June 10, 2013

Will Non-violent Communication Work with Your Toddler? ~ Jacey Tramutt

Photo: sean.murphy

Recently my two, almost three year old, accidentally spilled his freshly squeezed orange juice on my Mac Book Pro.

My husband being the smart man that he is, immediately took my son to another room while I scrambled to dry it off and Google on my phone “What to do when you spill orange juice on your Mac Book Pro?” One of the suggestions was to use a hair dryer or fan on the computer.

My hair dryer died years ago and I saw no need to replace it. (Note to self: replace the hair dryer!) We didn’t have a fan.

What we did have was EleFun! EleFun is a game where you put a bunch of paper-like butterflies in a plastic elephant and the butterflies get blown (by a FAN!) through the elephant’s long trunk, which you then try to catch with a butterfly net. So I turned it on, blowing air on my computer.

My son looked at it and said, “Hey, that’s a waste!”

Rage or an NVC Moment?

“It’s not a waste!” I started, about to lose it for the second time that day, and then I stopped. Breathe. This could be an NVC (Non-Violent Communication) moment or it could be some very unskillful parenting.

I could hear myself in his words, “Turn that off. You’re wasting the batteries…” My own words were coming back to haunt me at just the perfect moment.

Needs and Values.

One of the components of NVC is to express our needs and/or values.

Marshall Rosenberg asserts in his book that our feelings are created by our needs and values, rather than by the behavior of other people.

Communicating in this way helps take away our desire to blame others for our feelings and asks instead for personal responsibility. In this case, my son was feeling upset (this was my guess at his feelings since I didn’t directly ask) because I was “wasting” the batteries in his elephant game.

I was feeling angry because I saw the “wasting” of some triple A’s well worth the price of my computer.

Time for Toddler NVC?

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Do you value being able to play your game when you want to?

My son: Yes.

Me: Do you think you won’t be able to play your game if the batteries run out?

My son: Yes.

Me: Is that why you think me using it now on my computer is a waste?

My son: YES! It is a waste.

Me: I can understand why you think it is a waste, based on how important your game is to you. I value something different right now.

My son: What?

Me: I value my computer. So for me, using the fan in your game is not a waste. Would you be ok with me using your fan, as long as I get you some new batteries?

My son: Okay Momma.

In a nutshell, my son’s need was for play, and my need was for understanding and compassion for what I was going through regarding the situation with my computer. I had to translate that to language my two year old could understand.

NVC and Toddlers: Does it Really Work?

I get asked that question a lot. I believe the answer is yes.

It looks a lot like what I described above—teaching it in little chunks, in the moment as opportunities arise. In this moment, I chose to highlight the needs/values component of NVC vs. feelings, observations, or requests, although I did put in a request at the end of our conversation.

So What Happened?

In the end, my computer died anyway; all of my attempts to save it with EleFun were in vain.

A few days later, when I turned it on only to have it sit there lifeless, I was grateful that I had not lost my temper with my son. My anger had dissipated, and what I was left with was my loss, but luckily not the residual guilt that comes when I do lose it.

Falling back on NVC had given me a structure in the moment— a way to focus my response in the midst of intense emotion instead of having it overwhelm me.

Where can you learn more about NVC?

The Center for Non-Violent Communication

The book, Non-Violent Communication

My website or read my article: This Is An Elf-Free Zone.


Jacey Tramutt, MA LPC is passionate about unlearning self-aggression and learning how to cultivate compassion for herself and others in all situations. She has found the best teachers for this usually have 4 legs. For more information about her Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy practice in Golden, CO, visit her website.


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Assistant Ed. Rebecca Schwarz/Ed: Bryonie Wise


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