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Holding Space for Feelings

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As a parent and someone who is always trying to improve, I spend a significant portion of my personal reading time researching and diving into child development. There is something about trying out a new strategy and your child responding differently that brings me joy. If I am lucky even an “aha” moment.

I have been studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC) for the past few years. In a nutshell, NVC assumes that we all share the same basic human needs and that all actions/behaviors are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. It’s a heart led approach, that assumes we all are compassionate beings and violent strategies- verbal or physical behaviors are learned approaches that oftentimes are supported and reinforced by our cultures.

I will give you an example to break this down a bit more. Recently my oldest (Phen) was teaching his brother (Hawkins) how to decode numbers into letters. They had been sent Valentine’s letters from an aunt that loves to sign her name in numbers. Hawkins was just not getting it- either the way Phen was explaining it or the concept was just too hard. After trying to explain a few times, Phen got mad at Hawkins, called him an idiot and stormed off.

Now, my gut reaction was to tell Phen that behavior and name calling is absolutely not okay. But my NVC training encouraged a different approach. I like the list, so here it is:

  1. Take a pause. Notice if you as the parent or guardian are triggered by the behavior with your children. Take your own needs and feelings out of this. Just OBSERVE (in a factual way)
  2. What need is the child trying to fill? In this case, what need is Phen trying to fill that he is not getting and therefore responding in this way?
  3. Get curious! Put your own judgments and assumptions aside and ask your child. Tell me about what just happened? You seem really frustrated, is there something I can help you solve?
  4. Request: What can you do as the parent/guardian to help your child meet their need?

In this case, I discovered the need was to be competent. As the oldest, more and more we are discovering Phen’s narrative with his siblings is to be the best, the smartest, the fastest, the strongest. He is the oldest, so therefore should be the expert for his younger siblings. Can anyone relate to this?

When Hawkins wasn’t understanding what he was teaching, his need to feel empowered as the older competent brother was smashed. And ultimately….Phen lashed out.

When we approach our children’s behaviors from a needs perspective, it can be enlightening. When we go a bit further and get curious with them, we can sometimes discover little gems. In this instance, I discovered that Phen really wants to share his knowledge and his teaching skills with his brother. He wants his brother to understand and he wants to be the one to guide him there.

This approach as a parent is hard. It is not in our instinct to think this way. Personally, I have a need for everyone to feel happy and the environment to be peaceful. I tend to take the silver lining approach a lot or try to fix things quickly so we can move from the awkward and uncomfortable conflict state to a more peaceful state. Even after studying and practicing for a few years, I still struggle with NVC being my go to response. But….I will say, the reactions I receive from my children when I approach parenting this way are different and illuminating.

I have an intention to “Hold Space for Feelings”. My goal is to recognize when I want to come in on the bright side and fix the situation because that approach does not necessarily contribute to my child’s needs or feelings. My hope is to continue to hone NVC as a skill and mindset so that it is my go-to approach for not only my children, but my employees, and our campers.

I invite you to try this as well and have included some resources below for your journey.

In closing, I just want to acknowledge that parenting is hard. Every. Single. Day. And if we can teach our children to regulate and understand their needs and feelings we are contributing so much to our world. Imagine a future where our leaders discuss their needs and feelings versus reacting in verbal and physical ways. It is possible.

A few resources for you:

Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communcation

A list of feelings

A list of needs

Brene Brown’s new book: Atlas of the Heart

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