Nonviolent Communication with Children

I aspire to meet my children’s needs through clear, honest communication. I first met attachment parenting while pregnant with my first child, and I first met nonviolent communication (NVC) while pregnant with my second.

“NVC shares two key premises with attachment parenting: Human actions are motivated by attempts to meet needs, and trusting relationships are built through attentiveness to those needs.” Inbal Kashtan

I have been practicing for a long time; I have taken classes and participated in discussions; I have read Nonviolent Communication with friends; I have read the book with my husband. I’m still learning. Every time I spiral back around to similar points, I am more sure that I am closer.

Compassionate communication is a practice not an accomplishment.

Mother and son talking

The Basics of NVC

The assumptions of nonviolent communication are that we as humans act as we do in attempt to meet our needs, that we choose our actions, and that our interdependence with others can meet many of our needs. The way to meet those needs is communication.

By sharing our observations (in contrast to potential judgments), our feelings and needs, and by making clear requests we keep our communications from being all about escalating drama.

As I sat down to write this post, my son grabbed for a book and turned to run upstairs where my husband promised to meet him to look at the book. We just bought a book with 3-D maps of the mountains around us. He has been wearing the 3-D glasses and looking at the book for several days. He didn’t run up the stairs as I expected, though. He sat on the floor and said, “Oh. Oh. Oh.”

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I ruined it,” he said.

“I saw you whip around with the book.”

“I thought I was grabbing the whole thing, but I just grabbed the cover. I tore the cover.” The cover was torn nearly to the end of its spiral binding.

“What happened?”

“I’m tired, and I wanted to go upstairs and get my pajamas on and read with Daddy.”

We talked through it. Knowing I was about to write this post, I was acutely aware of the steps of NVC. I worked to keep judgment out of my observations. I told him how I felt (frustrated). I told him I want to know that when I buy him a book he will care for it.

He does care for it, he told me. I know he cares about the book. He was very sad to have it torn. I asked if he could think how he would pick up a book in the future. He wants to move more slowly.

What I wanted to do was whine and complain, but I was more conscious of his reaction than of my own. I didn’t want to turn our discussion toward guilt, but I would like to keep books usable. I think he wants the same, so there was really no need to make the situation tense.

As we talked, I tucked the torn pieces of the cover back into the spiral binding. He was calm. I was calm. He went upstairs and waited for his Daddy.

Even after so long I have no confidence that I ever get NVC right, but, then again, I don’t find myself that concerned about right anymore. When I first tried to use NVC, I felt like my voice got lost in prescriptive language. As I become more familiar with the practice, I was less slavish in following the four steps. I still find them a good reminder, but I’ve graduated to putting my focus on the conversation and the relationship. My NVC voice isn’t the same as others. I’m happier with my NVC voice than I was with my parrot voice.

How to Find Your Nonviolent Voice

As I have helped others learn about nonviolent communication, I have come to see several factors as important to success.

  • Revisit. Don’t assume you will learn what you need to know the first time. Remember the basics and come back to make your practice richer over time. Like I wrote about with my Groundhog Day reminders yesterday, I try to take every reminder as an opportunity to refocus and make sure I am moving in the direction I want to.
  • Group practice. I have been in short-term and long-term NVC groups, and I definitely suggest finding a long-term practice group. It helps to have new and experienced practitioners together. Those with experience guide and model. We all move through the practice at our own pace. We share stories of our attempts. We role play to come closer to getting it right.
  • Respect your children. I remind myself that what I’m doing isn’t about NVC. What I’m doing is about my children, my love for them, and my desire for them to become good humans.

I wish you well in your practice. Have you consciously tried nonviolent communication with your children? Please share your experience. I love hearing how parents find new ways to connect with their children peacefully.


There are a lot of books and articles on nonviolent communication. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is the foundation of practice, but I have focused in my chosen resources on articles that a busy parent can wade through as a beginning—before diving into the ocean.

Resources for Parents from the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Inbal Kashtan, “Compassionate Connection: Nonviolent Communication with Children,” Mothering, 110 January/February 2002. An introduction to feelings & needs as well as power-over and power-with relationships.

Inbal Kashtan, “Nonviolent Communication For Children & Youth,” Nonviolent Communication. Excellent summary of NVC and using NVC with children.

Image © Sergii Shalimov |

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