When my sons were young I found myself saying things that shocked me. on occasions I threatened them and tried to manipulate them into doing what I wanted them to do. It was as if I’d been programmed to talk to children in a certain 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 the old patterns keep running 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. It promotes greater trust and openness and avoids a lot of unnecessary hurt.
If you’re inclined towards deeper personal transformation, speaking from the heart can also become one of your core spiritual practices.
What is Speaking from the Heart?
When you practice of speaking from the heart you communicate with 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!! You’re creating a health hazard in there! Get those dishes out of there NOW!”
Do you hear the judgement and blame in there? That’s such a familiar way of talking that many of us aren’t even aware of it. And we’re also not aware that its potentially hurtful and completely unnecessary.
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. I give more examples on how to speak from the heart with your children in my book Joyful Parenting.
How does this style of communication become a spiritual practice?
Be more honest and vulnerable
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.
Investigate what you REALLY want
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 deeply on our priorities. For example, we may want a clean house with no dirty dishes left in bedrooms, but what happens if we don’t get the cooperation that we’re asking for?
Is having a clean house and compliant, cooperative children who clean up dirty dishes really our top priority in this situation?
Perhaps you 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 you find, on reflection, that what you really want in this situation is to support and nurture your child’s creative expression and learning and to provide a safe and comfortable space for that. You might be willing to pick up the dirty dishes yourself 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.
How it changed my life
Speaking from the heart invites you to go deeper than the surface level and to consider your own priorities and values more closely. I discovered that non-judgement was very important to me, as was ending the habit of blaming others for my upset feelings. I wanted to take more responsibility for my own emotional wellbeing. When I called my sons out as lazy, messy or rude I was projecting onto them my own judgements of myself. I realized that judgements and blame were keeping my inner critic alive and what that inner voice was saying wasn’t friendly or kind.
Speaking from the heart led me into a much deeper relationship with my own heart energy. As more of my emotions were being honestly expressed and quickly cleared through the practice of speaking from the heart, I noticed a gradual heart opening and a deeper intuitive knowing.
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 an integral 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.