Have you ever found yourself
struggling with your child over something you want her to do,
knowing that you want to communicate calmly, but feeling the waves
of frustration and anger growing in you? I recently discovered the
difference a giraffe puppet mediator can make in those moments.
A puppet mediator? How can a puppet mediate, you wonder?
In Nonviolent Communication (NVC), giraffes are used as symbols
for "the language of the heart" because giraffes have
the largest hearts of any land animal. They need those large
hearts to pump blood up their long necks to their brains.
(Sometimes I think that this is an apt metaphor for the
disconnection between our human hearts and brains, and that by
learning NVC we are metaphorically enlarging our hearts so we can
pump more blood into the region of our heads responsible for
In our workshops, we often use a giraffe puppet in role play to
represent someone trying to use NVC. We use a jackal puppet to
represent someone using the habits of speech we are more
accustomed to, such as judgments and demands, that don't support
the quality of connection, understanding, or consideration we
want. But I hadn't thought to bring these puppets into my
relationship with my five-year-old son until this year.
I no longer remember what the argument was about, but I
remember the moment of inspiration. I felt completely lost, not
knowing how to help us shift into more connection. I was stuck in
what I wanted, he was stuck in what he wanted, and neither of us
was willing to budge. Worse yet, my son wasn't willing to talk any
more, and I felt completely helpless about how to resolve the
I went to my study and returned with my "work bag,"
which holds my giraffe and jackal puppets. I put the giraffe
puppet on my right hand and the jackal puppet on my left. I told
the giraffe puppet what was going on for me, and she offered me
empathy by guessing my feelings and needs. The jackal, meanwhile,
interjected to my son every once in a while. "Arrrrr!"
he would start, in the angriest voice I could muster.
"Hitting will solve it!" My son looked concerned and
said to the jackal: "No, don't hit! Talk about it!" This
was a role reversal! My son was educating the jackal on the merits
of nonviolent conflict resolution.
Then the giraffe said to me: "I think you're forgetting
something about your son." "Really?" I inquired.
"What is it?" "When you're having a conflict,
sometimes he wants a little space to think about things before you
continue to talk about them." I turned to my son and asked
him directly: "Is that what's going on?"
"Yes!" he replied. I felt relieved and encouraged. The
giraffe's insight - I can't really say it was my own because I
didn't have it until the giraffe showed up - helped meet both my
son's need for space and care and my need for understanding what
was going on. But the solution didn't end there. The giraffe
continued to empathize with my son as well as with me, and within
two minutes we were reconnected and happy.
So what if I was the one making the giraffe's voice? I changed
my voice a little to make it the giraffe's unique voice; I looked
at the giraffe while she was talking to indicate that I was
listening to her; and she transfixed both me and my son. It seemed
to me that, by using the giraffe puppet, I was able to tap into
that deeper place in myself I wish to have access to in my hardest
moments. I came through in the way I want to come through: truly
caring for both my son's and my own needs rather than getting
locked into meeting only mine; staying calm and peaceful in the
face of conflict; and reaching for connection and understanding.
Since that first time I used the giraffe and jackal puppets, I
have pulled them out of my work bag a few more times. I use them
sparingly, keeping them for when I really don't know what to do
without their help, because I don't want either my son or me to
become desensitized to their charms or power. With their help, I
have witnessed what seemed like near miracles to me. I'll share
one more story.
My son built something with one of his construction toys, told
me it was a "ride", and then wanted me to get on for a
ride. I told him that after I finished the ride, I was going to
make a picnic lunch for him to take with him on his trip to the
zoo with friends. Then I "got on" the ride, oohing and
ahhing as it "took off." Just as it was done, the phone
rang, and I went to answer it.
When I got off the phone, my son came over and told me to get
on for another ride. When I told him that I wanted to make lunch
and a phone call, he said that I had paid for two rides and that I
had to take the second ride. This was news to me, and I wasn't
amenable to it. At another time, I would have gladly rejoined the
game, but I knew that our friends were going to arrive momentarily
and that lunch wasn't ready, so I really wanted to make the lunch.
We went back and forth, with my trying a bit to empathize with
him and to express myself, all in NVC. But whereas usually this
approach helps us tremendously, in this instance we weren't
getting anywhere. In fact, my son upped the ante by refusing to
talk about what was going on and announcing that he was sending
out a ray that would beam me into the ride so I wouldn't be able
to prepare the food. Like most people, I don't respond well to
commands. When I hear a command, I feel almost compelled to do the
exact opposite. And so I started to make the lunch. He invented
elaborate ways to "beam me" into the ride, and I
insisted on going about my business. Fortunately, I caught on to
myself: I was in a power struggle, and the way to end a power
struggle is for whoever catches on to stop engaging in it. I went
to the study to get help.
I returned with the giraffe on my hand, and told her that I
didn't know what to do because my son wasn't willing to talk with
me about what was going on. She asked if I was feeling frustrated
and needed a way to meet both our needs, which was, as usual, a
helpful inquiry. Then she turned to my son and asked him what was
going on. He spoke to me again, repeating a variation on the theme
of getting me on the ride with the ray he had constructed. The
giraffe spoke to him again: "So you're really wanting
completion with what you were playing?" His energy suddenly
shifted. He stopped talking to me, turned his face to the giraffe,
and spoke directly to her. "She took one ride but she paid
for two and I want her to take the second ride," he told her.
"Oh, so you really want to finish what you started?" the
giraffe asked. Then, completely unexpectedly, my son replied,
"She doesn't want to take the second ride, so I could give
her the money back." "You have an idea about how to
solve this," the giraffe commented, then turned to me and
asked, "Will that work for you?" I confirmed that it
would. "Does it really work for you?" the giraffe
checked with my son. He confirmed that it did. Then she said,
"It seems to me that you thought what you wanted was for your
mother to take the ride. Then you discovered that what you really
needed was a way to complete your game, and you found another way
to do that that worked for everyone." "Yes!" he
Along with all the usual gear, I'm making sure to take our
giraffe puppet with us to Hawaii when we go on vacation in