On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Good Struggle

This morning, let’s talk about compassion (identifying our common struggles) and empathy (letting others know they’re not alone).

Raise your hand if you want your child to show compassion and empathy for others.  OK, that’s pretty much everyone in the audience.  Put your hands down.

Now, raise your hand if you want your child to suffer.  Anyone?  Anyone?  *crickets*

Most of us agree that it’s painful to watch our child get hurt (physically or emotionally). So painful, in fact, that it triggers the Mama or Papa Bear in us and we come out swinging against the person or situation that is causing our child pain.

But, what if I told you that suffering is at the root of compassion and empathy?  

Really. Uncomfortable. Thought.

I get it.  So, let’s leave our children’s suffering aside for a moment, because I have a story to tell you about my own journey towards compassion.  Before I became a mom, I thought that parents who, in my lofty opinion, didn’t have their act together deserved zero compassion.  ZERO.

I had a long list of parenting choices I would never make (screens, junk food, yelling at my kids) and I had an even longer list of behaviors my children would never exhibit (because they were going to be Montessori children).  I looked down my nose at those “hot mess” moms and their unruly kids who broke my rules for a perfect life.

And so, of course, the gods sent me two beautiful, loud, demanding, free-spirited children to take me down a notch or fifty.  Now, after seven years of being dragged through the parenting rodeo, I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Hot-Mess Moms club.

Do I still judge other moms?  Yes.  For about two seconds.  But then a voice inside me says, “Psst.  Girlfriend… Take a look in the mirror!”  That’s the voice of compassion. (I thought the voice of compassion would sound like Pema Chodron.  Yeah, no.)  When I hear that voice, my resistance to accepting my own imperfect humanity and that of others melts away.

Now here’s the thing: My lack of compassion for other parents stemmed not from being a bad person, but from not having lived through the struggles of parenthood.

So how does all this tie back to our children?  Well, if we want them to feel compassion, we need to let them connect with the struggles of others by letting them struggle a little bit themselves.

And if we want them to learn how to show empathy, we need to connect empathically with them post-struggle.  Let’s put aside our “I told you so’s” and “You’re OK’s”… When we suffer, all we want to hear and know is “You’re not alone.”

compassion-suffering

 

 

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:

nvc

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.