“The Talking Heart”

Talking HeartWith Mother’s Day approaching, my mind is turning to matters of the heart. Those of you who have read my book may remember the chapter called “Primal Parenting,” where I recount a story about teaching our sons how to have “heart talks.” Today I want to paraphrase an excerpt from that chapter with you.

Our sons were four and two when we first used “The Talking Heart,” as we’ve come to call it. I had recently helped organize a conference on the impact of emotional literacy on children’s health. One of the teachers shared her technique of resolving conflict in the classroom using a red velvet heart stuffed with seeds. I was so intrigued that she gave it to me afterwards as a thank you for convening the meeting.

No sooner had I walked through the door than our elder son, Adam, came running up to me. “Mummy, Mummy. Danny bit me.” Adam held out his arm to show me the red mark on his forearm.” Instead of taking sides or sending Danny to his room, I decided to try out my new tool. I asked Paul to join me, explained the rules and we sat down with our sons in Adam’s room.

“Adam, I’m sorry you were bitten by Danny.” I said sympathetically.  “I want to hear from each of you though, and whoever is talking will hold this red heart when speaking.” They leaned in, eyes widening with curiosity. “Adam, since you got hurt you talk first. Danny, you will have your turn next. Here are the rules: Only talk when holding the heart. Then tell each other …

1. What you didn’t like.

2. How it made you feel, and

3. What you would have preferred.

I handed Adam the heart.  He squeezed it in his hands as he began:

“Danny, I didn’t like it when you bit me today. It hurt and I was scared. Next time I would prefer you scream.”

Adam’s suggestion was so age appropriate! Paul and I muffled our laughter as Paul passed the heart to Danny. It looked large clutched in Danny’s two-year-old hands.

“Adam, I didn’t like it when you pushed me off spring horse. I was angry and scared.” Danny paused, and I could feel something shift in him. “Adam, I sorry I bit you. Next time, I will scream LOUD!”

Danny never bit Adam again and we have used The Talking Heart in many variations ever since. Eighteen years later, while in college, Danny mediated between two friends whose argument had escalated to a shouting match. After using the method described above, the two in conflict ended by hugging each other. Danny later heard one of them on a phone saying, “I don’t know what happened. But now I feel like he understands me, and I him. It was the most amazing thing….”

The power of listening and sharing feelings directly cannot be underestimated. If more of us were taught to navigate conflict when young, we would be more effective in our friendships, marriages, corporations and governments. Maybe Congress would even get more done! Tensions get eased by good listening in both directions; honest expression of feelings and direct suggestions for improvement.

When you are in a conflict, what do you do?

If you’re looking for a present for Mother’s Day, you might consider giving a copy of my memoir, Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself.  I’ve had many letters from people telling me how my stories inspired them to open a healing dialogue with a mother, daughter, spouse or sibling.



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19 Responses to “The Talking Heart”

  1. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Eileen, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Your sensitive recounting of handling a difficult situation with your son Adam “triggers” many thoughts for me! I handled just a few difficult situations with kids–
    wonderful, thriving, bright, interested, healthy kids with wonderful parents. Perhaps, it was I, the mother, who ran amuk, when I could not handle a problem involving my kids playing in the driveway of our especially nice neighbors, who allowed driveway play for their sweet kids. I went
    nuts inside of my heart. The drama was devastating– near tragic and sad. I liked these people
    so much, so much… I went nuts…I explained to my kids and husband that I did not want my guys playing in the driveway that was off a main street– PLAIN and SIMPLE. Of course all of the men in my family balked and said I was CRAZY. I thought I was dealing with jihab… Well, we sold our house; I lost the kind respect I had earned from my husband; my kids never forgot the issue and on and on. I knit away my tears and thanked God, no one was ever hurt. CBS had a special on accidents that occur in the driveway.

    I turned my tears into taking on the full time job of mother and I LOVED it. I split pennies, focused on health and nutrition, attended most of my sons’ concerts, sports, award ceremonies and parent/teachers’ activities. My husband loved being a father with me as the full time mother. Our kids are top notch in all respects. I pray and sing that their future will be graced.

    I knit, exercise, listen to music, read, cook, talk and write to dear family and friends to resolve conflict.

    You are special. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY ! XO

    • Elaine, you sound like a WONDERFUL mother. Doubt your doubt! While the first part of your comment made me sad, the second part found such sensitive and courageous resolution. Brava! I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

  2. Mary Kirsch says:

    Thank you, Elaine, for telling again the story of the talking hearts. I had read it when I first started subscribing to your newsletter, but lost it. It is a story worth repeating and worth using over and over again…not only with “little ones,” but us “big ones” too. A Happy Mother’s Day to you. Your sons were fortunate to have you for a mother.

    • Thanks Mary. I’m glad you found it helpful. None of us get away without conflict. I feel fortunate to have found a method that worked for our family. I hope to share it with others in the coming weeks.

  3. Joanne DePuy says:

    Eileen, I love hearing from you on a regular basis. I am always inspired and interested in what you are doing and saying. It is like a warm hug from coast to coast.

    • Thanks Joanne. Sending a cyber hug to you right now! I hope you had a nice Mother’s Day. We were in Maine and were blessed by beautiful weather & loving phone calls from both sons.

  4. Sue Dixon says:

    Early childhood really is the essential time to provide children with tools to navigate life. Eileen’s story illustrates quite simply the power of listening and speaking our truth. Seeing our children applying early lessons later in life is truly music to a mother’s ears. Happy Mother’s Day!

  5. Chrysanne Chotas says:

    What a lovely and inspiring message! I will be trying this out with my family. Happy Mothers Day to you, Eileen, and every mother who reads this post!

    • Eileen rockefeller says:

      Thanks Chrysanne. I hope you know what an inspiration you are to me, having your daughter & granddaughter live with you, and navigating the community of family through 3 generations. It’s the way it’s meant to be and it shows in all three faces. Beautiful to behold.

  6. SallyWienerGrotta says:

    I loved that chapter in your book, and I’ve mentioned your “Talking Heart” in conversations, because it is so sensible and compassionate — like so much that is in the book.

  7. Nusrat J. Mirza says:

    A very happy Mother’s Day to you as well as all your readers! I do hope this special day becomes pivotal in helping those mothers and their children who have drifted apart for various reasons.

  8. Karen Cockerham says:

    Thank you, Eileen. What an inspiring, loving story. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

    • Thanks Karen. I’m sure you and Toni were missing your mother yesterday. I missed mine as I looked out to sea in Maine. She would have loved to have been there. And right then I heard her favorite bird, a white-throated sparrow, sing from the tree above me! Love to you both. Eileen

  9. Phyll says:

    Beautiful example of caring, sharing, listening and compassionate generosity of the heart. Wish everyone could read, apply and benefit from this story—globally. Happy Mother’s Day, Eileen, and to all the Mamalas out there! (Including Mom’s of furry kids and kits, too!) Meow, woofies and warm wags to all!

  10. Pingback: Have a Heart? | Eileen Rockefeller | The Talking Heart™

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