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« Gratitude Practice for Creativity & Vitality | Main | How Do You Teach Empathy? »
Friday
Jul012005

Help with "forgetful" kids

REQUEST
I am almost through Language of Life, as well as having read the booklet specifically aimed at parenting children.  I have found some success implementing empathic and reflective listening with my spouse and children; however, the children are much more of a challenge.  I wonder if you have anything that speaks to this challenge:  my children are 4, 7, and 9.  While all three often act in opposition with my needs, they seem to do it out of forgetfulness or a lack of awareness.  When I try to get at what they are feeling or thinking, or give them an opportunity to be heard, I get, "I don't know" or, "I forgot."  The issue is not so much that their needs are conflicting with mine, because they aren't aware of their needs.  It seems to be a lack of awareness of their actions and repetitive behavior that is causing their father and I distress in one way or another.  I try to make consequences relevant to the transgression, but I notice you aren't in favor of punitive consequence!  Still, when the issue is one of carelessness, I don't know how else to get them to stop and remember the rules other than undesirable consequences.

REPLY:
NVC focuses on what is happening now, connecting to the observations, and feelings and needs present right now, and then uses requests of what can be done right now that works for everyone that could lead to everyone's needs getting met.  I often find it difficult to figure out what my needs were when I did not do something in the past.  And in fact this can stimulate guilt, shame, or helplessness since we can not "unring that bell."  "I don't know" can also be a response to a lack of "need" vocabulary and skill in expressing.  Taking the focus off the task initially and placing it on the relationship when there is conflict or upset establishes the groundwork for mutual understanding that can lead to creative cooperation.

I find that it helps to explore how each of us is feeling right now about whatever has happened, and what needs of each of us are met and unmet in the moment.  Asking "why?" when we are feeling emotional in the moment can be heard as aggression.  If we are feeling a sense of urgency, I suggest we acknowledge our feelings and needs to ourselves and then either make an empathic guess about what they are experiencing right now to understand them, or express and take responsibility for our feelings by connecting them to our own needs (e.g. order, support, ease).  Since many of us are not very literate in vocabulary to express our feelings and needs, when we are wanting to understand another it helps to make a guess in question form of possible feelings connected to the possible needs causing them, and then give space for them to self-connect and respond.  Such guesses might be:
    "Are you feeling scared because you are needing some reassurance that we will work this out in a way that works for you, too?"  or
    "Are you feeling regretful because you are really wanting to do things that work for me too?" or
    "Are you feeling confused because you need some support in figuring out how you can remember this is important to me and/or your father?"

No matter what they say, our 4 choices of focus and response remain:
    1.  blame and punish them (jackal ears out)
    2.  blame and criticize ourselves (jackal ears in)
    3.  honestly share our own heart:  our observation, feeling, need, and request (giraffe ears in)
    4.  empathetically listen for feelings and needs under the surface words they use (giraffe ears out)
The latter 2 (giraffe in and out) are more likely to lead to the quality of connection that bring about our natural tendency to want to contribute to each other, and to learn and choose in harmony with our intrinsic values and integrity.  This leads to a sense of empowerment and mutuality that will help to keep our kids safe and responsible in their relationships.

Once connection is established with the trust that everyone has the intention to cooperate in finding a way to get everyone's needs met, use requests for feedback and clarity to figure out together what could work for all to meet the needs you have all have such as:
    "Would you be willing to tell me how you feel about....(a specific strategy you would like, such as making your bed before you leave for school)?
    "If this doesn't work for you, could tell me what about it does not work?"
    "Would you be willing to tell me what might work for you and also might meet my need for _______?"
And after you are all clear that you like a particular strategy:
    "Would you be willing to tell me what you think could work to help you remember to......?
    "Are you willing to explore now what we could we do right now to make this happen?

And the strategies we choose do not always work the way we had hoped.  When we nurture our relationships with the dynamic ongoing interpersonal process of empathy and honesty we build the creativity and cooperation to work it out together in an ongoing way.

Jori 

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