Children do not come with parenting manuals. Parents, through trial and error, try to figure it out as best they can. They may buy books on parenting and discipline or default to how they were parented. Societies' trends on parenting can also influence how parents show up and interact with their children.
But what if the sources we are drawing from are off the mark and not in our children's best interest. For this reason, it is important for parents to re-examine how they were parented, the social trends of the time and even the books they are reading on parenting.
Alfie Kohn references in his book that almost 25 years ago, a social psychologist named Elizabeth Cagan reviewed a number of contemporary parenting books and concluded that they mostly reflected a "blanket acceptance of parent's prerogative," with little "serious consideration of a child's needs, feelings, or development."
She added that the dominant assumption seemed to be that the parents desires were automatically legitimate and that the only real question "open for discussion was how, exactly kids could be made to do whatever they're told."
Holding Children's Needs With Care
I don't think this should be the number one concern for parents. The number one concern should be connecting with children in such a way that their feelings and needs are held with care. If we do this, we model respect and cooperation as opposed to only demanding it. We send a radical message to our children that they matter to us and that what they have to contribute is of value as well. Our children are no longer robots who must obey or docile, dependent children focused on only pleasing us (that they cannot think for themselves or trust themselves).
Nonviolent Communication (NVC), founded by Marshall Rosenberg over 40 years ago, offers a different approach to parenting. It empathizes getting in touch with the child's feelings and needs and honoring them in such a way that they are considered in decisions and not overlooked.
Unfortunately, many times parents get caught up on the "bad" behavior of a child instead of looking deeper and what might be their feelings and needs behind the behavior.
When the parent has their own interpretation of the behavior they are observing, and operate from that premise, they lose touch with compassion and parenting from the heart.
Getting Past The Story
Parents tend to create a story about the behavior or child. For instance, a parent might say, "Johnny is being a selfish little brat. He is always trying to get his way."
This is the parent's story and not necessarily the truth. The reality may be that Johnny wants to play with a toy that his brother is playing with. He may feel sad, upset, angry and needing reassurance that there will be fair play or sharing of the toy. He may have a need for fun as well. If the parent focuses on this rather than their story of the child they can then try to meet these needs for the child and help the child see that there may be a healthier strategy (that does not involve hitting or name-calling) to getting this need met. The parent is now teaching the child a healthy way to get his or her needs met and there is no interpretation or label lobbied at the child.
The parent might say, "Are you wanting to play with the toy as well? Are you really wanting to have a turn? Are you upset because you want more sharing? How about we each take turns and you can play with it for 10 minutes each? Would you be willing to call me next time if you would like sharing or need help instead of hitting or raising your voice?"
These are just some examples of things to say to help your child learn new ways to meet his needs without labeling him. These questions all honor the child's needs and make room for a strategy to be suggested that will work for both the child and the parent.
Whereas when we operate from the story we may respond by saying, "You are so selfish and you never share. You are grounded." This story, if believed by the child, may have the child conclude that the parent is right and that he/she is selfish. He/she may also get defensive or more rebellious. If he/she submits he/she may do so out of fear of punishment or lack of self-esteem. The result is disconnection. The goal when using NVC is connection and understanding that leads to solutions that meet both parties' needs.
If you are interested in learning more about nonviolent communication and parenting from the heart you can visit www.nonviolentcommunication.com and or purchase the book Parenting From Your Heart by Inbal Kashtan.