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Part Two of the Special Two-Part Series Helping You
Improve Your Parenting Skills in 2013
Empowering Ourselves to Advocate for Children
By Stephanie Bachmann Mattei Ph.D.

"Parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have." "Children do not come with an instruction booklet." Have you ever encountered those sayings?

Parenting is indeed an incredible journey with unimaginable joys and sometimes seemly insurmountable challenges. Children go through developmental stages;... Keep reading this article below >>
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    NVC Quote of the Month

    When we submit to doing something solely for the purpose of avoiding punishment, our attention is distracted from the value of the action itself. Instead, we are focusing on what might happen if we fail to take
    that action.

    If children brush their teeth because they fear shame and ridicule, their oral health may improve but their self-respect will develop cavities. The more we are seen as agents of punishment, the harder it is for others to respond compassionately to our needs.


    Advocate for Children... continued

    Their brain develops at a 6 months rate and does not reach full development until about age 25. Challenging enough. Many of us also live in isolated households with no extended family around to rely upon or a wider community to trust and get support from.

    Parenting also brings up a lot of our own unfinished emotional baggage as well as unresolved trauma. And there is no spill-proof locker for that kind of baggage.

    Each and every time we are in public spaces our needs for acceptance and belonging (which are survival needs for the primates we are) are really up for us whether we are aware of it or not.

    Have you even noticed yourself become tighter around your family of origin when your child behaves in ways you know are considered "unacceptable" by your mother? Or have you ever witnessed yourself becoming tense when your child expresses his or her exuberance in a place where quiet is an unspoken social expectation, such as a doctor's waiting room, a church, or a library? How about the age old maxim: "Children should be seen but not heard"?

    My guess is that what creates constriction in us at that point is due to our fear of other people's judgment around our parenting skills. The conditioned belief that we "should" control our kids' behavior is well entrenched in us.

    Standing Up and Standing Firm

    Standing up and standing firm to advocate for our children's needs to be taken seriously and fulfilled when, for instance, they need EIP support from the school system, or you want to delay their vaccinations, adds an extra level of complexity and maybe sheer apprehension.

    Given all that, why would we even bother to intervene when a child we do not even know is not treated according to our values? That would be pure foolishness: to expose ourselves in public places for a mere stranger when our brain easily predicts the most plausible answer we will get from the adult will be something in the lines of "This is none of your business!"

    Here are a few reasons I identify as to why we could actually go against our own fears and take a step forward to advocate for a child we do not know and may not see again for the rest of our life.

    Integrity: If I value physical safety, respect for a child's emotions, psychological wellbeing, those values do not end just with my kids. I want that for all children in the world. Affirming my values beyond my family circle means responding to my own needs for integrity and unilateral virtue.

    Modeling: Given the above mentioned values, when I take a step towards honoring my values, I model to my children and to the world at large that staying in integrity, even when I may feel uncomfortable or may end up being considered intrusive or unpopular, is something I am willing to risk, and which I deem worthwhile.

    Contributing to a world where all children are honored: when I take a stand informed by my values I cannot predict the kind of impact this may have. Maybe, it is in the long run that I do contribute to the person I approach. Maybe it is the child who will remember a stranger advocating for him/her, and who will trust his/her own mattering on a larger scale. Maybe it is a bystander who will be affected by my value-based actions.

    The Ripple Effect

    At times I have no access to knowing the rippling effect of my actions. But what I do have access to is the knowledge that my actions (or in-actions) do have a rippling effect.

    Interdependence: brain science tells us that our brains are not isolated skull-based organs acting in a vacuum. We are connected to each other, and we affect each other. The brain is a social organ made to be in relationship. It picks up signals from the social environment, and then processes that information into beliefs about life, others and self. In other words, experiences influence a person's inner world by sculpting brain structure and shaping brain function. Upholding inter-dependence means maintaining awareness that a child's wellbeing is my wellbeing and my wellbeing is a child's.

    So what gets in the way of stepping into a situation I am a witness of and that I realize does not meet my deepest values?

    I believe that what prevents me from stepping in is plain old fear. The fear of exposing myself is certainly there. And each time my brain perceives a situation (actual or imagined) as threatening; it immediately activates the fight/flight/freeze response. That means that my body-mind system gets flooded with adrenaline, my heart starts beating faster to pump more blood to my arms and legs (to prepare to fight or flee depending on what my brain will assess as most effective to maximize my chances of survival), my breath becomes shallow and my reflexes become faster.

    Also, parts of my higher functioning system in the brain gets disconnected, and I literally could lose up to 50 IQ points (the English language explicitly expresses that by sayings such as "I'm losing my mind" "I am not thinking straight" etc.)

    Knowing that, I can extend compassionate understanding towards myself each and every time I choose safety, stay within my comfort zone and walk by. Yet, that is not my only option. I could actually learn to shift my relationship to fear. Rather than fully buying into it and be controlled by it, I could learn to observe it. Mindfully breathe into it. Acknowledge it to myself. Allow it to be there. NVC offers a practice to deeply connect with myself by simply asking myself two simple yet powerful and deeply compassionate questions:

    • How do I feel right now (body sensations and emotions)?

    • What matters to me around this situation?

    From that place of self-connection, I can feel the fear and choose to act from my deeper values.

    Ultimately fear does not have the power to hold us back. It is an emotion, intense as it may be. Yet, we often hand over our power to fear.

    Overcoming Remaining Obstacles

    In my experience, one other obstacle that keeps me from intervening is fear of my own anger. Fear that I may say or do things I will later regret. Remember when the fight/flight response gets activated our brain goes into a reactive state with the unique purpose of ensuring our survival. So my tongue may become way faster than my self-awareness! Choice is not readily available to a hijacked brain.

    NVC teaches us that our anger is fed by our judgments, especially punitive thoughts and right/wrong mentality. For example, the other day I was hiking a mountain with my family when a father and son were close enough for us to hear their conversation. It went something like this:

    Son – "I am tired I want to stop."
    Father – "We only started 20 minutes ago. You are not allowed to be tired!"
    Son – "But I am. I want to rest. (the boy sits on a stone.)"
    Father – "Move your butt! I told you: you are not allowed to be tired! You are 11 and you did this climb last year!"

    So, here is what I captured on my inner commentary: "Gosh, and that should be a fun father-son activity? I wonder how much this kid enjoys being around his father! You are not allowed to feel tired?! That is the worst thing the father could say! Couldn't he just empathize with his kid? Has he ever heard about validating children's feelings? This kid will grow up totally distrusting his inner experience and totally disconnected from his body."

    In a split-second my mind had pinpointed the problem, found the one at fault, blamed the father and predicted a grim future for that kid. That does not mean that I am bad or that there is something wrong with me. That is what brains do: they try to make sense of information that enters through the sensory pathways (in this case hearing and seeing) to look for what is amiss and to predict what may happen. These are evolutionary survival skills. That is what made it possible for you and me to be here today.

    So, what do I do with all that? Am I in a psycho-emotional state that empowers me to enter a dialogue with this father? I genuinely doubt it (good I did not intervene then!).

    Regaining Control

    Yet again, I am not at the mercy of my thoughts, unless I fuse with them. NVC offers me one incredible process to gently create some space between me and my thinking mind and defuse what Dr Marshall B. Rosenberg calls "enemy images," which are mental images of how wrong and or bad others can be. When my mind does create enemy images, I lose track of the humanity of that person. And consequently I dehumanize myself in the process of dehumanizing another.

    I did not have any compassion for that father. My mind did not think that maybe this father had a bad day, was stressed, and that his relationship with his son was more than that particular interaction that I was overhearing.

    Before stepping in, I want to make sure that my heart is open and that I see the other person as a human being maybe in pain but certainly not bad or wrong.

    So, the first step I took was to expend a compassionate ear to myself: "How am I feeling overhearing that conversation?" and "What is it that so deeply matters to me here?"

    Well, I feel stunned, almost shocked, and can't believe my ears… I so value intergenerational respect: kids towards parents and parents toward kids.

    I pause and breathe into it. – I value cherishing each other's presence. – Pause, more breathing. – I value care. And fun. – Pause. – And contributing to children's emotional wellbeing. – Pause to take that fully in. – I value understanding, compassion, and unconditional love. – I sigh.

    There is a deep concern that that kid does not experience unconditional receiving of his experience. And I sigh again. And I notice my body relax, a sign that my whole body/mind system is entering a state of regulation and balance again.

    Using Empathic Imagination

    From that place, I can then extend some empathic imagination to that father.

    Can I stretch into imagining for a moment what could be going on for him? And what may be important to him around that situation with his son? Maybe he was actually looking forward to spending some time with his kid and enjoying each other's company and "You are not allowed to be tired!" was his way of saying that he wanted to have fun
    with him.

    Maybe, only maybe, he actually was trying to encourage his son, to contribute to his son's sense of self-trust "You did this climb last year!"

    I do not have really access to that man's inner motivation, nor to his life story. But exercising this kind of empathic imagination supports me in opening up to him, in seeing him as a human being trying to meet his needs the best he knows how.

    From such a place of self-understanding and openheartedness towards the person whose behavior I did not enjoy I can actually trust to open my mouth and to be able to say something that expresses what is important to me while seeing that person with unconditional regard.

    I intentionally slowed my pace to give them a chance to pass me and then mustering up my courage I said: "Wow, that is a mighty climb! I so would like to sit down myself, and I know that if I do that I will just make it harder on myself to continue!"

    The child looked at me with what I perceive as a curious expression on his face. His dad smiled and said: "Yeah! If I stop I won't be able to continue. That's why I am telling him to continue! C'mon son!"

    "So, you really want to enjoy the day with your son and give yourselves a good challenge. Is that it?"

    A conversation has just begun with the person whom, a minute ago, my brain was judging as the worst father in the world. By humanizing him in my own heart, I am now able to reach out to him, and maybe contribute to humanizing his behavior in his son's eyes (i.e. create some understanding for the child around his father's behavior toward him). I also humanized the kid's behavior by sharing that this is part of my experience, too.

    That brief interaction may have just contributed to bringing us all in touch with our common humanity. From that place, miracles can happen.

    The Parenting Matters Teleconference
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    For more information and to register please visit:
    The Parenting Matters Teleconference

    Stephanie Bachmann Mattei, Ph.D. is the mother of three self-educated children (biological and adopted). Stephanie is a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication is passionate to share her understanding of NVC as a process to empower oneself and others to celebrate the humanity in one's own being, and to encounter the humanity in the other person. Parenting is Stephanie's niche. Stephanie loves tying NVC with mindfulness-based neuroscience to support self-understanding, healing and wholeness. For more information please visit

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    ARTICLE 1 TITLE ... continued

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