Favorite Books, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Communication for Peace

So many struggles with our children stem from conflicting goals: you need to go grocery shopping and they want to stay home; you need them to sit down for dinner and they want to keep playing.  Imagine if there could be a way of communicating with your child that allowed you to achieve your goals while respecting their priorities. Well, there is.

The practice of Nonviolent Communication recently came into my life.  NVC is a way of expressing “what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want to ask of ourselves and others,” (NVC site) through the development of compassion, without using anger, manipulation, or fear.  Here’s a diagram of how NVC looks in practice:


When I started reading the book Nonviolent Communication (aff link), it dawned on me that it can be a powerful tool in our Montessori work of educating for peace, creating critical thinkers, and enhancing emotional intelligence.  I don’t know why it’s not part of the suggested reading in all AMI Montessori training centers, but I’m glad I discovered it and can share it with others.

Here’s the thing about NVC: it’s easy to learn, difficult to master, and once you use it, you’re hooked!

So, how does NVC work?  There are several books about it (and hours of videos on YouTube), so instead of going into details, I’ll give you a beautiful example that happened in our home this weekend. While not all conflicts are solved this fluidly in our home (because I’m still learning), NVC has made a profound difference in my ability to communicate compassionately with my son and husband, while getting my needs met!  I’m going to label the different elements of NVC throughout the conversation, so you can see how it flows.

Zachary (4 years old) normally goes to bed by 6:30pm, but this day he’d taken a nap in the car, so it was almost 8pm and he was still happily playing trains with his dad.  My husband and I had had a long week: he had faced many challenges at work and I had been up several times each night with the baby.  We told Zachary it was time to get ready for bed, but he objected.

Me: I see that you still have a lot of energy in your body, don’t you? (observation)

Zach: Yes, and I don’t want to go to bed.  I want to bring my bed downstairs and sleep next to my trains.

Me: Ah, you want to be close to your trains.  That makes sense.  You know, you don’t have to sleep right away.  You can take a couple of engines to bed with you and play with them there.

Zach: I still don’t want to go to bed.

Me: I understand you don’t feel tired yet. Here’s the problem: Your dad and I feel really tired and want to go to bed soon. (identify feeling) We had a long week.  Do you remember how daddy told you about the frustrating meeting he had with the man who was not being very helpful?  And do you remember how I said I was tired because Nadia was crying at night?

Zach: Yes.

Me: OK, well, we need to go to bed soon so we can have energy to go to the beach tomorrow. (our need)  We want to have time to read you a book and sing some songs (his need) before we have to go to sleep.  How can we solve this problem so that we have time to read a book and sing songs, and so mommy and daddy can go to bed on time? (request)

Zach (thinks for a moment): OK, first pajamas, then brush teeth, then go to the bathroom, then bed.

Me: Great, let us know if you need help along the way!

And wouldn’t you know it, he was fast asleep by the end of the second song.





I absolutely love RIE, an approach to infant care developed by Magda Gerber based on the work of Emmi Pickler.  I found in RIE a simple, practical, and effective path for helping my baby navigate the rough waters of his first years of life.  One of my favorite aspects of RIE is the belief that a child deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and his feelings need to be acknowledged.  Here’s a great article that goes into more detail, courtesy of one of my all-time favorite bloggers, Janet Lansbury.

Since reading about RIE, I have gained a new awareness of young children’s emotions.  Recently, I have noticed several people telling Zachary “It’s ok” or “You’re fine” when he cries after falling down or bumping his head (which happens often, now that my little daredevil is standing upright!).  With his cries, he is most definitely letting us know that he is NOT OK; it’s hard to know if he’s telling us that he’s hurt, scared, or frustrated, but we have a responsibility to acknowledge his message and try to understand it.  Surprisingly, being able to verbalize the situation by briefly “sportscasting” what happened and providing gentle reassurance has made me feel less useless as a parent while my child cries.  I think that’s why most adults say “It’s OK“; we don’t know how to fix the problem, and so we want to make it go away!!

Browsing through Maria Montessori’s book The Child In the Family, I came across this passage and realized that Dr. Montessori had the RIE thing down many decades ago!!

To say to a child who has experienced something unpleasant, “It’s nothing!” serves to confuse him because it negates an impression of his own for which he sought confirmation.  Our participation, on the other hand, gives him the courage to encounter other experiences and, at the same time, shows him how to relate to them.  They must not be denied, or talked about too much, or analyzed too deeply!  A tender and affectionate word is the only consoling response.  Having had this, the child can continue his observations and experiences by himself, freely, and his physical development will benefit greatly.

RIE and Montessori mesh so well together… My child and I have both benefited from the work of these pioneering women and I am so grateful to them!