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(26) Parents & Kids

GIRAFFE: American Sign Language for GIRAFFE

Our language habits are at the core of how we imagine the world.

-Neil Postman

 In your own words, write down your intention. What do you want to create in your relationship with your children?

What is your intention for your next interaction with your child? Take time to nourish your intention. It’s all too easy to stay with your nose down to the ground, responding and reacting to the steady stream of daily interactions with your children and with veryone else. Making a habit of regularly nourishing your intention will help you remember it more regularly throughout your busy days, and especially when you need it the most!

Learning and practicing Giraffe Language will help nourish your intention. Other ways to nourish your intention include the following: taking a moment in the morning, before the day begins, to remember your intention; breathing deeply in the middle of an intense interaction and giving yourself empathy; taking time to be in nature; reading inspirational books; meditating; praying; singing; dancing; writing; drawing; and painting.


What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

 Notice the Flow of Communication

In any dialogue, there is a kind of traffic flow: sometimes you express and sometimes you listen. It helps to step back at times and notice who’s talking and who’s listening. Have you noticed that when you and your child are talking at the same time, no one really gets heard? In order for each of you to be heard, someone will have to step back, from time to

time, and listen. Giraffe Language will show you how to do this important listening without giving in or giving up what you, also, want to say.

When you are aware of the flow of communication, you have more choice about where to focus your attention. You can choose one of three ways of interacting: listening with self-empathy to your feelings and needs; listening with empathy to the other person’s feelings and needs; or expressing your honest feelings and needs. Giraffe Language suggests you choose where to focus based on where you are likely to find the most connection.

For example, if your daughter is too upset to hear what you have to say, the most connection will be found when you listen to her. Or, if you are too upset to hear her feelings and needs, the most connection will likely be found when you, first, listen to what’s going on in you.

As well as guiding you in where to focus your attention, Giraffe Language gives clear guidelines for what to focus on. There are three items on the list: (1) make clear observations-free of evaluations, (2) connect with feelings and needs, and (3) make do-able requests. This is a very brief introduction and there is much more to learn and practice. More resources, including books, tapes, videos, and workshops, can be found at .

 To observe without evaluation is the highest form of human

- J. Krishnamurti

 Make Clear Observations- Free of Evaluations

The first step in expressing yourself in Giraffe is to clearly describe what it is you are reacting to. Your ability to make observations free of evaluations will serve you greatly in connecting with your kids. For instance, if you say to your son, you were very rude this morning, he is likely to hear this as a criticism and want to defend himself, either by arguing or shutting down. If, instead, you make a clear observation of what happened, your son will more likely stay to hear more. A clear observation sounds like this: When I said Hi to you this morning, you looked the other way. To develop the skill of making clear observations, free of evaluations, pretend you are looking through the lens of a video camera. What, precisely, do you see (or hear or remember)? When you use vivid and evaluation-free observations, you take a first step toward connection with your child and open the door to further dialogue.

Imagine your reaction to hearing each of the following statements. Keep in mind that the speaker’s tone of voice and posture are also communicating the message behind the words.

You never listen. (Evaluation)

I see you looking in your book while I’m talking to you. (Clear observation)

You’re being lazy. (Evaluation)

Its ten o’clock and you’re still in bed. (Clear observation)

You’re irresponsible. (Evaluation)

You said you’d feed the dog tonight and I see that the can of food is unopened. (Clear observation)



(27) Parents & Kids

Parenting - Kids and Discipline Across Cultures


Connect with Feelings and Needs

Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.

Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling.

Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

 After a clear observation, express your feelings and your needs. The consciousness of needs is at the heart of Giraffe Language. Remember that needs are what connect us because they are the same for everyone, regardless of age, custom, ethnicity, or whether you are a parent or a child. When your focus is on needs, whether expressing or listening, you facilitate greater understanding and connection.

Feelings are the helpful messengers pointing to your needs. When needs are being met you will experience feelings such as happy, excited, and satisfied. Feelings of sadness, worry, frustration, and irritability tell you that your needs are not being met. What a great system to help you attend to your needs! Feelings also point you in the direction of your child’s needs. In this regard, all feeling messages are helpful.

Your feelings, then, are rooted in your needs. Your child’s feelings have their roots in his or her needs. Your daughter feels scared when her need for safety is not being met. She is likely to feel lonely or sad when her need for friendship isn’t met. She can feel excited and proud when her need for accomplishment is met. Giraffe Language helps you express the truth about your feelings and what causes them. Note that feelings are never caused by other people, so phrases such as you make me happy or she makes me angry are not used in Giraffe Language.

The grammar of Giraffe Language makes this responsibility for feelings very clear: When expressing in Giraffe, you say I feel ________ because I need ________. And when listening to your children (or anyone else), you guess what they are feeling and needing: Do you feel ________ because you need ________?

I feel relieved because I needed understanding, and I got it.

I feel worried because I need trust that you’ll be okay.

I feel grateful because I needed support, and you are giving that to me right now.

Do you feel frustrated because you need to be listened to?

Are you feeling upset because you would like more choice in this matter?

Are you feeling delighted because you got to play all day?

 Transforming Anger

Strong feelings of annoyance, intense irritation, and, especially, anger most often mean that there are thoughts mixed up with and adding fire to your feelings. These thoughts are about what you believe other people are doing to you or what you believe they should be doing. You and your children can learn to transform anger by shifting the energy of anger, recognizing the anger-producing thoughts, and hearing the needs serving message beneath the anger.

 Make Do-able Requests

When you know what your needs are and can express them, you can then make clear requests about what people can do to help meet your needs.

Giraffe Language guides you in telling people what specific action they can do to help you now. A request, to be effective, must be do-able.

The following three examples are do-able requests, asking for specific actions within a specific time frame:

 Would you be willing to take ten minutes and help me pick up the living room?

Right now, would you brainstorm with me some ways to help you remember to wash your hands before eating?

Would you be willing to lower your voice for the next ten minutes while I’m on the phone?

The following are examples of non do-able requests.

Would you help around the house?

Will you remember to wash your hands before eating from now on?

Would you be more considerate?

 How to Tell a Feeling from a Thought

Feelings are expressed most simply and clearly using just three words. For example, I feel sad, I feel worried, I feel excited, I feel happy. While feelings are a vital component of Giraffe Language, they are nearly absent in Jackal Language. Jackal Language is head-talk and steers clear of the concerns and the vulnerability of the heart. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on thoughts, opinions, and judgments. At times these are even couched in feeling language, which contributes to misunderstanding and confusion. An example of this is I feel that’s unfair. Unfair is not a word that describes a feeling; it is a thought that expresses an evaluation. In the following examples of Jackal Language, notice that though the word feels is used, we don’t know how the speaker is really feeling:

I feel that you’re inconsiderate.

I feel like I don’t matter.

I feel it’s not right.

In each of the above statements it would be more accurate to replace the phrase I feel with the phrase I think. When you identify your thoughts, you may notice you have feelings attached:

When I think that you’re inconsiderate, I feel angry.

When I think that I don’t matter, I feel sad and angry.

When I think that it’s not right, I feel angry.

Even though the following phrases have the word feel in them, notice that they are actually going to express thoughts, judgments, or evaluations:

I feel like . . .

I feel that . . .

I feel it . . .

I feel as if . . .

I feel you/he/she/they . . .

 Thoughts Posing as Feelings Lead to Anger

Anger-producing thoughts often pose as feelings. For example people say, I feel manipulated, or I feel insulted. Manipulated and insulted, however, are not feelings. They are thoughts about what you think others are doing to you. It is more accurate to say, I think you are manipulating me and when I think that thought, I feel angry! I also feel sad and scared; I want to trust that you care about me.

These words are all anger-producing thoughts: abandoned, attacked, blamed, betrayed, cornered, criticized, dissed, dumped on, ignored, insulted, intimidated, invalidated, left out, let down, manipulated, misunderstood, neglected, patronized, pressured, put down, rejected, ripped off, smothered, threatened, tricked, unheard, unimportant, unseen, and used.

 Requests vs. Demands

How do you know if you’ve made a request and not a demand? Expressing your needs and making requests for something that is do-able now increases the likelihood that your child will want to help you meet that need.

However, at the time you make your request there may be other needs your child wants to meet that will lead them to say No to your request.

What you feel and what you say next will demonstrate whether you have made a request or a demand. If you are upset on hearing No to your request, you have probably made a demand. If you have made a request, you can receive your child’s No as another possible point of connection.

 Listen with Empathy

Empathy is a respectful understanding of what someone is experiencing. It requires giving full attention to the inner experience of feelings and needs and putting aside for the time being your own judgments, opinions, and fears. To listen with empathy takes practice, since automatic responses of advising, lecturing, and commiserating are common. While these no empathic responses are not considered bad, our experience confirms that what people want first and most, especially when they are in pain, is empathy.

That’s why Giraffe Language advises you to Give Empathy First. You can listen with empathy to others and you can listen with empathy to yourself. In many cases, in order to be able to listen with empathy to others, you will first need to empathize with yourself.

 Listening to Yourself: Self-Empathy

Giraffe Language encourages you to develop the habit of frequently checking in with what is going on with you-noticing your ever-changing feelings and needs. When you do this, you meet your need for self-connection and self-respect and you will feel more alive and present. You will also find yourself engaged in productive, energizing, needs meeting actions more of the time.



(28) Parents & Kids


Self-empathy exercise NVC Nonviolent Communication


Giraffe Self-Empathy

The way of attentive love suggests listening to and talking with children-living with them instead of guiding their lives by remote control.

-Nel Noddings

I say to myself : My Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests.

I say what I see and hear.

When I see /hear . . .

I say what I feel.

I feel . . .

I say what I need.

Because I need . . .

I decide what I think might meet my needs.

Right now I ask myself to . . .

When you feel painful feelings-upset, hurt, worried, angry-taking the time to connect with your feelings and needs often meets your needs for comfort, understanding, and compassion. When you feel confused, listening to your thoughts and inner dialogue can create clarity.

When you feel pleasurable feelings-happy, excited, joyful, satisfied-self-empathy is a way to privately acknowledge and celebrate needs that have been met. Whenever you acknowledge that your needs have been met, you build confidence in your ability to meet needs in the future.

Examples of Self-Empathy

When I think of how I used such a loud voice with the kids today, I feel sad and disappointed because I didn’t create the connection with them that I wanted. It also didn’t meet my need for respect. When I see how difficult it is for me to stay focused on my work and my family, I feel concerned and worried because I need to be healthy and present for things that matter.

Listening to Others: Empathy

More than anything, your kids want to be heard. Listening to them with a focus on their feelings and needs is the essence of empathy. Empathy is giving the gift of your presence-without judgment, analysis, suggestions, stories, or any motivation to fix things. When you empathize with your children you listen for their feelings and needs even, and especially, when their words sound like criticism, blame, or judgment.

Empathy is not dependent on words; it is, in fact, often silent. If it seems helpful to express empathy out loud, it’s important to guess rather than state the other person’s feelings and needs. Guessing shows a respectful understanding that you never know for sure what others’ feel and need. Respectful guessing sounds like this: Are you feeling frustrated and wish this puzzle was easier? Are you worried and do you want reassurance you’ll be safe?

Being accurate in your guessing is not important. Being sincerely interested in what’s going on with your child is. Taking time to let go of your own agenda and be fully present to what’s going on in your child is a golden gift, and the surest route to connection.

Examples of Non-Empathic Responses

These are some common, non-empathic responses that are unlikely to meet your needs at times when connection is the goal:

Advising: I think you should . . .

Commiserating: That’s terrible. She had no right to do that to you.

Consoling: Everything’s going to be okay.

Correcting: It’s not really that hard.

Educating: You can learn from this.

Explaining: I didn’t want to do it this way, but . . .

Evaluating: If you hadn’t been so careless . . .

Fixing: What will help you is to . . .

Interrogating: What are you feeling? When did you start feeling this way?

One-upping: You should hear what happened to me . . .

Shutting down: Don’t worry. It will go away.

Story-telling: Your story reminds me of the time . . .

Sympathizing: You poor thing.

Learning Giraffe is a lot like learning a foreign language: it takes study and practice over time to develop fluency. At first, as you become more aware of your language habits and begin to practice, you might feel tongue-tied and awkward. At times, you may even begin to doubt that it is possible to unlearn habitual ways of speaking and listening. At those

times, we hope you will remember that knowing even a little bit of a foreign language will increase your ability to communicate. And you will have many opportunities to learn each day. Another wonderful thing about Giraffe is that it only takes one person to use it-to defuse a conflict, to make a heartfelt connection, and to inspire co-operation.

Daily Practice

Notice your intention in communicating. Do you want to connect? Or do you want to be right or get your way?

Notice the flow of communication. Who is listening? Check in with your feelings and needs throughout the day.

Practice observing what your children and others do and separating your observation from your evaluation.

Practice the respectful grammar of NVC: I feel because I need, you feel because you need, he feels because he needs.

Practice making concrete, present, do-able requests.

Cultivate your curiosity about what people are feeling and needing.

Silently ask and answer: What could she be feeling right now? What are her needs?

Find more practical exercises for using NVC with kids in the booklet Parenting from the Heart by Inbal Kashtan.


(29) Parents & Kids

The World's Strictest Parents - Atlanta, Georgia (USA)


Key 6 • Learn Together As You Go

Everything is in a constant process of discovery and creating. Life is intent on finding what works, not what’s “right.”

- Margaret Wheatley

Key Concepts

• Whatever comes up, you can handle it.

• You and your kids can co-operate to make decisions and solve problems.

• There are lots of ways to meet needs.

• You can celebrate what works.

• You can learn from what doesn’t work.

Have you found yourself finally getting a foothold in the issues and challenges of parenting an infant just when your darling baby outgrows midnight feedings, diapers, and midmorning naps and you’re suddenly faced with the challenges of raising a toddler? Your hard-won, new skill set for taking care of a baby has been outdated in only a few months. In a few months more, your toddler morphs into a four-year-old and you’re immersed in learning a new set of skills for a new set of challenges. Each stage of your child’s development, right up through adolescence (and beyond), requires you to learn new habits, create new structures, and develop new strategies to keep him or her learning, growing, and thriving. And it doesn’t necessarily get easier the more children you have. Kids grow so fast that parents can’t practice most of the new techniques they’re learning long enough to master them, and the time between the toddler hoods of the first- and second-born is long enough for parents to forget everything they thought they knew.

When kids are changing thoroughly and constantly, it’s hard to feel confident that you’re up to the challenge and that what you want to be passing along to them is being transmitted or received. To be successful in handling such constant change with confidence rather than self-recrimination and doubt, (1) learn to learn as you go, and (2) co-operate with your kids to make decisions and solve problems.

• Whatever Comes Up, You Can Handle It

It is impossible for parents to plan for every stage of a child’s development, to anticipate every change and be ready for it. So learning as you go not only makes sense, it seems to be required if you are going to keep pace with your child’s growth. Learning as you go means you are learning to have faith that you can handle whatever comes up and to trust that things will work out. Learning as you go is based on the understanding that you are a learner about life in the same way that your kids are. It is supported by the realization that there are many ways to do things. It is based on the fact that we have a lot of choices, and if one way we’ve chosen to do something doesn’t work, we are free to choose another and another. Learning as you go implies being awake, noticing little things, and being open and receptive rather than judgmental.

Learning as you go encourages you to let go of rigid thoughts such as there is only one right way to do things, people should do certain things, or somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. Learning as you go is based, instead, on a belief that there are no failures-just new sets of circumstances to deal with.

• You and Your Kids Can Co-operate to

Make Decisions and Solve Problems

Learning together, as you go, is based on the fact that you and your kids can be great partners for planning, decision making, and problem solving about things that affect their daily lives. Your kids are full of great ideas and love to share them. They are playful, fun, zany, open, interactive, outside-the-box thinkers. They want to contribute and to have a hand in deciding how their household operates. Learning together means that you trust that two heads are better than one because the outcome you get has the most potential to be satisfying for everyone. One of the challenges of co-operating to solve problems is that it requires you to let go of the impulse to manage and control everything that affects your kids’ lives. Letting go becomes easier when you realize that there are more strategies for solving problems than there are problems-more ways to meet needs than there are needs. When you co-investigate solutions, structures, and strategies with kids, your options and choices are limited only by your collective understanding of the situation at hand, your experiences, and your creative imaginations. It’s a more playful and open-ended way to approach not just problems and concerns but every aspect of raising children. The spirit of it is, Let’s look at this situation together, see what everyone needs from it, and put our heads together to see how to address everyone’s needs. (Please remember that most of what kids ask for, such as video games, soda, or brand-name sneakers, is not needs but strategies for meeting needs.

Co-investigating and co-creating with kid’s means taking risks and letting go of lots of shoulds. Your kids might suggest an idea for getting the dishes done: every member of the family washes his or her own plate, glass, and silverware, and two people rotate doing the pots and pans. It is a plan they are excited about; however, it doesn’t match the way you think dishes should be done. Or what if your kids suggest sleeping in cotton sleeping bags (because the sheets and blankets get too messy and are too big and difficult to straighten out every day, they say) and this doesn’t match your picture of what a bed should be. Are you willing to move outside of your comfort zone in order to experience the willing participation of your kids?

We encourage you to provide your kids with many opportunities to develop the confidence and skills to co-operate and find strategies that meet everyone’s needs. To practice skills and build on successes, begin with some relatively simple activities that your family can decide on together:

  • Planning how to spend the morning together
  • Planning what order to do afternoon errands planning a meal
  • Planning a party
  • Celebrating a holiday

Explore for Yourself

In what areas do you and your children co-operate?

In what areas can you imagine more co-operations?

How do you feel when you imagine that level of co-operation?

We never do anything wrong. We never have. We never will. We do things we wouldn’t have done if we knew then what we are learning now.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

There Are Lots of Ways to Meet Needs

Meeting needs is the number one activity of life. Do you want this ongoing activity to be a chore or a pleasure? Whether fulfilling needs is a chore or a pleasure depends to a great extent on whether the world seems rich with an abundance of choices or bleak with a scarcity of them.

Whether it is apparent to you at this moment or not, most of you who are reading this book live in a world of abundance. For every need you have, there are many ways or strategies to fulfill it. Painting, sculpting, dancing, and singing are different ways to meet a need for creative expression. Reading, watching movies, listening to tapes, talking with others, or thinking quietly are ways to meet a need for learning. To meet needs for contributing to daily life at home, you can wash dishes, sweep the floor, prepare a meal, make a centerpiece for the table, or take out the trash. If it is fun you want, there are many ways to meet that need, as well.

Explore for Yourself

Select one need and identify several different ways you have found to satisfy that need. If you take the time to ponder these lists (or write them down), you may discover which ways have worked the best. You may also discover more ways you could try.


(30) Parents & Kids

 The World's Strictest Parents


Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible.

-Virginia Satir

Explore Together: Needs and Strategies

Choose one of the needs to explore together. List ways each person has found to meet that need. This can lead to a discussion of the effectiveness of these strategies. It can also lead to a discussion of new strategies to try. This activity often leads to increased awareness of the wealth of ways there are to meet needs.

If one way you try to meet a need doesn’t work, you can try another.

There are hundreds of opportunities each day to practice and refine your needs-meeting skills and to help your children refine theirs. With daily practice and plenty of patience-with yourself and with your children-you can continually create, invent, and intuit new ways to individually meet needs and to co-operate with others to meet needs together.

One mother we know had studied nutrition and valued providing healthy food for her family. She was a creative and skilled cook and enjoyed making meals for her husband and young son. Along with keeping healthy snacks in the house, she scheduled time each day to prepare a hot meal that would be served at six o’clock. She asked her husband

and son to plan around it so they could eat together. However, when six o’clock arrived and dinner was on the table, her son was frequently absorbed in his own activities and didn’t want to break his concentration for dinner. This was frustrating for a while. Then this mother realized that, as much as she enjoyed sitting down for dinner together, it wasn’t the only way to feed her family healthy foods. She came up with another strategy, which was to stock a kitchen drawer with healthy snacks and a refrigerator drawer with carrots, celery, and apples. Her son was free to forage when he was too involved to come to meals.

Rather than arguing and fighting, use this step-by-step procedure to learn together with your children as you go:

Steps for Learning Together As You Go

1. Identify the need or needs you or your child want to meet.

2. Choose a strategy for meeting the need.

3. Try out the strategy.

4. Evaluate the strategy: How well did it meet the needs that were identified?

5. Refine the strategy or try another one.

You Can Celebrate What Works

When your strategies work and needs are met, take a few moments to acknowledge the success. It seems to be a human trait to focus on the negative, so it is important to take time to notice when things are going the way you want them to go. Feel your happiness, satisfaction, or delight. Taking time to celebrate successes anchors learning in your long-term memory and is a powerful way to build self-confidence.

Celebrating what works for your kids is another opportunity for empathic connection. Take time to listen for (1) the feelings they are having as a result of their accomplishments and (2) the needs they have met by doing what they have done. Wow, you seem to be feeling very happy and proud of yourself for staying with that puzzle until you figured it out.

When you keep the spotlight on your child’s feelings and needs, you support her inner motivation to do things for her own reasons rather than to please others, gain rewards, or avoid punishment. You also teach her to evaluate for herself how well she is meeting her needs, rather than to look to others for evaluation. Explore for Yourself Think about a success you had today: something you did to meet a need that worked! What did you do?

What need did it meet?

Take a moment to celebrate. How do you feel knowing that it worked?

Explore Together: Celebrate Successes

Take turns sharing successes you’ve had this week.

True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.

-The Dalai Lama

You Can Learn from What Doesn’t Work

When a strategy to fulfill a need doesn’t work, it is tempting to say, I made a mistake, and spiral down into self-criticism, self-doubt, and self punishment. In fact, a mistake is simply a strategy for meeting a need that didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Instead of playing a self-blame game and judging mistakes as bad, you can reconnect with your feelings and needs and tinker with, tweak, or otherwise adjust your

strategies for more satisfying results.

If you are afraid of making mistakes, you will miss opportunities to try new things. You won’t feel free to explore, experiment, and play. Rather than blame and judge yourself for making a mistake, learn from it and move on.

Steps for Learning from Mistakes

Observe: What did you do or say that you regret?

Notice: What are you telling yourself about what you did?

Are you judging yourself?

Ask: What needs were you trying to meet?

Ask: How could you have met those needs more effectively? Ask: Were there any needs you did meet?

Request: What do you want to do now to meet your needs?

No matter what you are faced with, you will be able to handle it if you are willing to be a learner along with your kids, co-investigating and co creating as you go. Remember that there are many ways to do things and if one way doesn’t work you can try another until you find a strategy that works for you. Celebrate what is working and learn from what isn’t.

Daily Practice

Notice when you feel anxious because you think something has to be done or something should be done in a particular way. Notice the judgment, breathe, and connect with the deeper need you want to meet. When you focus on the need, do other strategies come to mind that could meet that need?

Notice when you or your children are attached to a particular strategy. These phrases can give you a clue: I have to do it, I need to have it, You need to do it. See if you can sense the need or needs you or your kids want to meet through this strategy. See if there are other strategies that could also meet this need.

When something you do or your child does is successful in meeting a need, take a moment to celebrate.

When something you do or your child does is not successful, take time to feel the disappointment or sadness that may come up, then take yourself through the “Steps for Learning from Mistakes.”



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