I Want My Tiger! ~ Using NVC with Toddlers

Posted by on Nov 22, 2014

I Want My Tiger! ~ Using NVC with Toddlers

My 2 ½ year old wakes up grumpy. I have no idea where he gets that. This morning, he climbed in to bed with me, stepping on my head along the way, and started whining that I needed to go and get his tiger, blanket, armadillo, monkey, and water, which were all still in his bed. My first thought was, “If all of that is in your bed, and you want it, why not just stay in your bed?” Instead of saying that out loud, however, I got up, and went to get the gang for him. As I lay back down, he took the tiger and threw it, and then proceeded to cry, “I want my tiger!” “I WANT my tiger!”


To say I was irritated is an under-statement.


“I just gave you your tiger.”

“I want you to go get it now.”
“How about you go get it?”
“NO! I want YOU to go get it. I WANT MY TIGER!” Waaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


So much for catching a few more minutes of shut eye and calm in bed.


This was going nowhere.   Even in my half-awake state I could tell that. I took a breath. I was tired. I was not in the mood to get up and get his tiger, again, and I didn’t like the message it sent: It’s ok to order me around. Arguing with him was clearly not helping. So I fell back on my steady parenting rock, Non-Violent Communication, which is a method of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Could I pull it off half awake?


“You want me to go get your tiger.”

“Yes.” (Crying….)

“It sounds really important to you.”

“I do, I do want my tiger!” (Crying…..)

“Are you feeling sad that you don’t have your tiger?”

“I understand you feel sad, and that it’s really important to you to have your tiger.”


“I see your tiger is on the other side of the bed.”


“I wonder if you’d be willing to crawl over and get it, and then you would have your tiger.”




“You could see how fast you could crawl over there and get it.”


The next thing I knew, he went and got his tiger.


Tantrum averted. Barely.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) seriously rocks. It has saved me many times when I was on the verge of losing my temper, with my son and adults alike.   There are four components to NVC, which don’t have to be expressed in any particular order: observations, feelings, needs/values, and requests. In the NVC model, when a negative message is perceived, there are always 2 choices: to communicate our own feelings and needs, or to guess at the feelings and needs of the other person. Doing this creates connection, a starting place for a compassionate conversation. Here is the breakdown of the process in the situation described above.


1)   State what you observe- just the facts, no judgments or interpretations.   When I said, “You want me to get your tiger,” and “I see your tiger on the other side of the bed,” I was stating observations. I chose these over, “You just threw your tiger,” which also is a statement of fact, because that observation seemed a bit more contentious, and would have been harder for me to deliver without an edge in my voice.


2)   Notice and communicate about feelings. In this case, I chose to communicate what I perceived his feelings to be, but I was also very aware that I felt grumpy and irritated.   This awareness allowed me to not be reactive. When I said, “Are you feeling sad that you don’t have your tiger?” I was conveying to him that I was aware of his feelings and that I cared about them. I asked him if he was sad because even though I was pretty sure I was hitting the mark, I didn’t want to tell him how he was feeling. I wanted him to be able to confirm or deny my guess through his own sense of himself.


3)   Understand that feelings are coming from needs/values being met or not being met. Again, I chose to take a guess at his needs, “It’s important to you to have your tiger,” while staying aware of my own need for calm, i.e. to avoid a complete temper tantrum/meltdown at 6:30am.


4)   Request. I asked him if he’d be willing to get his tiger, and I tried to make it fun (he is 2 ½ after all!): “You could see how fast you could crawl over there and get it.”  And amazingly enough, he did go and get it. But only after I established the connection first- hearing him- “You want me to get your tiger,” and honoring his feelings and needs.


Where this can get a little tricky is it’s not about “getting him to get his tiger.” It’s about communicating in a way that values the other person’s experience, and creating a relationship where people do things because they genuinely want to, rather than to avoid punishment or receive a reward. It’s about connection, valuing each other, and modeling what it means to communicate in an effective and respectful way, even when grumpy at 6:30am.

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