Are You A Jackal Parent? Using Nonviolent Communication In Your Parenting

“Certain ways of communicating alienate us from our natural state of compassion” Marshall B. Rosenberg

The main thing that I facilitate in my sessions with parents is communication. Communication is the way we interact, the way we learn about one another, and the way we get our needs and wants in life. But, very few families know how to communicate with each other.

Don’t get me wrong: the families I’ve met know how to talk. They talk a lot. They talk about their day, their schedules, chores, gifts for parties and holidays, and even about other family members.

But, they don’t know how to communicate.communication, parent coach los angeles, parent coach orange county, parenting, parenting skills

Instead of going through the history of communication, or a long drawn out exercise on what communication really means, I am going to talk to you about what I do to help families really get the bottom of how to effectively communicate with each other.

The foundation for how I work comes from the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg and his concept of Nonviolent Communication. Now, before you get all excited about the word nonviolent, let’s look at what it means in this context. Rosenberg uses the term in the same context as Ghandi, “to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart.” 1 The idea that our communication styles – especially the ones that many of us grew up with – can sometimes lead to disconnection is at the heart of nonviolent communication. This is why nonviolent communication is at the core of what I teach parents – which is to help a parent develop the type of relationship with their child that they want but sometimes don’t know how to get.

So, Are You A Jackal Parent?

In Rosenberg’s context of nonviolent communication, he talks about using communication to bring more connection and compassion into the relationships we have – with our children, partners, and colleagues. Rosenberg coined the term jackal and described jackal communication as “language [that is]…from the head.” 2 He further explains that when we are coming from a place of jackal communication we are using black or white thinking and only seeing things as right versus wrong. Essentially, this leads to “defensiveness, resistance, and counterattack” and disconnection. 3

When I explain it to families, I illustrate some of the ways that disconnection can enter into our everyday language, such as yelling, blaming, shaming, name calling, dismissing, and comparing. This occurs in families when stress is high and compassion/empathy is low. But, the jackal term is not intended to be labeling or judging. It’s about recognizing the ways that we are facilitating disconnect and discord in our families through how we chose to communicate. Additionally, being a jackal parent also doesn’t mean that you are physically violent with your family. In a parenting context, the use of nonviolent communication can be the difference between getting our needs met and total chaos.

The answer to the question of whether you’re a jackal parent, though, is yes. But, in all honesty, we are all jackal parents. As I stated just a few sentences ago, jackal parenting happens when there is too much tension built up in the family – stress, fatigue, blaming, shaming, financial concerns, academic issues, and other barriers that disconnect. Still, the good thing is that jackal parenting is not a permanent state of being.

Recognizing Our Jackal Parenting

In order to be aware of whether you’re going into jackal parenting territory you have to be aware of you. What triggers you? How do you react when you’re triggered? What do you need once you’re triggered? Getting to the human part of being a parent is the best way to become aware of your communication.

In my work with many families, there are so many instances or events that can shift you into jackal parenting without even realizing it. Here are three common predictors to the jackal parent rearing its head:

  1. Fatigue – when anyone is tired it is so much easier to have less patience and less tolerance. Fatigue manifests itself physically (sleepiness, body aches), emotionally (irritability), and mentally (forgetfulness).
  2. Overextension – we’ve all been there: over-scheduling, saying “yes” to everything, and trying to be in 2 places at once. While some of this comes with parenting, when it gets to be too much it can wear you thin and leave you with less reserves to be an active part of your family.
  3. Anger – one of the most misunderstood emotions grabs hold of you and brings out the worst versions of ourselves. When anger takes over, we start to say and do things that we don’t mean and can’t take back.

Although these are common as a parent, by learning to recognize when you are experiencing these states you can begin to make the shift into what Rosenberg calls Giraffe communication 4

Shifting Into Giraffe Parenting

The idea of giraffe communication is to talk from the heart and without judgment. Similar to jackal, the term giraffe is not about labeling. The term is Rosenberg’s way of distinguishing how we communicate and how this communication can lead to either disconnection or connection.

As a parent, giving yourself empathy as you shift from jackal parenting to giraffe parenting is huge part to making this shift. Being a human raising another human can be daunting and difficult. I talk about giraffe parenting not as an ideal to strive to become, but as a way to see what it looks like to shift to a more compassionate way of communicating with your child.

Branching off from Rosenberg’s four components of nonviolent communication 5, I help parents make the shift to giraffe parenting in five ways:

  1. Make observations: The best way to shift from jackal to giraffe parenting is to actually know what is going on. Before reacting to a situation, or putting your own perspective on what you’re seeing, state what are tangible and observable things in the environment. For example, if your child is having a difficult time starting their homework you could say, “I see that you have not started your homework yet.” This is an observation, not a judgment.
  2. Associate feelings: Taking the time to understand the feeling behind an action can help you to find the root of the action. Like observing, you are associating feelings without judgment. Sticking with the homework example, you could say, “I’m wondering if you are feeling tired after a full of doing school work.” This helps you to find the actual feeling versus placing an inaccurate feeling on your child’s behavior.
  3. Discover the need: This step is sometimes the most difficult in making the shift. However, in order to get to the next step you have to understand the desire or need your child has behind their actions. Again with the homework example: To illustrate this step you can say, “It seems like you need time to unwind after school instead of getting right into more school work.”
  4. Create a request: Now, after observing what is going on, finding the feelings behind the actions, and understanding the need underneath the action you can get to asking your child to complete a task. The tough part is taking the time to get through the first 3 steps to finally creating a request that is more likely to be followed. With this homework example, a possible request might look like, “I can see how tired you are after school, and I hear that you need some time to relax before getting into your homework, would you like to start your homework 45 minutes after getting home from school?” This may not seem like an actual request, but in sharing the process to finding a solution you’re modeling for your child healthy communication!
  5. Give empathy: This is actually a step that is occurring throughout the whole process. But, I put it at the end because shifting into this form of communicating can be tough, will require patience, and takes some time to get used to. I always, always, always encourage you to have empathy for yourself and your child as you both get used to using nonviolent communication in your family.

Although we all struggle with being a jackal parent in stressful times, don’t beat yourself up to the point that shifting into giraffe parenting becomes obsolete. There is no parent who will be giraffe all the time. And guess what? You’re not going to be jackal all the time either.

Take the time to develop your giraffe parenting side so that when the tense and stressful times arise you have the tools to shift into your giraffe and not sink into your jackal!

Looking for help and support in making the shift from jackal to giraffe parenting? Contact me at 310-351-3609 or


  1. Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent Communication, 2nd Ed. PuddleDancer Press: CA
  5. Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent Communication, 2nd Ed. PuddleDancer Press: CA

8 thoughts on “Are You A Jackal Parent? Using Nonviolent Communication In Your Parenting”

  1. Mercedes, thank you for this fabulous post!! I love how you introduce the idea of Non Violent Communication in parenting! You’re so wise!

    1. Hi Laura! Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words! I love the work of Marshall Rosenberg and have found it to be so helpful for myself and for my parents to learn effective ways of communicating with children. Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights on other posts as well! 🙂

  2. lanie says:

    Great post! Love the metaphor of jackal and giraffe. I can already visualize myself moving slower like the giraffe:)

    1. Hi Lanie! Thanks for reading! The animal metaphor is really helpful in discussing the differences in communication to parents! I love visualizing it too. I encourage you to check out the other posts and share your insights! :mrgreen:

  3. Stacey Horn says:

    I also would love to thank you for your clear, effective message- describing these two styles of parenting! It feels accepting, comforting and safe. Very approachable!

    1. Welcome Stacey! Thank you for reading and commenting! I’m glad the post was clear and explained the concepts well. I appreciate the kind words! Look forward to seeing your comments on other posts! :mrgreen:

  4. Really enjoyed your article. Lots of great info that I look forward to sharing!

    1. Welcome Sharon! Thanks for reading and for your kind words! I appreciate you sharing the article and I’m glad that it was informative! Please feel free to share your thoughts on other posts on the site as well! Look forward to seeing you around! 🙂

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