Few days ago, I was spending time with my niece Rosa, 1 year and 6 months old. At one point during the afternoon a delicate conflict emerges between us: We’re outside, it’s winter time, I want her to put her hat on / she doesn’t want.
I realised that I went to the request directly, lets be honest, actually it was not a request at all but more of a demand… and it’s clear it did not work! (She’s very skilled to set up her limits and to express her NO’s).
In less than a minute, we became “enemies”: each of us very attached to her own strategy… immediately a sense of distance is growing between us.
It lasted a few minutes, quite painful, her NO’s were quite intense to my ears and definitely higher in volume than my ears and heart like to hear.
I was triggered, all of me wanted to respond as high in volume as her and tell her: “Put it and don’t argue with me, am the boss, just put ITTTTTTTTTTTTT!”
Am very grateful to myself and NVC that I actually did not respond that way and that I paused.
I took a deep breath, I shut my mouth and I started to listen to what was going on inside of me…..I kept on breathing, welcoming all the uncomfortable sensations in my body when I was hearing her “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”.
Then, I asked myself “Why do I want her to put her hat on?” “Because I feel worried, it’s 1°C outside, I am afraid that she will get get sick.” I take few more breaths and deeper I realised “If she gets sick, am afraid her parents (my brother and sister in law), will trust me less and that they might doubt my capacity to take care of this little being, and me, I love being with her”.
Calmer, with more resources and more clarity about what was going on in me, I decided to put my attention towards her, to “empathise” with her as we say in NVC jargon, which means to remember that each action a human being does (wether I like it or not), is an attempt to meet precious needs/values.I might still be not ok with her action but seeing the beauty of what she tries to do behind her action (her NOOOOOOO), can support me to feel compassion and a sense of closeness.
So it sounded like: “Rosa, you really don’t want to put your hat on right? You’re fed up that every adult tells you every minute what to do and how to do it without asking if you’re ok with it, right? You’re fed up, fed up, you want to be free and be at choice!!!!….Is that it?”
And exactly in this moment a voice in me said “Pffff what are you doing Oriane, ridiculous, she’s 1 year 1/2 she does not get what you say, she does not speak yet!” Then I said to myself “Actually who gives a damn about words, what matters it’s the intention behind my words, that am genuinely trying to connect to her, to see her, and am sure she senses that: that am open to dialogue with her that am trying to understand her rather that demand her and boss her around”.
She looks at me with big awake eyes, she does not shout “NOOOOOOOO” anymore. She stays silent and look at me. I continue guessing what I sense is going on for her, to put my heart and soul towards her heart and soul, to REALLY see her motivations (needs). And she slowly nods yes with her head…
VULNERABLE, AUTHENTIC EXPRESSION:
Then I went into expression, focusing on my feelings and needs (what’s alive in me, what’s really going on in me) instead of telling her that she should or shouldn’t do something-(which might not create much cooperation and trust in our connexion):
“I am worried that you get sick, it’s cold your hair is thin, i don’t trust it protects your head yet. And I want your parents to trust that I can take care of you so I can keep on spending time with you because I love it!”
She looks at me, doesn’t say anything. And then I say: “So I’d like you put your hat on…”. I give it to her, she throws it to the ground and keeps on walking.
REQUEST ≠ DEMAND
I decide to take the hat and again I choose to listen to myself (self-connexion), I feel more relaxed, less in urgency and less in a demand energy that she SHOULD…. After all, I hate it when people force me to do anything…And we’re almost at the cafe I wanted to go to and it’s warm there….
Few minutes later she does take the hat, she puts it on and looks at me with a smile that I interpret as “Here you are aunty Oriane, I can do it if it reassures you”.
I am not implying that each situation is a happy ending but what touched me the most and what is my big learning in this story is that from the moment I was able to listen to myself and welcome my uncomfortable feelings (instead of shouting at her), from the moment I could then express myself vulnerably and listen to her-try to see her needs too, we went from enemies to a sense of a team working together and this, in my experience makes all the difference in the quality of our relationship, a quality based on mutual respect, consideration rather than me being the boss and her obeying (or rebelling).