Creating emotional safe-zones in our classrooms and at home

Today it seems, the children are less afraid of us! :-) Are your children more willing to speak up for themselves? My own children certainly seem much less willing to ‘do what they’re asked/told’ than I used to be.  Some traditionalists may argue we’ve lost the rule of discipline in our homes and classrooms, but I think it’s something more compelling and interesting than that.

My guess is we’re shedding the old ‘rules’ in search of more sustaining ways to be together, ways that contribute to us trusting each other more… creating safety-zones of expression in our classrooms and families so that we can all feel genuinely heard and appreciated.  It’s wonderful (perhaps some may say idealistic) but fundamentally it asks us to review and ‘remember’ our skills for successful relating.

The challenge is to compassionately phase out the old rules that rely on ‘control’, and re-language our relationships with good humor, trust and patience. It does ask something of us, but it seems, that doing what we’ve always done, isn’t providing the heart-felt relationship satisfaction that we’d more likely enjoy.

I’m finding it’s challenging to let go of some of the old habits, that’s why I enjoy working in circle through shared experience and with support. I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing some frustration and conflict in the parent/child relationship. What is it like for you?

I certainly remember my parents and teachers attempting to assert their versions of good/bad, and me attempting to find ways to ‘win’ my way, or rebel or submit when I couldn’t. I suspect my parents and others experienced me as being bossy or difficult at times, the teachers too. I prefer to see that I was simply expressing my early intelligence, creating ways to relate to being dominated and cajoled. I relied on what worked like everyone else (crying, having a tantrum, avoiding, pleading, or smiling sweetly and being good and quiet) most of it I copied from watching others. I learned by observation and imitation. That hasn’t changed much I don’t think.

Through my own life experience I’ve learned “good behaviours” are ones that emulate kindness, consideration and wellbeing for self and one another, because the outcome is enjoyment if it’s done without expectation. “Bad behaviours” on the other hand seem most basically self-destructive, unkind and uncaring.  Marshall Rosenberg who created Nonviolent Communication (NVC) says that observation is the key, rather than judgement, and that violence of any kind towards self or other is simply a tragic expression of an unmet human need. Hence, NVC is an inquiry into needs, a language with our universal, shared human needs at its core.

I think as parents we’re afraid when our children behave “badly”, we are often as quick to judge and be afraid of our children’s behaviour as much as our own. It’s a trap honestly to think that our “correcting” and punishing has the desired effect of shifting children’s behaviours from uncaring to kind, when kindness and understanding isn’t always what we’re demonstrating. The children see the obvious hypocrisy, and are asking for something more.

That’s been a challenge for me already. I’m a child of the past, from a long line of ‘fear generations’. I remember the days of the wooden spoon and the threat of the cane at school, and the fear that would rise in me when I heard “wait until your father gets home!”  Parents were to be loved and feared ‘for our own good’. That’s just how it was. So when I ask my children nicely to help out at home or stop arguing and they don’t, I’m prone to want to do it the old way… remove privileges, bribe, threaten or pull-rank as a parent. At times these strategies work temporarily, but they don’t build the sort of emotional safety-zone of genuine consideration and cooperation that I’d like to see become the foundation for all my relationships.

What I learned in the old ‘conflict style’ of relating was that I had three choices… 1)dominate and demand my way because I’m right or justified, 2)be clever and ‘good’ and nice to get others to agree (be justifiably angry went I don’t get my way), or 3)submit my will (give up). Those ‘rules’ still operate in me quite a bit, and I see the kids running these behaviour choices too, it’s rife in the playground, and in my family. It’s frustrating, but I accept this is how we’ve always done it. I need to remember my patience as I attempt to re-language my responses as I relate to it all.

What I’m longing for now is that the children are motivated by honest connection with mine and each other’s feelings and needs, rather than me having to be the boss or having to motivate by coercion or bribery. I’d like to trust my children are learning how to care, rather than learning how to say yes when they really want to say no. I’ve sensed there is a high cost with these sorts of “agreements”; primarily I recognise a loss of trust, joy and authenticity when I get caught in “I’m right, they’re wrong” thinking, and tragically feel shame and  guilt, when “they’re right”. Thankfully the compassionate paradigm based on needs, means freedom from the right/wrong pain.

I’ll admit though, it’s not always easy to compose my emotions and share from a place of my feelings and needs without blame and criticism, but the more I do it, the more the children learn a little by observation, and I feel better, more self-respect in my parenting instruction. It’s a slower road, but already it shows signs of being much more rewarding.

I think what trapped me for a long time was that I had a fear of “loosing” or “failing” in relationships, even with the kids. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself in the past to be ‘good enough’ as a parent, and not surprisingly, it’s not contributed much to my joy. At times when it’s all been overwhelming, I’ve also felt “trapped”, like I have an endless road of obligation ahead, without generous helpings of genuine daily laughter and fun. Parental fear is a seriously hard task master! I’m definitely willing to try something new.

Families after all, are the core units of love in our community, and for our communities to thrive in wellbeing it makes sense that we start at home, finding new ways to express ourselves and listen to each other.

I do sincerely appreciate the skills and opportunities for connection in Nonviolent Communication. NVC is a wonderful tool for learning a deeper language of feelings and needs without demands. It provides a way of connecting in our language that moves us away from conflict, and helps us to connect to who we really are, instead of being caught up in arguing about wrong and right.

From all my personal research, the old conflict system of communicating causes needless pain and suffering in our family connections and classrooms, and has been undermining our trust in community for quite some time. I think it’s worth giving my time to learning something new, especially when it’s my own happiness and the success of my family relationships at stake. NVC may not transform family relationships over-nite, but the added moments of genuine connection I’ve enjoyed in the midst of daily life, have definitely contributed to my needs for love and progress along the way :-)

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