Parenting Key 5 – Use a Language of Respect

“The way of attentive love suggests listening to and talking with children – living with them instead of guiding their lives by remote control.”
Nel Noddings, American Feminist, Educationalist, Philosopher (1926- )

With the fifth key, Respectful Parents Respectful Kids delves into how to translate criticism and blame into useful respectful expression of needs. Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson describe the components of a “language of respect” and then skilfully connect them. An effective choice of words and the processes of listening, empathizing, and communicating are combined to authentically express feelings and thoughts.

Giraffe or Jackal

A bull Southern savannah giraffe close to Namu...

Image via Wikipedia

They draw on an analogy of Giraffe language or Jackal language. The long ears and neck of the giraffe lead to the largest heart of land animals and represent the natural step-by-step progression through four stages that express as honestly as possible:

  1.  Observations: ”when I hear … “
  2.  Feelings: “I feel … “
  3.  Needs: “because I need … “
  4.  Requests (asking for what will meet my needs): “Right now I would like … “ or “If you are willing …”

Feelings are expressed very simply, usually using only three words – “I feel sad”. A repertoire of possible synonyms helps to clarify the direct connection of your feelings to a specific need:

When needs are met When needs are NOT met
Comfortable, full, satisfied, at ease, relaxed, safe Uncomfortable, uneasy, irritable, unsafe, miserable, embarrassed
Rested, refreshed, energized, alert alive, relaxed, strong Tired, exhausted, sleepy, dull, weak foggy, dead
Interested, curious, excited Uninterested, bored, blah
Glad, happy, hopeful, grateful, delighted, jazzed, cheerful Sad, unhappy, disappointed, heavy lonely, gloomy, bummed
Peaceful, calm, clear, content Nervous, worried, confused, tense,
Loving, connected, warm, open tender, friendly, affectionate Mad, angry, irritated, frustrated, upset furious, hostile
Grateful, appreciative, thankful Annoyed, disappointed, bitter
Playful, adventurous, alive, inspired stimulated, eager Scared, afraid, hesitant, shocked fearful, worried, terrified, stuck

Feelings are not thoughts and thoughts are not feelings. We often confuse the two. For example, “I feel like you are ignoring me” is not a feeling. It is an opinion, perhaps based on an observation. It might be better expressed as “When I see that you are still watching TV, I am disappointed that you are not looking at me.“

Feelings are nearly absent in Jackal language. Jackal language is head-talk and avoids concerns and vulnerability of the heart. It focuses almost exclusively on thoughts, opinions, and judgements.

The giraffe analogy is also used as a model for listening and empathy. After careful and attentive listening, be empathic by expressing your speculation of the other person’s feelings and needs in the same step-by-step sequence:

  1.  Observations: ”when you hear/see … “
  2.  Feelings: “Do you feel … ?”
  3.  Needs: “because you need … “
  4.  Requests (asking for what will meet my needs): “Right now would you like … “

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”
Marshall B. Rosenberg

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