As an SLP, I often question and reevaluate my role in the communication abilities of my students. Having always worked with children with social, emotional and behavioral difficulties, I am alarmed at the violent language my students use when interacting with others. Words, phrases and labels such as “I hate”, “kill”, “you’re gross”, and “that’s a dumb idea” are common.
Add to the mix solitary activities like gaming (which are often aggressive in nature), violent television/movies and social interactions based in technology, and our students are left with few skills in conflict resolution and compassionate communication. Just as bad, their learning environments are emotionally unsafe as they do not effectively share ideas and listen.
I have often heard colleagues lament “His problem isn’t language-based, he’s extremely smart. This is the role of a counselor.” I would argue that as communication specialists, we have a critical role in helping students learn and use the language of compassion and understanding, especially when solving problems and expressing feelings.
These thoughts and feelings led me to the book Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg. NVC focuses on three communication aspects: empathy, identifying and expressing feelings, and making connections with others. What struck me as I read the book were the correlations to the communication philosophies taught by Michelle Garcia Winner at Social Thinking (ST)®. Let’s take a quick look at each area and how ST teaches our students to be nonviolent communicators:
1.The first step in Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication model is to observe without evaluating. For example, instead of stating “you’re rude” specific examples are encouraged with statements such as “when I said hello to you, you looked the other way”. In order to do this, a person needs to have strong social observation skills and be able to think about what they see and hear. Social Thinking® encourages “thinking with your eyes” and examining context clues to increase social observation skills and understanding expectations. By helping students to integrate information they see and hear, thinking is more flexible and social messages are interpreted more accurately.
2. Social Thinking® techniques, and in particular the Zones of Regulation®, promote nonviolent communication through identifying and expressing feelings, and increasing emotional vocabulary. Many of my students have an extensive repertoire for calling people names, but limited words to describe their feelings. A strength of ST and the Zones is the message that all feelings are okay; in fact, they can be seen as helpful messengers that tell us about our needs. Tuning into the messages our bodies are sending us and utilizing self-regulation strategies empowers students and benefits interactions with others.
3. Another important step in NVC is to “listen with our whole being”. This premise is foundational to Social Thinking’s teaching of Whole Body Listening and perspective-taking. These skills develop empathetic listening, which teach students to focus their full attention on the other person’s message. When we are thinking about people’s words, guessing their feelings, and considering their needs, we truly are “putting ourselves in their shoes”.
Our expertise in communication and language makes us uniquely qualified to not only teach our students what to communicate but how to communicate. And in these times of reduced interactions and increased violence, planting the seeds of nonviolent communication is a professional and moral responsibility. Utilizing the methods and philosophies developed by Social Thinking® are effective measures on the path to nonviolent, compassionate communication.
You can learn more about Social Thinking® methods, materials and foundation principles by visiting their website here.
What do you think is our role is in helping students become more peaceful communicators? Do you use any specific resources to help your students communicate in a nonviolent manner?