How speaking respectfully to my children changed my life.
I learned through harsh experience that some of the things my parents said to me were toxic. They left scars. I thought that I would never speak that way to my own two sons, but the words leaked out anyway. When my sons were young I found myself saying things that shocked me. It was as if I’d been programmed to talk to children that way. In fact, I had. We unconsciously pick up patterns of communication from our parents and from the society in which we are raised. Unless we make a conscious choice to change these ways of communicating they run the show, just like the software in your computer.
Speaking from the heart is one of the conscious parenting skills that I have been sharing with other parents for over a decade now. It’s a practice that aims to create a new, respectful pattern of communication to replace the old programming. Practicing speaking from the heart can transform the way you relate with your child on so many levels.
If you’re inclined towards going well beyond the surface layers into much deeper knowing and transformation, speaking from the heart can also become one of your core spiritual practices.
This doesn’t mean that the “surface layers” that are focused on your moment-to-moment communication with your child aren’t important. Of course they are! And there is the potential for amazing shifts towards closer connection and trust if you’re willing to practice.
What is Speaking from the Heart?
The practice of speaking from the heart (as I define it) is to communicate what you want from your child without any blame or negative judgement. It’s loosely based on Nonviolent Communication taught by Marshall Rosenberg.
For example, what do you say when you notice that your child has left a pile of dirty dishes in their bedroom?
The old, conventional pattern of communication might have you yelling:
“You’re such a pig!! I hate it when you leave dirty dishes in your room! Get them out of there NOW!”
When speaking from the heart you might say something like this:
“When I see dirty dishes in your room I feel frustrated and angry. I want a clean home that isn’t full of cockroaches and bad smells and I’d appreciate your help with that. Would you please pick up those dishes and bring them back to the kitchen?”
When you’re speaking from the heart you’re owning YOUR problem, expressing how you feel and making a direct and simple request.
No blame. No judgement. And no demands.
Sounds simple right?
Well, it is!
And yet, it also involves a reprogramming of the way most of us learned to communicate. So it takes some practice to create and embed the new pattern of communication.
How does this style of communication become a deep spiritual practice?
Firstly, speaking from the heart requires a lot of honesty and vulnerability.
The honesty comes in when you own the problem instead of blaming your child.
When you’re honest with yourself you might see that the dirty dishes in the bedroom are not a problem for your child. They don’t have the same wants or priorities as you. The dirty dishes are your problem because you are the one that wants them to be somewhere else.
The vulnerability comes in when you are willing to express your feelings clearly and simply without projecting them into your child.
Letting your child know how you feel and sharing your emotions authentically isn’t something that is encouraged in a conventional parenting approach. We’re taught not to cry, or to share that we’re feeling frustrated or sad. Letting a child know we are angry is the exception to this, but the conventional approach is to share how angry we are WITH OUR CHILD. When we share from the heart we can be honest and say “I’m feeling angry” without making it our child’s fault.
The other way that speaking from the heart can become a deep spiritual practice is that it challenges us to look more deeply into what we really want.
It’s an invitation to reflect on our priorities. We may want a clean house with no dirty dishes left in bedrooms, for sure, but what happens if we don’t get the cooperation that we’re asking for?
Is having a clean house and compliant, cooperative children really our top priority in this situation?
Perhaps we can pause and notice where our child’s attention is focused. Maybe they’re intensely focused on a game they are playing with friends, or on something they’re building out of Lego. Maybe all their attention is taken up with learning through play and exploration and they don’t have the bandwidth to think about dirty dishes right now.
Perhaps we find, on reflection, that what we really want in this situation is to support and nurture our child’s creative expression and learning and to provide a safe and comfortable space for that. We might be willing to pick up the dirty dishes ourselves and let our child continue to play.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this is a more “spiritual” way to look at this situation, or that it’s unreasonable to ask your child to pick up their dirty dishes. The spiritual practice comes with digging deeper into your own truth, whatever that may be in the situation.
Speaking from the heart invites you to go deeper than the surface level and to consider your own priorities and values more closely.
Where is your heart really leading you? What do you really want to ask of your child or children? Is there something (like an expectation or rule) that you can release or let go of? These are the kind of questions that can become part of conscious parenting. They can lead you on a path to more peaceful and harmonious relationships with your children. They can also lead you towards a happier, heart-led life, all though being more conscious of the way we speak to our children every day.
Paying attention to how we speak to our children can be one of the most powerful changes we can make in our lives. It’s the sort of change that will ripple out to affect all our relationships and may even get passed down the generations. That’s surely worthy of our focus.