Monday, January 19, 2015

Let’s Get Real

Some of you have heard me say this before; There is no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and not appropriate, okay and not okay, and should and shouldn’t. There I said it - on the internet.

What do I mean? All those terms describe opinions about actions, and usually they are opinions that have been adopted from others including parents, religions, and cultures. They do not help resolve personal challenges and they do not speak of what is true for the individual having the interaction. When communicating with someone when things didn’t go the way you wanted, all of the above mentioned terms are opinions and do not help to effectively resolve problems and change behaviors.

When things don’t go they way you wanted, I suggest you let the other person know what is truly true for you. Did you like or not like what occurred? Let them know that. That reveals to the other something of your self, what is real and true for you. That is what it means to be “authentic.”

This applies whenever things do not go the way you want and you are trying to communicate that to someone else - whatever their age. You all know that my focus is young children and how to truly connect with them. I think the advice in this post speaks to all ages with which you could be interacting, though when the interaction is adult to adult perhaps you could use a few more words to fill in the picture. With young children, try to get your point across in very FEW words - a dozen or less!

And one more piece of advice, when you are letting someone else know what you do not like, focus on the activity you don’t like rather than on the person who did the thing you don’t like. They are more likely able to receive what you are saying that way.

Perhaps your three year old walks over when you are talking on the phone and hits you. You, “I don’t like hitting.” (Probably she is wanting some attention, some connecting.) What a different experience than, “I don’t like you hitting me.” Also different than, “It’s not okay to hit.” “You shouldn’t hit.”

(Additionally you could offer some words you would like your child to imitate some next time, “Excuse me Mommy.” You could say these words on your child’s behalf over and over until eventually the are taken up in imitation by your child.)

(And you could consider how much time you are spending on your 'devices' while in your child's presence.)

More than once I have overheard teachers say to a young child, “We don’t hit here.” That can’t be true because I had just seen one child hit another. What is true is, “Teacher does not like hitting.”

To the child flicking paint all around with her paintbrush, and it is getting on other children’s paper, “I don’t like when the paint goes onto someone else’s paper.” Or, on behalf of a child, “Sally doesn’t like other people painting on her paper.”

“I don’t like running inside. We can run outside.”

“The dog doesn’t like his tail to be pulled.”

“I like everyone to sit at the table until we all are done eating.”

You get the idea. You likely will have to do the same sort of thing many, many times before it sinks in as a communication habit or strategy for the young children. Changing habits takes time (see my previous recent posts).

Young children love their parents, and they love their teachers and caregivers. When you tell them what is real for you, what you don’t like, that means something for them. They do want to please you even if they have habits you don’t like and that are hard to change. If you mention that an action they did is something you don’t like, they are more likely to change than if you tell them that it is 'bad,' or 'not okay', or 'inappropriate.'

When having an interaction with someone when things didn’t go the way you wanted, opinions don’t help. When you reveal to someone what you don’t like, you are revealing who you are, you are exposing your own values. Really, there is no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and not appropriate, okay and not okay, and should and shouldn’t. 

I really want to know what you think about this. Please comment - how about a dialog on this?


  1. Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for your insightful writings - your book and blog are a guide for me as a parent (and human) everyday. I am especially interested in how you've incorporated NVC into the Waldorf perspective. Where do you go when the method of speaking your truth is ineffective? Take the example of the child flicking paint on the other child's paper. How do you encourage the behavior you want without resorting to threats or demanding what is "right"?

  2. My whole approach is about incorporating NVC into Waldorf early childhood. Perhaps if “I don’t like when the paint goes onto someone else’s paper” didn't work, I would say "Everyone's paper needs to be safe." I might next hold out my hand. palm up so the child could give me the paintbrush. Or, a la NVC 'protective use of force,' I would take the paintbrush gently but firmly. Next painting time, I would say while handing the child the paintbrush, "Everyone's paper needs to be safe.' And I would 'hover' near them to be sure there was no 'flicking.' Any flicking at all and I would hold my hand out for the brush. Does this make sense.