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Book Review: Parenting From Your Heart: Sharing the Gifts of Compassion, Connection, and Choice

by Inbal Kashtan
Puddle Dancer Press

Reviewed by Stephanie Mattei, USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, p. 37

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process of communication and mindful living developed by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg. In Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication, he explains the basis for this inspiring method of communication. In this short book, a companion to Rosenberg's lengthier volume, Kashtan offers a real life application of NVC.

Within the pages of this book, Kashtan explains that parenting with NVC relies on a few premises, two of them shared with attachment parenting: human actions are attempts to meet needs, and trusting relationships are built through attentiveness to those needs. Therefore a key to connection is becoming mindful that every behavior is an attempt to meet a need. By prioritizing connection instead of focusing on authority and discipline, NVC provides a practical continuum to the attachment parenting framework. In order to nurture each person's independence as well as fostering interdependence, everybody's needs are valued equally.

Neither permissive nor coercive, NVC focuses on "power-with" (using dialogue) instead of "power-over" strategies (overt or subtle forms of coercion). The intent is to tap into the natural joy of contributing to our own and others' needs rather than relying on fear of punishment, desire for rewards, shame- and guilt- inducing techniques. NVC encourages parents to become mindful that we as human beings enjoy giving from the heart, provided that we trust that our needs matter to the other person, and that we experience freedom of choice around giving.

NVC is not a set of "techniques" that gets "results" as promised by many mainstream parenting models. Instead, its practices are intended to uphold certain intentions in relationships, such as partnership, mutual caring, and prioritizing connection. Parenting according to these principles encourages us to value our own and our children's long term needs rather than simply focusing on short term results. Thus, two fundamental questions arise that encourage parents to delve deeper than just looking for quick results: "What do you want your child to do?" and "What do you want your child's reasons to be for doing so?"

In this context, the mainstream parenting goal of seeking obedience/compliance is revealed as coming at a price not all parents are willing to pay. NVC supports us to seek strategies to meet our needs that are not at an emotional cost to our children. We can continue to be in a relationship of trust with our children, and we can encourage children to trust themselves.

There are three main practices in NVC:

Empathy: focusing on connection with our children by guessing how they feel and what need may be alive in them at the moment (some of our children's needs that we can always meet through empathy is their need to be fully received and heard, and their need to trust that their needs matter to us).

Self-empathy: checking in with ourselves (asking ourselves, "What am I feeling, what am I needing?"), thus profoundly enhancing self-connection, self acceptance, inner peace in responding to our children from a place of choice rather than habitual reactions.

Self-Expression: express how we feel and what we want while being mindful of the other person's dignity and being committed not to violate our children's integrity by using fear, guilt, or shame as motivators.

How does all this play out when our two-year-old is "having a tantrum," or we find ourselves getting into a power struggle with our 10-year-old? Coming from the consciousness that all behavior is an attempt to meet a need, we definitely enhance the likelihood to transform a conflict into a dilemma, where we are partners rather than adversaries.

With NVC, we can begin to hear the need a child is communicating when s/he is giving us the dreaded answer, "No!" We are conditioned to see only two options: give up on our request or force our child to do what we have asked him/her to do. In NVC, "no" is held to be the beginning of a conversation where the focus becomes guessing what the child may be saying "yes" to. The emphasis is on empathy before education, connection before redirection.

Inbal Kashtan's book is rich with real-life examples of children who do not eat their peas, who sit on the slide without getting down while other children are waiting for a turn, and children who both want the same toy at the same time. Her explanations and examples of dialogue support our understanding of how to intervene in ways that foster our children's self-confidence and trust in each other, and helps them to grow into their own power.

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