Pilar de la Torre

Psychologist and psychotherapist

"Judgment and threats prevent you from having a good relationship with your children."

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In any happy or difficult situation, what we all want first of all from the person experiencing it with us is for them to look at and speak to us warmly. Non-violent communication teaches us to find a certain degree of warmth and empathy through which we can express ourselves.

Nonviolent communication is a very powerful tool. It has four steps:  facts, feelings, needs and action. Imagine a teenager arrives home having failed five subjects at school. You didn't think they would fail so many subjects, and it looks like they didn't either. However, their report card clearly shows that they have failed a lot of subjects. Five in all, and they're the most important ones. So, as with any family dispute, you find yourself at a crossroads. Which road will you take? Will you choose the route littered with obstacles that will mean you'll have to waste an enormous amount of energy to achieve the outcome you want? Or, will you go down the more compassionate road that leads to an in-depth discussion of what's happened involving empathy and honesty? You can use threats, punishments or try to bribe your child by offering them a reward, or you can judge them by telling them they're lazy or irresponsible. You can give them a long lecture on why, at 14, it's important for them to pass these subjects for their future career prospects. You can give them advice. 99% of the time, we give our children advice in positive or difficult situations when they haven't asked for it. It's also not what they need from us at the time. They need listening, understanding, acceptance. They often actually don't need advice. And, the few times they do want our advice, they want to feel listened to and understood first. We can ridicule them and even remain silent by using emotional blackmail. We can make them feel guilty for annoying us.

Just like your body, relationships need nourishment. Throughout the day, you can eat things that are or aren't nutritious. Just because you've eaten something that isn't nutritious, that doesn't make the foods you've eaten that are nutritious any less valuable. The same thing happens in communication. We experience all types of situations and we have to try to resolve them as best we can. After all, we are only human. Given the speed at which we live our lives nowadays, I don't think anyone truly resolves all the problems they have with either their children or anyone else using compassion, attention, understanding and empathy. With children, it's a lifelong task that never ends. You have to continue working on it forever in order to reap the rewards. You have to stop and use your energy to try to find out what's going on with your children. What might they be experiencing? What might they need? What might be important to them? And when we make that effort to stop, to contain the impulse that sometimes leads us to let ourselves be led by our heads, we enter another path. The result of doing this is wonderful. Furthermore, every time you take this road and obtain a wonderful result, it becomes easier and you become more motivated to do so in future because you realize that it's worth the effort.

The secrets of nonviolent communication

Clearly, when parents are demanding of their children, it's because they want the best for them. However, on a universal level, no one likes having things forced on them, demanded of them. having demands placed on them. That's not a theory, it's just how any human being reacts in these situations due to the way our emotional systems function. From the time they are born, humans are emotionally primed to defend their freedom to choose. This means they are likely to reject any demands placed on them. With this in mind, it's easy to see that you might have to pay a high price if you are too demanding of your children. So, you find yourself in a situation where you don't know which way to turn. You don't want to stop being demanding of your children completely, because you love them and want what's best for them; however, at the same time you realize that, by being demanding, you often don't get the results you would like.

The alternative to being demanding is to engage in dialogue and set limits. Clear, structured limits that come from a place of love. Through dialogue, you can make a connection to establish what the needs of both you and your child are and to decide what you can do together to satisfy these needs. You no longer need to be demanding, because there is progression and motivation, which is what being demanding is all about deep down. Of course, parents set the limits they deem necessary at any given time. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to be demanding, as your actions and the limits you have established help you move the situation forward.

Non-violent communication involves setting limits. If you don't establish these limits, either with your children or anyone else, sooner or later you're likely to experience violent communication. Without limits, the needs of one of the parties might not be respected or dealt with. Sometimes, nonviolent communication is confused with not saying no and not setting limits that might be frustrating. Ultimately and as stated before, this is not constructive as, by failing to establish limits you're essentially not giving the other person the support they need as you're ignoring what's important to them. Is it possible to set limits in the knowledge that someone is likely to feel frustrated during the process? The first thing I want to clarify is that you don't set limits for the other person's benefit, irrespective of the situation. Limits are something you set for yourself to take care of your own needs.

Pilar de la Torre holds a degree in psychology from the Complutense University of Madrid and specializes in gestalt psychology. She is the founder and director of the Non-Violent Communication Institute, was a student of Marshall Rosenberg and wrote the book 'Nonviolent communication rationale and practices'.