Aug 31, 2009

The Parent-Child Power Struggle: Who Wins, Who Loses?

Rarely do we find a parent in our classes who does not think of conflict resolution in terms of someone winning and someone losing. This "win-lose" orientation is at the very root of the dilemma of today's parents--whether to be strict (parent wins) or to be lenient (child wins).

Most parents see the whole problem of discipline in child-rearing as a question of being either strict or lenient, tough or soft, authoritarian or permissive. Because they are locked into this either-or approach to discipline, they see their relationship with their children as a power struggle, a contest of wills, a fight to see who wins--a war. Today's parents and their children are literally at war, each thinking in terms of someone winning and someone losing. They even talk about their struggle in much the same way as two nations at war.

When conflict arises between parents and children, most parents try to resolve it in their favor so that the parent wins and the child loses. Others, somewhat fewer in number than the "winners," consistently give in to their children out of fear of conflict of frustrating their children's needs. In these families the child wins and the parent loses. The major dilemma of parents today is that they see only these win-lose approaches.

Aug 27, 2009

Are You Listening without Empathy?

A real danger for parents who try to learn Active Listening solely from a book's printed page is their inability to hear the warmth and empathy that must accompany their efforts. Empathy means a quality of communication that conveys to the sender of a message that the listener is feeling with her, putting herself in the shoes of the sender, living, for a moment, inside the sender.

Everyone wants others to understand how she feels when she talks, not just what she is saying. Children, especially, are feeling people. Therefore, much of what they communicate is accompanied by feelings: joy, hate, disappointment, fear, love, worry, anger, pride, frustration, sadness, and so on. When they communicate with parents, they expect empathy with such feelings. When parents don't empathize, children naturally feel that the essential part of them at that moment--their feeling--is not being understood.

Probably, the most common mistake parents make when they first try out Active Listening is to feed back a response devoid of the feeling component of the child's message. Here's an example:

Little Carey, aged six, pleads with his father, who has been trying to encourage him to come into the water while the family is enjoying a day at the beach:

CAREY: I don't want to go in. It's too deep! And I'm afraid of the waves.
FATHER: The water is too deep for you.
CAREY: I'm scared! Please don't make me go in!

This father is completely missing the child's feelings, and his attempt at feedback shows it. Carey is not sending an intellectual evaluation of the depth of the water. He is sending an urgent plea to his father: "Don't make me come in because I'm scared stiff!" The father should have acknowledged this with, "You're scared and don't want me to force you into the water."

Some parents find out they are very uncomfortable with feelings--their own as well as their child's. It is as if they are compelled to ignore a child's feelings because they cannot tolerate her having them. Or they want quickly to push her feelings out of the picture, and therefore deliberately avoid acknowledging them. Some parents are so frightened of feelings that they actually fail to detect them in their child's messages.

So, please reflect and ask yourself, "are you listening without empathy?"

Aug 26, 2009

What happens when Method III doesn't work?

Need a quick refresher on what Method III is?

The Six Steps of Method III
I. Define Needs
II. Brainstorm Solutions
III. Evaluate Solutions
IV. Choose Solution
V. Implement Solution
VI. Check Results

Now that we have quickly went over the Six Steps of Method III, what happens if these steps don't work?

Your success with Method III will increase with time as you become more and more skillfull with the process and your Active Listening, I-Messages and Gear Shifting skills become more natural.

When Method III does not work, it is usually related to one of these factors:
  • The skill, experience and comfort level of the parent is lacking.
WHAT TO DO - continue to develop your skills; use Method III in No Problem Area decision making, e.g. planning for a fun weekend and use it first on small problems before taking on big ones.
  • There are clear limits of time and/or resources or the chance for physical harm is imminent.
WHAT TO DO - explain the situation, e.g. must leave now because there are only 30 minutes before your flight leaves, etc., take action but make the commitment to use the process when time or resources are more plentiful.
  • The child or other person is not ready because they are "flooded" by built up mistrust, anger, resentment or other strong feelings.
WHAT TO DO - before you try Method III, invest time in Active Listening to the child and in sending I-Messages to improve the relationship.

These are just a few factors when Method III doesn't work. Learn more of these tips from Dr. Thomas Gordon's, Parent Effectiveness Training book.

Aug 25, 2009

Acceptance Must Be Demonstrated

It is one thing for a parent to feel acceptance toward a child; it is another thing to make that acceptance felt. Unless a parent's acceptance comes through to the child, it can have no influence on him. A parent must learn how to demonstrate his acceptance so that the child feels it.

Specific skills are required to be able to do this. Most parents, however, tend to think of acceptance as a passive thing--a state of mind, an attitude, a feeling. True, acceptance does originate from within, but to be an effective force in influencing another, it must be actively communicated or demonstrated. I can never be certain that I am accepted by another until he demonstrates it in some active way.

The professional psychological counselor or psychotherapist, whose effectiveness as a helping agent is so greatly dependent on his being able to demonstrate his acceptance of the client, spends years learning ways to implement this attitude through his own habits of communication. Through formal training and long experience, professional counselors acquire specific skills in communicating acceptance. They learn that what they say makes the difference between their being helpful or not.

Talk can cure, and talk can foster constructive change. But it must be the right kind of talk.

The same is true for parents. How they talk to their children will determine whether they will be helpful or destructive. The effective parent, like the effective counselor, must learn how to communicate his acceptance and acquire the same communication skills.

*Excerpted from the P.E.T., Parent Effectiveness Training, book by Dr. Thomas Gordon

Aug 20, 2009

The Power of the Language of Acceptance

When a person is able to feel and communicate genuine acceptance of another, he possesses a capacity for being a powerful helping agent for the other. His acceptance of the other, as he is, is an important factor in fostering a relationship in which the other person can grow, develop, make constructive changes, learn to solve problems, move in the direction of psychological health, become more productive and creative, and actualize his fullest potential.

It is one of those simple but beautiful paradoxes of life: When a person feels that he is truly accepted by another, as he is, then he is freed to move from there and to begin to think about how he wants to change, how we wants to grow, how he can become different, how he might become more of what he is capable of being.

Acceptance is like the fertile soil that permits a tiny seed to develop into the lovely flower it is capable of becoming. The soil only enables the seed to become the flower. It releases the capacity of the seed to grow, but the capacity is entirely within the seed. As with the seed, a child contains entirely within his organism the capacity to develop. Acceptance is like the soil—it merely enables the child to actualize his potential.

Why is parental acceptance such a significant positive influence on the child? This is not generally understood by parents. Most people have been brought up to believe that if you accept a child he will remain just the way he is; that the best way to help a child become something better in the future is to tell him what you don’t accept about him now.

Therefore, most parents rely heavily on the language of unacceptance in rearing children, believing this is the best way to help them. The soil that most parents provide for their children’s growth is heavy with evaluation, judgment, criticism, preaching, moralizing, admonishing, and commanding—messages that convey unacceptance of the child as he is.

The language of acceptance opens kids up. It frees them to share their feelings and problems. Professional therapists and counselors have shown just how powerful such acceptance can be. Those therapist and counselors who are most effective are the ones who can convey to the people who come to them for help that they are truly accepted.

This is why one often hears people say that in counseling or therapy they felt totally free of the counselor’s judgment. They report that they experienced a freedom to tell him the worst about themselves—they felt their counselor would accept them no matter what they said or felt. Such acceptance is one of the most important elements contributing to the growth and change that takes place in people through counseling and therapy.*

*Excerpted from the P.E.T., Parent Effectiveness Training, book by Dr. Thomas Gordon

Aug 17, 2009

Being an effective parent isn't a matter of luck

Being an Effective Parent Isn't a Matter of Luck

Parenthood need not be a difficult and demanding experience that brings problems, worries and anxiety. One survey by parent trainer, Dr. Harold Minden, found that the responses of hundreds of parents to the question, "How would you rate your parenting experience?" were as follows:

22% answered "fulfilling and positive"
37% answered "moderately fulfilling"
41% answered "frustrating and negative"

Dr. Minden also found that 69% of the satisfied parents said they would enroll in a parent training course, but only 37% of the frustrated and negative parents said they would do so. It appeared they did not recognize the need for assistance in parenting. Those parents typically think that how kids turn out is outside their control--a matter of luck. Many of them rely on the same method of raising children and dealing with problems in their families that were used by their parents and grandparents even though they know these methods don't work.

We now know without a doubt that parents who take training and learn how to create democratic, non-authoritarian relationships with both their spouses and their children will build happy marriages and create a "new species of children." Here is a list of the characteristics of this new species:

-They get their own needs get met, yet are sensitive when others may be affected negatively.
-They are very sensitive to all forms of unfairness they see in their world.
-They treat their friends the way they have been treated at home--they are good listeners, good counselors, good at expressing themselves, good at solving problems, and good at resolving conflicts with others.
-They are mature for their age, fun-loving, playful.
-They want their needs met, yet are unselfish, altruistic and giving to others.
-They have less need to be dependent on other people--yet they have friendships and make friends easily.
-They are less afraid of being laughed at, less afraid of what people will say, more individualistic.
-They are relatively unfrightened by the unknown, and they don't just cling to the familiar.
-They have a high degree of self-acceptance--accepting the way they are, yet this somehow frees them to change and improve themselves.

Raising children who develop these characteristics takes time and commitment. There's no gimmick or quick way to do it. Parents who take the time to understand and then put what they learn into practice are richly rewarded, usually far beyond their hopes and expectations.