15 July 2008

Limitations of Non-Violent Communication

So, some more thoughts about Non Violent Communication. Firstly, I'm still finding it helpful to get me to stop of think about what I'm about to say (which was basically the purpose of Naomi Aldort's SALVE formula, see this blog entry) but with the bonus of having a more practical format to think about and some guidance on what my wording is really saying that I don't mean and don't want!

However, there is a real issue I've noticed. NVC isn't parenting (good or otherwise) it's just language. There still has to be a decision about what needs to be done, and a decision about what boundaries are stated as law and which as personal feeling. And what happens next when the values we have decided are important to our family are not lived up to.

Let me explain it this way. You start with the talk about observation and feelings. "I can hear shouting, I'm feeling stressed." Then what needs to happen to sort out that problem. "I need talking voices only, I want to understand what you are saying to me." Now what if the child says, "No, I don't want to talk, I feel MAD!" And keeps on shouting. I haven't actually parented, I've just expressed what I want. Not that expressing what I want without screaming "SHUT UP!!" isn't good, it's very good, but it isn't the end of the picture.

Try this one on for size. Observation and feelings again. "I see your shoes still on the floor, and I'm feeling impatient and cross." Needs and request. "I want to leave the house soon, so you need to put your shoes on."

(I know, I know, the book would have me saying, "I need for us to leave on time. Will you please put your shoes on?" But apart from that being pretty contrary to my view that there are things that just have to happen however everyone feels about them... I'm not going to pretend that the shoes are going on to make me happy, they're going on becuase as much as playing with the doll is distracting her right now she will be gutted if we miss swimming! I could teach her a lesson by just letting her mess about and miss her activity, but in my eyes that would be a punishment - because I could easily prevent it by just insisting about time-keeping.)

Pretend I've said it either way, if it makes you happy. Now the shoes don't go on and she's still singing to the doll. I've stated my feeling and nothing happens. So either I can be TCS and carry her to swimming with her doll and without shoes. I can do the "natural consequences" thing and make her miss swimming by refusing to parent her. I can insist that the shoes go on now, without using pretty words or making myself the reason for doing it. Or I can put her shoes on for her. (The answer around here is the last two points in that order and probably in quick succession.)

Another thought that has just occured to me is that if I follow to the letter the way NVC suggests requesting what we want, it is another parenting tool that makes compliance about how the parent feels. I don't want her to obey because something makes me happy or sad, but because it is right. I also have a sneaky feeling that talking about my feelings all the time is manipulative and coercive even whilst I'm supposedly not forcing her to do what I want. So... NVC = helpful, but don't neglect what comes after the calm reasoned words.

Say, remind, make it happen!


  1. Thanks for saying this, this has also been my experience of NVC - my children don't know the 'script' and don't respond the way the book suggests they will and I still end up enforcing my will essentially. Glad it's not just me.

  2. Sometimes Jenna responds to it, sometimes not, but either way I don't want my feelings to be the only reason she does something.

    I think this book is very helpful (to me at least) but like many many tools it can be manipulative and disrespectful if used thoughtlessly, and you'd be in a sad state if it was the only thing in your tool box. ;)

    Language is a tool, a way of communicating what is acceptable in our families, but it doesn't take away our responsibility to sometimes DO something about it too.

    PS - Thanks for visiting!


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