When we are alone, our strategies to meet our needs don’t affect others as much. We may not be aware of how our current strategies affect others until we get a roommate, get married, work with others, or drive on freeways. When we have a roommate or spouse, we have the opportunity to expand our strategies rather than judge them because they are different strategies than we normally use.
When we are born we have one strategy, crying. Parents model and teach us other strategies. Each adult may have a wide variety of strategies, or they may only have a few. These strategies maybe effective or they may not. They may be effective for the person using the strategy and be in direct conflict with others. For instance, if you are on the freeway and someone speeds on the on ramp and cuts you off, that may be their strategy for meeting their need for punctuality, maybe because they feel their boss' respect depends on it. That strategy may be effective for them but it negatively affects your needs for safety and predictability. You may wish they had used the strategy of getting up 15 minutes earlier.
I like to work with parents on the basis of Compassionate Communication, NVC, because it equips us to be intentional and clear about what strategies we teach our children and how those strategies affect the needs of others. It allows us to support our kids in being responsible for their own needs and respectful of others' needs. Some other parenting techniques I've tried focus on the feelings and behaviors. They offer strategies that meet the parent's needs for order and predictability but they do not always allow the children to learn better strategies for meeting their own needs. Sometimes they redirect the kids in ways that do not allow them to express the emotions that are related to not getting those needs met. I've experienced these techniques leading to kids repressing their feelings until an explosion happens when the child's needs have been ignored, redirected or not met repetitively. One I've experienced frequently was not giving a young child enough time for play or expression. If we only redirect that energy to avoid a tantrum and never equip them with strategies to meet that need or time to engage those strategies, the child doesn't stop needing play and choice. They may become more forceful in their strategy, which may be climbing on the shelves at the grocery store, or screaming and hitting with more force. What I find helpful is better strategies and honoring that need they have by protecting time in our schedule for it in strategies that are effective for everyone's needs. Maybe I spend 20 minutes for an obstacle course in the house which they design and we play in together before we go to the store. Suddenly the grocery trip that follows has fewer tantrums and a lot more peace for both of us. The child then has a new strategy he can use to meet his own need that is appropriate and respectful of other family members' needs.
If we are mindful of what needs our children are attempting to meet, depending on the situation and their capabilities, we can show them a variety of strategies, they will consistently become more and more aware of how to meet their needs, making them more and more capable of doing this without us. Doing this in an environment of equality of needs for everyone, we will also support them in becoming compassionate adults. An example would be showing your 5 year old that taking their younger sibling's snack is one way to meet their need for sustenance, but going to the cabinet and getting his own snack is another strategy that meets his need for sustenance and his mom and sister's needs for harmony and respect.
We are triggered by others' strategies in unique ways. We say, “he’s pushing my buttons.” Rarely did that person install the ‘button’. I think these are opportunities for us to look into what need is associated to that response. For instance if someone closes a door loudly, it will affect someone differently if they were raised with parents that stormed out in anger and slammed a door, than it would someone that use to play tag in the house with their siblings and doors were slammed during play. NVC would propose that we look at the need at the base of this response rather than project our feeling response on the person doing the slamming. The conversation would be very different once the need is the focus, not the person and their strategy/behavior. There is a method of using NVC to heal that association, transforming old wounds. I'll save that for another blog entry.
Grace in, peace out