In an earlier article, we discussed the value of nonviolent communication and its general principles. One technique we briefly mentioned in that article was observation.
I once worked at a daycare with a three year-old girl that was very well behaved-until it was time to leave. She started acting out by throwing toys everywhere, pulling out plants and even tried to run outside unsupervised. My job at the end of the day became to follow her around and stop every negative action. This led me away from watching the other children and made the end of the day difficult. Even though we adjusted to make a safer environment, it was stressful for everyone.
It took careful observation and nonviolent communication to remedy this problem. It doesn’t take much to see what your child is doing, whether it’s right or wrong. But does the child view it that way? He might, if you follow the following pattern of observation.
Check your initial emotions at the door. There’s nothing wrong with immediately feeling angry, frustrated, or upset at the situation once it happens. That’s normal. But before you communicate with your child, you have to quell those emotions as part of nonviolent communication.
Observe the circumstance. Correctly observe the circumstance for what it truly is. Try applying the A-B-C theory in Behavioral Psychology. What was the ACTIVATING EVENT that prompted your child’s BELIEF thus resulting in the following CONSEQUENCE of negative behavior?
Intimidating your child with threats may get him to stop the action and even agree that what he’s doing is wrong. But that doesn’t mean he won’t do it again if the behavior is an initial reaction to not having his emotional needs met. Meeting those needs doesn’t mean you are giving into your child; it just means you are trying to understand the source of behavior.
Communicate your observation. Once you’ve figured out as much as you can observe, communicate that to your child in a non-threatening way. That is, to gently take him aside, get down to his eye level and speak in a calm tone to reduce any intimidation. Give him all the observable, undeniable facts of the situation without telling him how he feels or why he did it.
Listen to the entire answer. By listening to the entire answer and gauging the feeling behind it, you will identify the source of the behavior. Do not ask another follow up question until you hear the entire answer. Again, none of this justifies his actions, but listening to the reasons will help prevent them from occurring again over time.
Make long term observations and follow up. Once you’ve learned the reason behind the action, tell him what’s acceptable at the moment and why according to how it makes you feel. You are still the person in charge of the situation. Afterwards, make a meta-observation of any recent situations. There might be a pattern to the negative actions that’s rooted in the same emotions. If your child later expresses having the same emotions that used to cause negative behavior but he instead reacted in a more positive manner, communicate this observation to him and end it with encouragement.
After two weeks of the little girl acting out, we noticed it started as soon as mom came for pick up. Mom would usually ring the doorbell and immediately start talking to us, packing up her child’s belongings and making payments. We communicated our observations to the girl. Although she barely understood us, we got the feeling she knew what we were talking about. We then encouraged mom to first address her child, give her a big hug and ask how her day went. She was more than excited to tell mom everything in about two minutes before moving on to play with more toys. The negative behavior stopped and we rewarded her by telling her how much of a big girl she’s become by playing quietly until mommy is ready to leave. We never had an end-of-day behavior issue again.
Personal Growth Courses: Nonviolent Communication