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Alison Faison

How to Reach Our Kids by Practicing Nonviolent Communication

When faced with a moment of defeat, depression or sadness, giving ourselves empathy is often the last thing we do. Marshall Rosenberg and practitioners such as Judith Lasater, have written books about their long-time practice of nonviolent communication, otherwise known as NVC. They teach that empathy is the first thing that you offer to yourself when you hit an emotional wall. Yes, that is counter-cultural. I came to know NVC as a yoga teacher here in San Francisco when I took Judith Lasaters’ “Relax and Renew” restorative yoga trainings as well as her nonviolent communication training. These classes not only taught me concrete ways to work out small to large problems, but to respect each person in front of me by attempting, however badly, to communicate directly. I am still trying to sound natural when I attempt NVC with my teens, husband, parents, and friends. It is a life-long practice in tandem with growing in faith. At Calvary, we have values that parallel NVC as found in our mission statement, session trainings, and behavioral covenant.

I browsed the 2022 Calvary Ruling Elder Training booklet and was happy to learn more about how our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbytery, and Calvary Presbyterian Church work as compassionate and democratic bodies of Christ. The training booklet specifically states that “part of the role of the session is to be a compassionate witness in the congregation and community.” Then it follows up with the section entitled “We sometimes disagree.” “As far back as 1788, Presbyterians recognized that ‘there are truths and forms with respect to which men (people) of good character and principles may differ’ and that we then need to exercise ‘mutual forbearance’ (F-3.0105). Disagreement is not a bad thing when it is expressed in ways that do not disturb the ‘peace, unity, and purity of the church’ (W-4.4003g).”

If we are following the NVC formula or the Calvary Behavioral Covenant, we first give ourselves empathy for whatever is happening. Then we mine our hearts to find out what we are feeling and try to articulate that into simple words. For example, “When the chip bag is left empty and the crumbs are all over the table, I feel frustrated, because I spent time during my day off to clean the table for all of us to have dinner.” After that, think about your proposed negotiation. Keep it short and sweet. As you know, people stop listening after a few words, especially if there is the word “you” or a blaming sentence coming at them. How about… “Would you be willing to throw away the chip bag and wipe up the crumbs when you have a snack?” Done! Now the conversation is in the other person’s court. They are not allowed to blame you for feeling frustrated as you own your feeling. They also cannot blame you for their chip bag and crumbs. If they don’t like your proposal, then they need to come up with another compromise. They might say, “I had five minutes to grab a snack and then had to get on a Zoom meeting, so I had no time to clean up. Next time this happens I will definitely pop the bag in the trash and wipe off the table with a napkin. I understand that you would probably rather do something other than clean the table on your day off.” I would then choose to give the chip-eater some connection, as I remember being hangry and hurried many times before and understand the constraints. This is a basic example parents might use with their children, teens, or partner/roommate. One can go onto the PhD versions of NVC approaches which might involve tears, difficult discussions, and multiple iterations of negotiations. For example, “When you leave the house without telling us where you are going, we feel scared. Would you be willing to leave a note, text, email or call to let us know where you will be, who you will be with, as well as your ETA home?”

We can use this conversational approach in our meetings at church, during our times with children or youth, as well as with the partners we work with in the community. Returning to the Calvary Behavioral Covenant, we see that this short guide is an agreement across a group, not a top-down declaration. Along with many other valuable statements it says, ” We communicate directly with one another. We practice: timely communication, two-way dialogue and respect for others’ opinions, speaking directly to others, especially when we need to address a disagreement or perceived wrong and understanding that sensitive conversations are best done face-to-face.” Whew! I have struggled with speaking directly face-to-face over the years. I have learned now that it is a scarier, but more efficient process.  It can be a growth experience if empathy is in the room.

Judith Lasater refers to Sanskrit words from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras such as satya, truth, ahimsa, non-violence, as well as “right speech” from the Zen Buddhism tradition. The Calvary Behavioral Covenant states “We are a people of faith. Our faith and trust in God governs everything that we do. We are a visionary congregation, and as part of a Reformed church tradition, we are open to growth, taking risks, and change.” We hope to be a healthy, growth mindset church who can face each other with truth and love. We can practice this at home every day honing in on our reactions, triggers, and feelings and then come to understand that there is a way to communicate and get what we need. Sometimes, the only communication we need is non-verbal such as: being next to a present person, getting a hug, fist-bump or physical recognition, getting alone time, or walking with someone.

On June 28 and 29, 2019, I put on a Free Mom Hugs shirt for the first time and went to the Trans March in Dolores Park and then to the Civic Center for Pride events. I met other people who wore “Free Mom Hugs” or “Free Dad Hugs” t-shirts at these events. The only thing we asked people was, “Would you like a hug?” I am still in disbelief that I hugged so many people without worrying about getting the flu or covid. It was one of the most beautiful and energizing afternoons of my life. So many people, especially young adults, would briefly hug and then move on their way. Some tearfully expressed, “I haven’t seen my mom in a year, after they kicked me out.” or “I don’t know my Dad.” Some people would see our shirts and run toward us like children. We would hug like we’ve known each other for years. This was non-verbal and non-violent communication in a way I had never experienced and have not experienced since.

More to Explore

Talking with Kids About the Order of Worship in the Bulletin.

If I visited Calvary for the first time and had not been to a Presbyterian church before, I would want someone to help me understand what I was doing throughout the order of worship. This blog provides an example of how some churches annotate their bulletins so children, youth, and adults can learn more about why we choose to read, sing, pray, and listen at certain times during the worship service. Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church ( in Louisville, Kentucky offers a model of how to explain the order of worship. Being transparent about how we worship together is in line with our reformed tradition. We can read and interpret the Bible ourselves, as well as worship and say prayers with our own bodies. Many years ago, a priest would do all of this while the congregation sat or stood. It is important for parents to share with their children that all people have the freedom to contribute to a worship service. By singing, listening, praying, and sharing, we get to know each other and witness each other’s talents and inspiring work. Fellowship and education events are only part of the ways that we form our faith together. Participating in worship is what binds us together each Sunday, so that we can support each other at or outside of church during the week.

Support Trans Kids

Calvary Presbyterian Church continues to support transgender youth and adults. March 2023 is Transgender Awareness Month. We show our continuing support through messages such as, “Trans Lives Matter,” “Believe Trans Kids,” “Support Trans Kids,” and “Protect Trans Kids.” This blog will offer some insight into Presbyterian and San Francisco organizations that actively support and advocate for LGBTQI+ people. I hope that you will take time to read through these resources. There is hope. So many inspired people of all ages are working together for freedom, safety, and love. Now that I am raising two teens I have come to more clearly understand the context and reality that LGBTQI+ youth live in every day. It is crucial to support the growth and development of transgender children and youth who sense that their “gender identity does not correspond with, or sit comfortably with, the sex they were registered at birth.” That is the definition of transgender offered by Twinkl, an education website for children ages preschool to 8th grade. See more definitions at the end of this blog. Transgender children, youth, young adults, adults, and senior adults do not want to be "othered" as they are children of God. We want to believe, support, and protect them, so that they can live safely and freely without fear and shame. When adults do not see or support children or youth as they are, the risks of gender dysphoria and youth suicide increase. God created all of us in Their image. May we have the courage to send out Jesus’ message of love and acceptance to ourselves and all people.

2022 Annual Report