Updated: Mar 19
By Nicholas Burnand
My child IS NOT doing what I want him/her to do, or my child IS doing what I don’t want him/her to do. What do I do? How do I react? What can I do to get the behaviour that I want to see? This is a complex issue. In many cultures the answer is either punishing or rewarding the child. Punishment is used to prevent unwanted behaviour and reward to encourage wanted behaviour. These methods can work, but are short term solutions. Using such tactics to get what we want means that we both lose, and we inevitably pay for it later.
Whenever behaviour is driven by external motivation, it is not sustainable. Take away the reward, or remove the risk of punishment and the unwanted behaviour returns. Punishment and reward come in many forms. Punishment can be very explicit like hitting, shouting or imposing restrictions, and can also be more subtle like ignoring the other person. I will punish you by not giving you any attention.
It is the same for rewards. They can come in the form of something given like money or a toy and can also be more subtle like a smile or praise (you’re such a good boy/girl when you do that). When using punishment to get what you want, you also run the risk of rebellion. We see this all to often in children of all ages when they refuse to do what has been demanded of them. Nobody wants to be told what to do. We all have a need for autonomy (to choose how we would like to spend our time), children included.
The question I like to ask myself is “why do I want the people around me to do what they do?”. I love it when my nine year old daughter behaves in ways that contribute to my wellbeing, and my sense of interdependence, and yet I don’t want her motivation to be her fear of punishment or her desire for rewards. I long for her to behave from intrinsic motivation, because she can see how it is fulfilling for her. I long for her to want to contribute rather than being forced or coerced to do so. This may sound impossible or even idealistic, and yet there are real working examples of schools and families that co-exist without anyone being forced or manipulated into doing.
I often get asked the question ”How do I get my child to do what I want from their own intrinsic motivation?”
Because we live in a society based on the system of punishment and reward, it is sometimes easier said than done. If I don’t do as I am told, then I run the risk of a fine, prison, losing my job, or a court case against me. If I do what I am told then I get the reward of a pay check with which I can buy food, clothes, or go on holidays. I believe that this leads to us living in a way that is disconnected to ourselves as we try to perform for a world that is demanding more and more. We have forgotten how to connect to what we are needing and how to live in service of life rather than in service of what is expected of us. Life becomes a struggle. Unfortunately, many parents parent in this way as well.
My question has been “How can I/we live in a way that makes life more wonderful?”
Nonviolent communication (NVC) as a form of communicating, a philosophy and a way of life has greatly contributed to realising my dream of living in a way that makes life more wonderful for everyone, including myself. Bringing the consciousness of NVC into my home and family has meant that my relationships are more harmonious. Conflicts are resolved more efficiently. Difficult issues are no longer swept under the carpet and left to fester. Our connection is stronger, and we are doing more and more for one another because we see the beauty in contributing to one another’s well-being, rather than because it is my role as mother/father/parent/child/step parent.
The process is simple, and centres around these four steps:
OBSERVING (the facts as they happened without interpretation),
FEELING (what am I feeling and not what am I thinking),
NEEDING (what are the needs, values, longings that are stimulating my feelings?)
REQUESTING (what would I like to ask of myself or the other that would support me in getting my needs met?)
When I put my attention on what I and the other are feeling and needing I come into a space of connection and mutual understanding which then opens me up to exploring together with the other ways of meeting both of our needs. I have found this to build trust in my relationship with my daughter. She trusts that her needs will be met or at least considered. This means that there is less fighting for what we both want and more collaboration and interdependence.
Are you interested to find out more?
Nic Burnand and Sarah Dekker are CNVC certified trainers in Nonviolent Communication.
Join one of our upcoming foundation courses to learn the basics of NVC, or get in touch to discuss a bespoke training for a group.
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