The Talking Stick ritual was introduced to me from a man who learned the tradition from his elders. It was taught to me thusly:
- Gather in a circle
- There is a stick or sacred item in the middle of the circle
- Whomever is holding the stick speaks and the others in the circle listen
- Words spoken are lean
- Whatever is said in the circle stays in the circle (unless permission is given)
- The one using the talking stick speaks from his/her heart, about his/her truth
A friend was visiting last summer and she said that she had begun using Talking Stick with her children to de-escalate stress, as a way to speak, be heard and really listen. If they were fighting over a toy, a seat at the table, or who was using the pens first, she would gather them to talk about their feelings, using the principles of Talking Stick.
Recently, I bought magnetic alphabet letters for our refrigerator. My four and six-year old are discovering letters and sounds and the puzzle and magic of making words. I was very excited to give them access to these letters so they could move them around at their whim.
Within moments of discovering the letters on the fridge, however, competition erupted and I heard bickering over which letter belonged to whom and it escalated and letters were taken off the fridge and put in the hand and then physicality was starting as they were trying to extracate the letters from the others’ hands. Needless to say, I was heartbroken to see the letters used this way, I was disapointed in their behaviour and lack of respect for the gift and the opportunity of the gift, and lastly, their fighting was stressful to me; the volume, the furry, and the chaos was making me prickle. And, to add to matters, I have a 16-month whom I am tending to simultaneously.
But, rather than yell, punish, remove the letters or separate the children, I called, “Talking Stick on the couch! Everybody gather round, now, hurry!”
This snapped them to attention and all three kids hopped on the couch. I used a small lion as the stick and I said, “I need to start. I feel sad. I bought those letters for you and I was so excited to give them to you and I was picturing you sounding out ‘c-a-r’ together and reminding each other if it was the ‘ca’ that indicates a ‘c’ or the ‘ca’ that indicates a ‘k.’ I was imagining you figuring out how to spell ‘red’ one letter at a time, one of you saying, ‘It starts with ‘r’” and the other remembering the ‘e’ comes next. I feel sad to see the way you are using the letters.” Then I put the lion on the coffee table. My son picked it up next and said he was still mad that his sister took his letters. My daughter picked up the lion, next and said she liked Mommy’s idea for the letters and wanted to try it again.
With that, we closed our Talking Stick circle. I never told my children what to do; we just shared feelings in a way where everyone was heard. The Talking Stick circle absorbed the tension of the previous moment. The stress of the fight melted off of me as soon as I was seated on the couch, holding the lion, ready to speak, be heard and then listen with all my heart.
After the circle, everyone went back to doing their own activity. The kids eventually found each other and found the letters again, and they worked side by side.
Thanks to the elders to sharing the Talking Stick tradition.
About Jessica Williams
Jessica Williams created L.O.V.E. Parenting with a series of techniques for effective communication, deepened connection and more joy in parenting and life. Jessica is also the creator of www.UltimateParentingCourse.com with the best of today's progressive parenting experts together in one program. Jessica is a featured expert internationally on both Mothering.com’s Ask An Expert and the upcoming www.KidsInTheHouse.com. Jessica is a regular contributor to Mothering Magazine’s All Things Mothering, LA Parent Magazine, LA Mom Magazine & DailyBuzzMoms. She has been interviewed on television and radio and taught workshops at family wellness centers, schools and doctor’s offices. Her BirthKit has helped women have a transformational & empowering birth. Jessica maintains a private coaching practice in her native Los Angeles where she lives with her husband and their three children. “Truly amazing woman. I love her advice.”—Carrie-Anne Moss. “All you have shared has helped tremendously.”—Lisa Bonet. “I am experiencing nothing short of a miracle thanks to your laser beam approach.” –Andrea Bendewald.