.  When children know you’re nearby and will step in to help them if things go off the rails, they are far more willing to try solving the problem themselves because they feel supported in the process.  This comes with time, as it is related to building trust in each other.  I remind myself to trust that the children can sort it out themselves, and my presence reminds them that their safety is my top concern.

If the dispute is between my children, I will interject with sportscasting, narrating what I see happening – just the facts.  Often I will also use non-violent communication techniques to relay back to my children the information they’re telling me about their emotional state.  The key to both of these strategies is to avoid judgment.  Deep empathizing with their situation helps to reconnect us and it allows me to keep my perspective on their needs.  To do this, I listen to each of them, repeating the problem back in my own words if necessary to reassure them; showing that I understand.  I will often ask questions about their emotions.  Something like, “Did it make you feel angry that he took your marker?” or “Are you frustrated because you can’t get your shoes on yourself?”  I will ask if they need help to fix the problem, or if they know how to fix it themselves.  Often being heard is enough to help my children through a problem and I can stop here. Sometimes what they want me to know, understand or do is not appropriate.  So following the clarification of the issue, I will set and maintain a limit.  This sounds something like, “I know you are really excited to play at the park.  Right now, we need to go home for lunch.  I’m going to put you in the car now.”

If things continue, I offer my children a choice.  This allows them a way to gracefully exit the situation, saving face and avoiding a power struggle.  A situation like refusing to go to bed might have me offering a choice like, “You can go up to bed on your own, or I can take you, which would you prefer?”  If the child doesn’t answer in 20-30 seconds, I will take action on the choice that best suits me…so in this case, I will pick them up to go upstairs to bed.  I make sure to only offer the choice once and follow through with reasonable swiftness.  This ensures that my children listen to my words and trust that I will do what I have said.  Usually following through on a choice does not end in a grand display of refusal, since after a few times through this, children come to expect that you will take action.  In the event that they don’t respond well, I return to non-violent communication methods to understand their emotions, asking questions while I continue to follow through with the choice, reminding them they can make a different choice next time.

It sounds so easy in writing, but offering choices is difficult sometimes.  There are many instances where there is not a clear choice.  An example that comes up for us a lot is poor behavior once the lights are out for bed.  Knowing that unfavourable behaviours are rooted in unmet needs alerts me to take note and pay attention to what my children are saying so that perhaps the next day I can do something differently prevent this situation.  But noting that there is a need is not so helpful in the moment, especially when the kids are in an out of the bathroom slamming doors and yelling for us to come up for another hug and kiss…waking up the neighbourhood as they do!  The tricky part of this situation is getting them to calm down enough to communicate.  I try to use a non-verbal form of non-violent communication – empathizing with how difficult it must be for them to go to bed when really they still want to be near us and play.  If they can hear that I understand and answer a few questions, we can open the conversation.  Then a choice like, “Do you want to go back to bed yourself, or shall I take you there?” can be received.

The following are some paraphrased guidelines I use on offering choices from the book Parenting with Love and Logic:

  1. Choices shouldn’t include limitless options. Two clear options are all a child can really deal with in order to make a choice. Don’t add another choice because your child suggests it. Tell him: “That was a good suggestion. These are the choices I’m offering now. We’ll try your suggestion next time.”
  2. Use parent-approved choices only. Offer choices that guide your child toward the outcome you’re seeking. Make sure both options offered are 100% okay with you. If you offer two choices hoping your child will choose “a” instead of “b”, your hesitancy about “b” will act like a magnet and cause your child to choose “b” instead of “a” every time.
  3. Take action when a child doesn’t choose. If a child won’t choose between the apple or the cranberry juice you need to choose for her. Follow through and choose so your child comes to understand that when you offer her a choice and she doesn’t choose, the ability to choose goes away. You can say, “I know you’re upset that I had to choose the juice for you. I have another choice for you to try now. Would you like to drink what I chose for you now or not have juice right now?”

Examples of what I do are hard to come up with out of the moment.  The framework of how I progress with my children through a problem varies from situation to situation – like permaculture is site specific.  Setting and maintaining limits actually helps to build connection and trust.  As difficult as it is to see in the moment, situations where I need to set limits are the very things I need to pay attention to for growth.  They are the weeds in our garden.  They are the indications that there is a deeper unmet need.  Setting limits is really an art form.  Like with permaculture, a set of systems can be applied, but you have to just try them out, fine tune them, learn as you go…and get messy in the process!  This is why permaculture style parenting really needs mindful presence and to be treated as a process.  For this reason, when a situation is resolved and I consider that the storm has blown over, I take a moment to reflect on our interactions.  How did I do with regulating my emotions?  How did my children do with the limit?  Was it a necessary limit?  Do I need to revise the limit?  What could I do differently the next time to make it a better experience?

To sum it up, here are the strategies I use for effective limit setting:

  1. Ensure children are safe.
  2. Regulate your own emotions.
  3. Get close to the action.
  4. Sportscast or use non-violent communication to demonstrate you understand the problem, allowing children to solve it themselves.
  5. Offer a choice once and follow through immediately.
  6. Reflect on the situation – make changes if necessary.