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We’ve all been there, locked in a power struggle with our children, each side trying to get his or her way. Whether they’re 5 or 15, making kids mind can be tough. Tempers often flare over mundane issues, like going to bed on time, sharing toys, finishing homework, watching television, playing video games, you name it. Power struggles can lead to shouting matches and it’s rare that both parties get their needs met.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it’s possible to have it all.
At least according to Jeff Brown, who leads “Parenting from the Heart: Parenting Rooted in Integrity,” a workshop which focuses on compassionate communication. “We don’t have to choose between our needs and [our children’s]. The goal is to make the child’s need equal to the parent’s or the sibling’s,” explains Brown, a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication (NVC). No matter what our age, “we are all motivated by the same basic needs and impulses. Help your child connect to their intrinsic needs and respond accordingly.”
Compassionate communication was developed by psychologist and international peacemaker Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, whose book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, is a bestseller (and a very easy, interesting read). Brown, who received his training from Rosenberg, spent three days in Memphis last month leading workshops at the Memphis Jewish Community Center (sponsored by the Ethan K. Jacobs Tzedakah Fund) and at Bornblum Solomon Schechter School, working with parents, teachers, and area professionals.
The parenting workshop helps parents create relationships with their children based on mutual understanding and respect. The program teaches how to set boundaries with children, as well as how to use cooperation instead of coercion. Brown conducted several role-play exercises to help participants practice the techniques of compassionate communication.
We were all here for different reasons but we shared a similiar desire, to better connect with our children. In addition to covering the workshop for Memphis Parent, I hoped to learn how to motivate my 14-year-old daughter to clean her room. Brown portrayed me and I acted as my daughter in a role-play. I learned that I should tell my daughter I understand having a neat room is not important to her and that’s okay, but to explain that it makes me especially sad when I see her new clothes strewn on the floor. I should also tell her it’s important to my well-being when all the rooms in our house are in reasonable order.
Noel shares that he came to learn how to “build a more trusting relationship” with his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son. Sara wants to learn how to elicit a response from her four children “without screaming.” Cindi wants to strike a balance between doing what she thinks is best for her three children and giving them some measure of independence. Dahlia wants “to be more empathetic, and truly understand where [her children] are coming from.”
Dahlia hit the nail on the head. The first step of compassionate communication is learning how to be an empathic listener. “Empathy, or understanding the motivation behind someone’s actions, is better than judging,” says Brown. Judging is what most people do naturally when listening to others. Empathizing is a more effective strategy for connecting with your child and trying to resolve a problem in a way that satisfies both of your needs.
How to say “No” and Maintain Connection
Jill asks for an example of what to say besides “No!” when her child wants to stay up late on a school night to watch TV, and she wants him in bed so she can relax. “What do you think her son really wants?” Brown asks the group. Parents respond: power, independence, to be heard, justice, inclusion, (ie., to be like other kids at school who get to watch TV shows so he can join in their conversations the next day). It turns out all of our answers are correct; which means we’re on our way to communicating more effectively with our children.
“Children have a strong need to know they matter,” Brown notes. If you are an empathic listener and take the time to get a deeper understanding of where your child is coming from, you’ll be better prepared to engage with the child to find a resolution that suits both of you.
Attend a Communication Workshop
Elaine Krueger, an experienced practitioner of Compassionate Communication, will offer workshops this fall at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. The workshops are designed to help participants replace old communication patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking with the ability to foster mutual respect for self and others.
Prerequisite: You must have attended an NVC workshop, or read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
October 2-November 6 Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m.
September 29-November 3 Sundays, 10 a.m.-noon
September 30-November 4 Mondays, 7-9 p.m.
$140 for MJCC members, $175 for non-members
Register at jccmemphis.org/register or call 761-0810.