by Molly Rouse
1. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
This title of this book doesn't do justice to the wealth of information between its covers. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is also known as Compassionate Communication, and who doesn't want to teach compassion and communication to their children? The underlying premise of NVC is that all of our actions are motivated by needs. I am constantly amazed at how disconnected I am from my needs. I feel so gratified and peaceful when my need for understanding is met!
The four elements of NVC are: observation, feeling, needs, request (o,f,n,r).
So, parenting example: I am struggling with getting everyone out the door on time in the morning. Instead of rushing around the house shouting commands at my kids (which I often do), I can take a moment to look them in the eyes and say, “I see that you two are enjoying playing marbles this morning (observation). I am feeling anxious (feeling) because we need to be at school in ten minutes and none of us is ready to go. It is important to me to be on time (need for order), so would you be willing to put on your shoes, brush your teeth, and meet me in the car (request)?” Requests like these work so much better in gaining the cooperation of my kids than demands and commands. The language fits better with my parenting philosophy too, as I am not lording power over my children.
In a section entitled “Other Forms of Life-Alienating Communication,” Dr. Rosenberg shares his experience of using demands with his kids.“My children gave me some invaluable lessons about demands. Somehow I had gotten it into my head that, as a parent, my job was to make demands. I learned, however, that I could make all the demands in the world but still couldn't make the children do anything. This is a humbling lesson in power for those of us who believe that, because we're a parent, teacher, or manager, our job is to change other people and make them behave. Here were these youngsters letting me know that I couldn't make them do anything. All I could do was make them wish they had – through punishment. Then eventually they taught me that any time I was foolish enough to make them wish they had complied by punishing them, they had ways of making me wish that I hadn't (p.22)!”
The o.f.n.r. formula works well for asking questions (practicing empathy) too. Say your two year old is screaming for ice cream (which mine often does). When I have the presence of mind, I try to guess what her feelings and needs are: “I see you are crying (observation). Are you feeling frustrated (feeling) because you would like to decide when you can have ice cream (need for autonomy)?” Simply acknowledging her feelings and unmet needs often deflates the tantrum.
I admit that using a formula to speak with others seems awkward at first, but trying it out with your kids might be better than strangers! This is just the tip of the iceberg....there is so much more. Maybe you're wondering how you could use this philosophy to smooth out your challenges with your children or others? What unmet needs do your children have? How about you? You won't regret reading any portion of this book, and if you're like me, you'll look back at it often.
2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
Dr. Dweck contends that humans have two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. They can both exist within each one of us, depending on what we are doing, or who we are talking with. People in the fixed mindset believe that people can't change very much, that qualities are fixed. This “creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over ” (p.6). My son was being told he was smart every single day, so when he couldn't prove he was smart, when he came to something difficult or new, he freaked out, scared that he was dumb. The growth mindset, on the other hand "is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts...everyone can change and grow through application and experience" (p.7). I set out to find a school with a growth mindset, one that would give my son tools to deal with challenge. I also took a good hard look at what my husband and I modeled for him, realizing that I tended towards the fixed mindset, and my husband is more growth-oriented. Now, only 6 months since reading the book, I often ask myself how I can be more growth minded in my daily thoughts and interactions...its good stuff!
Mindset is full of ways in which these two outlooks affect success in business, sports, relationships, parenting and teaching. As parents, we are constantly sending our children messages about success and failure. Additionally, there is pressure in our society to promote self-esteem in children, but we need to be careful. " Yes, children love praise," Dweck writes, "...It really does give them a boost, a special glow - but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom" (p.175). Maybe, we can replace these success versus failure messages with messages about process and growth: "We can praise...what they accomplished through practice, study, persistence, and good strategies. And we can ask them about their work in a way that admires and appreciates their efforts and choices" (p.177). When our kids zip through their homework, or do everything correctly, we can try out saying something like,"Whoops. I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let's do something you can really learn from" (p.179)! We also don't need to be so quick to protect our children from failure. Dweck is fan of constructive criticism that helps a "child to fix something, build a better product, or do a better job" (182).
I set out to find a school that would not only challenge my son, but teach him how to successfully approach challenge. I think I've found a good match.
Parenting isn't just about caring for offspring, knowing it all, or providing discipline; its about guiding our children, modeling exploration and skills to deal with challenge, and teaching our kids to thrive in the world without us. After reading these two books, I find myself shying away from judgement, and from quintessential parenting remarks...less “good job!” and more “thank you.”