Bringing Home Compassion

Witness to NVC Parenting in Action

I'm the first to admit that I often find parenting (now grand parenting) a mystery. I have uncertainties how to apply NVC to people under the age of 17, especially little kids.

That was until last spring when I witnessed NVC as its finest with a very tired and hungry 3-year old in the midst of a severe "melt down".

This scenario is not an uncommon one - an out-of-control child at a restaurant, tired from playing hard all day, and hungry from hours of physical exertion. To say that "violence is a tragic expression of unmet needs" was an understatement in this instance! Crying, yelling, screaming, throwing anything on the table, grabbing the crayons from his friend, flailing his little arms and head, were all being exhibited.

My old reptilian brain had a lot of thoughts that popped up. In my own mind, I issued a mandate to threaten, punish, take control over, discipline, and "jerk this kid into shape!" After all, we must teach him appropriate behavior! I gave no thought as to what this little human needed.

In the NVC model, however, a very different scenario unfolded: the mom, Linda, gently picked up Michael, and said "Are you so hungry and so tired that you just need food and a nap?" "NO!" was the response (of course!).

Recognizing that this was a time when a conversation just would not work, Linda calmly but firmly carried Michael out of the restaurant to the car, explaining to him that she had a need for a quiet and peaceful dinner, and realized the restaurant setting would not provide this. Upon seeing the vehicle, Michael's back arched and his body stiffened. "I don't want to get in the car!" he yelled and screamed. "I want to stay at the restaurant with my friend Ryan", he yelled. "I want Ryan! I want Ryan!"

Standing by the car, Linda gently held the flailing Michael, cradled in her arms. She reassured him that she knew how much he loved playing with Ryan, and that she knew he really wanted to be with his friend now. (Mom engaged in no punishment, no belittling, and never did she express any words that would in any way accuse him of behaving badly. There was no judgment and no evaluation of his conduct.)

Linda continued to acknowledge her son's frustration and his desire to make his own choice to stay at the restaurant. She reflected, repeated, and continued to reassure him of her love for him, and her understanding of his disappointment. She asked often, "Would you like to schedule another play date with Ryan?" (You can guess his response).

Finally after 40 minutes or so, little Michael, still in Linda's arms by the car, succumbed to exhaustion and sleep. As we put him in his car seat, and began to drive away, he awoke with greater crying and thrashing around. "Get me out of here; get me out of this car!" "Somebody get me out of this car!" Linda continued to reflect back to him, as she drove, that she was hearing his disappointment. Upon driving into the garage, she asked with compassion as she got out of the car, what he would like for dinner. Reluctantly, he got out of the car and followed her into the house, at last with no more crying.

She prepared his favorite food, and before he climbed up to his booster chair, he looked up at her lovingly and said, "Mama, would you hold me?" She cradled him in her arms as he snuggled close to her. He had been disappointed. And his disappointment had been heard and acknowledged by his Mom. Mom had expressed her need for a quiet dinner, and actually was able to have her need met with a loving child.

This very fortunate young man escaped the fury of what could have been a violent, frustrated parent who was punishing, spanking, ridiculing, and forcing him to be quiet and suffer more consequences. His mom, on the contrary, modeled compassion and understanding in the face of an adverse situation. What better nonviolent learning for a child. And what a beautiful dinner we three had.

I wept as I witnessed what must have been so hard for Linda, who was also tired and hungry, recognizing that she had misjudged the eventual needs of her child and of herself following a highly stimulating and full day. A mother, socially aware of the silent scorn of others at the restaurant, stayed true to "holding the space of compassion" for another human being and for herself.

"What could possibly be more important for me as a mother", she said upon retiring that night, "than to provide and model compassion for my child and for myself at the same time."

The author, Faye Landey, is a Recognized Facilitator of GaNVC.