Dec 23, 2009

Can't I Teach My Values?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in P.E.T., for most parents have a strong need to transmit their most cherished values to their offspring. Our answer is: "Of course--not only can you teach your values but inevitably you will." Parents cannot help but teach kids their values, simply because children are bound to learn their parents' values by observing what their mothers and fathers do, and hearing what they say.


Parents, like many other adults with whom children will come into contact as they grow up, will be models for them. Parents are continuously modeling for their offspring--demonstrating by their actions, even louder than by their words, what they value or believe.

Parents can teach their values by actually living them. If they want their children to value honesty, parents must daily demonstrate their own honesty. If they want their children to value generosity, they must behave generously. If they want their children to adopt "Christian" values, they must behave like Christians themselves. This is the best way, perhaps the only way, for parents to "teach" children their values.

"Do as I say, not as I do" is not an effective approach in teaching kids their parents' values. "Do as I do," however, may have a high probability of modifying or influencing a child.

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book

Dec 22, 2009

What Can Effective I-Messages Do?


I-Messages can produce startling outcomes. Parents frequently report that their children express surprise on learning how their parents really feel. They tell their parents:

"I didn't know I was bugging you so much."
"I didn't know it really upset you."
"Why didn't you tell me how you felt before?"
"You really have strong feelings about this, don't you?"

Children, not unlike adults, often don't know how their behavior affects others. In the pursuit of their own goals they are often totally unaware of the impact their behavior might have. Once they are told, they usually want to be more considerate. Thoughtlessness frequently turns into thoughtfulness, once a child understands the impact of his behavior on others.

Mrs. H reported an incident during their family vacation. Their small children had been very loud and boisterous in the back of the minivan. Mrs. H. and her husband had been resentfully enduring the racket, but finally Mr. H. could stand no more. He braked the car abruptly, pulled off the road and announced, "I just can't stand all this noise and jumping around in the back. I want to enjoy my vacation and I want to have fun when I'm driving. But, damn it, when there is noise back there, I get nervous and I hate to drive. I feel I have a right to enjoy this vacation, too."

The kids were startled by this pronouncement and said so. They hadn't realized that their carrying-on way back in the minivan was in any way distressing their father. They apparently thought their father could take it. Mrs. H. reported that after this incident, the children were much more considerate and drastically reduced their horseplay.

*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. book

Dec 21, 2009

What Are Some Active Listening Lead-Ins?


It is helpful to use a variety of expressions when you Active Listen. Repetition of one phrase such as "Sounds like..." or "You feel..." rapidly becomes irritating to your child and comes across as a technique rather than a genuine, natural and empathic response.

Practice using different words as you Active Listening. One way to develop your Active Listening is to think about starting with only one part. This can be either listening to "Facts", thoughts, ideas, information, or listening only to "Feelings".

Some examples are:

ACTIVE LISTENING TO FACTS (especially good in the No Problem Area)
  • The fact is...
  • You think...
  • The idea you have is...
  • What you are saying is...
  • Your view is...
  • You believe...
  • You feel...
  • It's really...
  • So you feel...
  • Looks like...
  • Sounds like you are...
  • Seems like your feeling...
Relax, make your Active Listening as natural as possible. Using analogies that are age and interest appropriate are also good ways to develop a more natural variety of Active Listening responses.

Lead-ins include:

  • You feel...about...
  • Its...when...
  • You can't...and that's...
  • You're really...because...
  • The way you see it is..and that's...
  •'re really...
  • You are...that...
In it's complete form Active Listening includes both the "Facts" (content) and the Feelings.
  • It's like being hit by a truck
  • You feel your teacher really nailed you to the wall
  • You got hung out to dry
  • She really shot you down (military or video gaming)
  • So it's like you really struck out (sports)
*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. Participant Workbook

Dec 17, 2009

How Does One Build Relationships That Work?


If I'm serious about improving my relationships there are four things I must do:

First, I must learn how and when to listen.

Second, I must learn a special way of talking and when to do it.

Third, I must learn to handle conflicts in such a way that no one ends up a resentful loser.

Fourth, I must establish and maintain an open dialogue with people who are most important to me.

Relationships are both built and destroyed by communication patterns. Open, honest communication is the basis for, the foundation of good relationships. Poor communication ruins them. It's that simple.

The purpose of interpersonal communication is understanding and being understood. I want to be especially clear about that. The purpose of interpersonal communication is understanding and being understood.

If you are upset about something and tell me about it, what is it that you want? Why would you talk to me? Isn't it because you want me to know what's going on inside of you, to understand the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing? If you didn't want me to know you wouldn't tell me.

If I want you to know about me I have to talk to you. What do I want from you? Understanding. There's a descriptive term for it: Empathy. Not sympathy, sympathy is about the listener. Empathy is a guess at how I feel, knowing what it must be like inside me and telling me what you understand it to be. If I want you to have empathy for me, know what its like being me, I have to tell you about myself as I really am. There's a descriptive term for this as well. It's called transparency. To have you understand me I have to become more transparent, more open, I must express more of who and what I really am.

Dec 16, 2009

What Is Passive Listening?


Listening is one of the most vital ingredients of our communication with children, partners, friends, co-workers and everyone else we come in contact with in daily life. In spite of it's importance, very few of us have any training in how to do it. Since communication includes words, voice tone, facial expressions and body language, it is important, as a listener, to give attention to each of these. Passive Listening may be all that is required in some situations.

Silence by a helper is often in short supply. Being quiet and not saying anything actually gives the other person space and uninterrupted time to talk about her issue, opinion, thoughts, or feelings.

The well-known saying, "Silence is Golden" is especially true in today's fast, busy pace of life. We are bombarded with noise and words and the pressure is to talk fast and solve problems quickly. When a child has a decision to make, a problem to solve, or just the need to express herself, silence provides the opportunity for her to take to talk, reflect and decide.

And while silence avoids the communication roadblocks that so often tell children that their messages are unacceptable, it doesn't prove for sure that you are really paying attention. It therefore helps, especially when there are pauses, to use non-verbal and verbal cues to show that you are actually tuned in. We call these cues "acknowledgments".

Since facial expressions and body language make up a very large part of communication, this is an especially powerful basic listening tool. Eye contact and such gestures as nodding, leaning forward, smiling, frowning and other body movements, use appropriately, to let children know that you really hear.

Be sure your non-verbal actions match, or mirror the child's. If you are smiling when someone is upset it will send a completely wrong message.

Eye contact is widely promoted, yet it is important that it be appropriate to the personality, culture and situation. In some cultures, making and keeping eye contact can be a sign of disrespect or to a shy person overuse can be unsettling.

Short verbal acknowledgments such as: "um hmm", "so..., I see", "ah", etc., used in small doses, tell children that you are attentive, interested and that it's okay for them to go on talking.

Sometimes children need more encouragement to keep talking, to go deeper, or even to begin. Such messages are called "door openers" and are very effective in showing children that you want to take the time to listen.

"Would you like to say more about that?
"Sounds like you have some strong feelings about that."
"I'm interested in what you're saying."
"Do you want to talk about it?"

Notice that these messages are open-ended questions and statements. They contain no evaluation of what is being said.

These passive listening skills, silence, acknowledgments and door openers, are very helpful in getting children started talking and in helping them feel accepted. But they have a limitation--they don't prove that the listener has understood. For that, you'll need to Active Listen.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. Participant Workbook

Dec 15, 2009

What Are Some Simple Door-Openers?

One of the most effective and constructive ways of responding to children's feeling-messages or problem-messages is the "door-opener" or "invitation to say more." These are responses that do not communicate any of the listener's own ideas or judgments or feelings, yet they invite the child to share his own ideas, judgments, or feelings. They open the door for him, they invite him to talk. The simplest of these are such noncommittal responses as:

"I see."
"How about that."
"You don't say."
"No kidding."
"You did, huh."
"Is that so!"

Others are somewhat more explicit in conveying an invitation to talk or to say more, such as:

"Tell me about it."
"I'd like to hear about it."
"Tell me more."
"I'd be interested in your point of view."
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"Let's discuss it."
"Let's hear what you have to say."
"Tell me the whole story."
"Go ahead, I'm listening."
"Sounds like you've got something to say about this."
"This seems like something important to you."

These door-openers or invitations to talk can be potent facilitators of another person's communication. They encourage people to start or to continue talking. They also "keep the ball in his court." They don't have the effect of your grabbing the ball away from him, as do messages of your own, such as asking questions, giving advice, reassuring, moralizing, and so on. These door-openers keep your own feelings and thoughts out of the communication process. The responses will surprise parents . The youngsters feel encouraged to move in closer, open up, and literally pour out their feelings and ideas. Like adults, young people love to talk and usually do when anyone extends an invitation.

These door-openers also convey acceptance of the child and respect for him as a person by telling him, in effect:

"You have a right to express how you feel."
"I respect you as a person with ideas and feelings."
"I might learn something from you."
"I really want to hear your point of view."
"Your ideas are worthy of being listened to."
"I am interested in you."
"I want to relate to you, get to know you better."

Who doesn't react favorably to such attitudes? What adult doesn't feel good when he is made to feel worthy, respected, significant, accepted, interesting? Children are no different. Offer them a verbal invitation and then you'd better jump back to get out of the way of their expressiveness and expansiveness. You also might learn something about them or about yourself in the process.

Dec 14, 2009

Can Molly, at 4 1/2 Year's Old, Use Method III?


JAY AGE 3 1/2

This session was transcribed word-for-word from a recording of the conversation. Both parents were new to Method III.

The Problem:

Jay wakes up very early in the morning, any time from 5:30 a.m. on. Lately, he has been waking his older sister so that she will play with him until Mother and Dad get up (6:30 a.m.) to make breakfast. Molly gets up to go to the bathroom when Jay gets up, but then she likes to go back to bed and catch some more sleep.


Dad: Molly, you have a problem. Would you like to tell us what your problem is?

Molly: Do you know why? I don't want Jay to wake me up. Every time I get up in the morning to go potty, Jay says, "Do you want to play in the kitchen with me?" and I say, "No", and he says that again and comes into my room and then he wakes me up and tells me to get up again and then I get up and then I go back to bed.

Dad: You don't want Jay to wake you up early in the morning. You like to stay in bed.

Molly: Yes.

Mom: And, Jay, you like to have somebody to play with. Is that right?

Jay: (Shakes his head in agreement.)

Dad: Well, Jay, how do you think we can solve this problem?

Jay: I don't know.

Molly: I know how. Well, in-the morning, Jay could play in the kitchen by himself and get out a whole bunch of toys, and when you get up, he could pick the toys up.

Mom: You think Jay could play in the kitchen and get out all the toys he wants, but he'd have to put them away.

Molly: Yes.

Mom: How do you feel about that, Jay? And then you could go back to your room and play by yourself until Molly wakes up?

Jay: Okay, okay.

Jay: No, I don't care for that.

Mom: You don't care for that.

Jay: No.

Molly: Well, he could take two toys out, and then when he's through with them he could put them back, or Jay could put one back and I could put the other one back.

Mom: I see. Well, Jay, how about when you get up, you could come into Mommy and Daddy's room and one of us could get you your cereal.

Jay: Okay.

Mom: Do you think you'd really like that? But, then, you couldn't wake up Molly.

Jay: Uh-huh, I won't do that.

Dad: How does this sound to you, Molly?

Molly: Oh, well, that's a good reason, because if he goes back to his room after he eats his cereal, maybe that will work out fine.

Dad: Jay, you think if you get your cereal in the morning, you can play by yourself?

Mom: Is that right, Jay?

Jay: Yeah.

Mom: And if this doesn't work out, we'll just have to talk about it some more, if it doesn't work out, we'll just have to talk about it some more, if it doesn't work out the way we've decided...*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. Participant Workbook

Dec 10, 2009

Do Parents Have to Put Up a "United Front"?

Parents Don't Have to Put Up a "United Front"

Even more important, the advice to be consistent has led many a mother and father to think that they should always be together in their feelings, presenting a united parental front to their children. This is nonsense. Yet, it is one of the most entrenched beliefs in child-rearing. Parents, according to this traditional notion, should always back each other up so that the child is led to believe that both parents feel the same way about a particular behavior.

Apart from the utter unfairness of this strategy--ganging up on the child in a two-against-one alignment--it often promotes "unrealness" on the part of one of the parents.


A sixteen-year-old girl's room is generally not kept clean enough to meet her mother's standards. This daughter's cleaning habits are unacceptable to Mother (in her area of nonacceptance). Her father, however, finds the room acceptably clean and neat. The same behavior is within his area of acceptance. Mother puts pressure on Father to feel the same way about the room as she does, so that they can have a united front (and thus have more influence on the daughter). If Father goes along, he is being untrue to his real feelings.

A six-year-old boys is playing with his video games and making more racket than his father can accept. Mother, however, is not bothered at all. She is delighted that the child is playing independently instead of hanging around her as he did all day. Father approaches Mother. "Why don't you do something to stop him making all that noise?" If Mother goes along, she is being untrue to her real feelings.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book

Remember: You can be supportive, but not have a "united front"

Dec 8, 2009

How Do I Modify Myself When There is a Values Collision?

Level 1 - Modifying Yourself

Many parents, upon close examination of their values, often as a result of a values "collision" with their child, decide not to make an issue out of their differences. Instead of setting out to change their child, they change themselves, in some instances by simply accepting the differences that exist (i.e., lowering their line) or by actually modifying their own values, sometimes even by adopting the child's values.

As part of the process for considering modifying yourself (or not to), there are three important questions to ask yourself.

1. What is My Value? Look below any behaviors and identify the belief that is your real value.

2. Where Did It Come From? Did I get it from my parents, church, friends or just pick it somewhere along the way without much thought?

3. Why Do I Want To Keep It? How has behaving and acting on this value helped or enriched my life? What experiences and observations have I had that support this as being an important value that I want to keep?

The answers to these questions may lead you to modify your own behaviors and even change a value. Or, you may reaffirm a value once you have clarified it and the answers to these questions become the "facts" that you can use as a consultant with your child.

Perhaps the ultimate question that parents should ask themselves before deciding to push for change in a conflict-of-values with their child is this: How important is that my child be like me and that I be like him? Or, can we be very different, unique people who can still love each other and value our relationship.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. Participant Workbook

Dec 3, 2009

What Are the Characteristics of A Helping Relationship?


Carl R. Rogers, Ph.D.
Excerpts reprinted with permission of the author.

My interest in psychotherapy has brought about in me an interest in every kind, of helping relationship. By this term I mean a relationship in which at least one of the parties has the intent of promoting the growth, development, maturity, improved functioning, improved coping with the life of the other. The other, in this sense, may be one individual or a group. To put it in another way, a helping relationship might be defined as one in which one of the participants intends that there should come about, in one or both parties, more appreciation of, more expression of, more functional use of the latent inner resources of the individual.

Now it is obvious that such a definition covers a wide range of relationships which usually are intended to facilitate growth. It would certainly include the relationship between mother and child, father and child. It would include the relationship between the physician and his patient. The relationship between teacher and pupil would often come under this definition, though some teachers would not have the promotion of growth as their intent. It includes almost all counselor-client relationships, whether we are speaking of education counseling, vocational counseling, or personal counseling. In this last-mentioned area it would include the wide range of relationships between the psychotherapist and the hospitalized psychotic, the therapist and the troubled or neurotic individual, and the relationship between the therapist and the increasing number of so-called "normal" individuals who enter therapy to improve their own functioning or accelerate their personal growth.

These are largely one-to-one relationships. But we should also think of the large number of individual-group interactions which are intended as helping relationships. Some administrators intend that their relationship to their staff groups shall be of the sort which promotes growth, though other administrators would not have this purpose. The interaction between the group therapy leader and his group belongs here. So does the relationship of the community consultant to a community group. Increasingly the interaction between the industrial consultant and a management group is intended as a helping relationship. Perhaps this listing will point up the fact that a great many of the relationships in which we and others are involved fall within this category of interactions in which there is the purpose of promoting development and more mature and adequate functioning.

But what are the characteristics of those relationships which do help, which do facilitate growth? And at the other end of the scale, is it possible to discern those characteristics which make a relationship unhelpful, even though it has the sincere intent to promote growth and development?

Dec 2, 2009

Can One Parent Use Method III and the Other Not?

One Parent Using Method III, the Other Not

We are often asked in P.E.T. whether it is possible for one parent to resolve conflicts by the no-lose Method III approach while the other does not. The question comes up because not all parents take the course with their spouses even though we strongly urge that when there are two parents both participate.

In some cases where only one parent is committed to change to the no-lose method, perhaps a mother, she simply starts resolving all her conflicts with the kids by using the no-lose method and the father continues using Method I in his conflicts. This may not cause too many problems, except that the children, fully aware of the difference, often complain to the father that they no longer like his approach and wish he would solve problems the way their mother does. Some fathers respond to these complaints by enrolling in a subsequent P.E.T. class. Typical of such fathers is the one who showed up at the first session of a P.E.T. class and admitted:

"I'm here tonight in self-defense, I guess, because I began to see what good results my wife was getting with her new methods. Her relationship with the kids has improved and mine has not. They talk to her but they wont talk to me."

Another father, at the first session of the class in which he enrolled after his wife had been in a previous class, made this comment:

"I want to tell you women who are taking this course without your husbands what you might expect from him. As you start using the new methods of listening and confronting and problem-solving with the children, he is going to feel hurt, left out. He will feel his role as a father is being taken away from him. You will be getting results, but he can't. I lashed out at my wife and said, 'What do you expect of me--I'm not taking the damn course.' Do you understand why I say now that I can't afford not to take the course?"

Some fathers who do not learn the new skills and remain content with their Method I approach are often given a bad time by their wives. One wife told us that she began to build up resentments and ended up being quite hostile toward her husband because she could not stand watching him resolve conflicts with power. "I see now just how much harm to the children Method I produces, and I just cannot sit by and watch him hurt the kids this way," she told the class. Another said, "I can see he is ruining his relationship with the kids and that makes me feel disappointed and sad. They need their relationship with him, but it is going down the drain rapidly."

Some mothers enlist the help of class members in P.E.T. to generate the courage to confront their husbands openly and honestly. I recall one young mother who in class was helped to see how much she herself actually feared her husband and therefore had avoided confronting him with her feelings about using Method I. Somehow, by discussing this in P.E.T., she gained enough courage to go home and tell him the feelings and had identified in class:

"I love my kids too much to stand by and see them hurt by you I know what I have learned in P.E.T. is better for the kids and I want you to learn these methods, too. I've always been afraid of you and I can see you're doing the same to the kids."

The effects of her confrontation astonished this mother. For the first time in their relationship, he heard her out. He told her he hadn't realized how much he had dominated both her and the children, and subsequently agreed to enroll in the next P.E.T. class in their community.

It does not always work out as favorably as in this family, when one parent continues to use Method I. I am certain that in some families this problem never does get resolved. While we seldom hear about it, it is likely that some husbands and wives never do come together in their methods of resolving conflicts, or in some cases a parent who has been trained in P.E.T. methods may even return to her old ways under pressure of a spouse who refuses to give up using power to resolve conflicts.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book

Nov 30, 2009

How Do I Clear Send in The No-Problem Area?


Letting Them Know The Real You

In the P.E.T. course, self-disclosing messages are referred to as I-Messages. An I-Message is a communication about the self--the "I".

An I-Message is authentic, honest, and congruent--reflecting the actual nature and strength of your thoughts and feelings. It is a clear message, understandable, and to the point, not masked in indirect or vague language.

Declarative I-Messages Are The Basic Form of Self-Disclosure

They are the declaration to others of your beliefs, ideas, likes, dislikes, feelings, thoughts, reaction--or any other statement that helps others know you better and understand how you are experiencing your life.

Some Examples of Declarative I-Messages:

"I believe the homework that your teacher's given you is really important."

"I think that we should have a military draft."

"I feel discouraged about how much things cost these days."

"I know you disagree strongly, yet I got real value from the first parent-faculty meeting, and I think we should give it a real chance."

Preventive I-Messages Stop Trouble Before It Starts

Another important type of self-disclosure is one that lets your children and others know of some future need that you want to meet; that anticipates what you want to do or see happen. Such a message, because it clearly describes how you want events to turn out, greatly increases the chances that others will adjust their actions so as not to block what you need. Such message may prevent a conflict. Such Preventive I-Messages are especially appropriate in the home. An example, familiar to every parent, is the announcement of the time dinner will be ready so that the children can finish what they're doing and, ideally, help out in the kitchen!

Some examples of Preventive I-Messages:

"I need some uninterrupted time tonight so I can get the bills paid."

"I'd like to hear of your weekend plans this evening so we can work out transportation ahead of time."

"I'd love to come to dinner. Please remember, I don't eat meat."

"I'd like to set a limit on our holiday spending this year."

Positive I-Messages Enhance and Strengthen Relationships

One of the most enriching forms of self-disclosure is the Positive I-Message. These are messages that exclusively describe parents' positive feelings toward their children. Although kids do plenty of things that are a problem for parents, they also say and do many things that are a pleasure, often helping a parent in unexpected ways or displaying kindness, maturity, considerateness, or good humor just when it's needed most. When these behaviors occur, it is appropriate and important for parents to disclose any genuine positive feelings they have about them.

Unfortunately, many parents are only self-disclosing when they are upset with their child's behavior. This is clearly appropriate self-disclosure, but the important point is that parents should disclose both their feelings of unacceptance and acceptance. Positive I-Messages that express appreciation, love, enjoyment, and affection toward children (spouse, friends, and others) can contribute greatly to warmer, closer, and more enjoyable relationships. Very young children, with their budding self-esteem and desire to be a "helper", seem especially to thrive on Positive I-Messages.

Consider the value for you, your children, or others in the following examples of Positive I-Messages:

"I appreciate how quiet you were when I was paying the bills. I did it a lot faster, thanks to you!"

"I really like the story you wrote, James."

"I was so proud when I heard you telling those kids you wouldn't lie to cover them!"

"Honey, I really love you."

It is important that Positive I-Messages not be used to manipulate or "shape" a child's behavior. Such ulterior motives invariably come through to the child and make your sincerity suspect. The Positive I-Message should be a "no-strings attached" expression of acceptance and acknowledgement.

Even though changing your child should not be the motive, parents who express a lot of positive feelings toward their children are often automatically rewarded with less unacceptable behavior, more trust, mutual respect and cooperation, more affection and caring. Like honesty, warmth and affection are highly contagious in families!

*Excerpt from the P.E.T. Participant Workbook

Nov 25, 2009

Is Danny Really Afraid to Go to Sleep?


Here is a chance to watch a parent putting Active Listening to work at home when they are confronted with nitty-gritty problems that mothers and fathers encounter. It is wise not to get so involved in these authentic situations that you forget to take note of the Active Listening this parent is using.

Danny: The Child Afraid to Go to Sleep

In handling this situation, this mother, a P.E.T. graduate, used a few of the 12 Communication Roadblocks, but she also relied heavily on Active Listening. The child, age eight, had been having increasing trouble getting to sleep since he was five years old. About eight months before the following dialogue took place, he moved out of a room he had been sharing with two younger brothers. Although eager for a room of his own, Danny found his sleeping problem intensified.


MOTHER: It's late. Turn out the light and go to sleep.

DANNY: I'm not going to sleep.

MOTHER: You have to, it's late. You'll be tired tomorrow.

DANNY: I'm not going to sleep.

MOTHER (harshly): Turn that light off now!

DANNY (flatly): I'm never going to sleep.

MOTHER (I feel like strangling him. I'm so tired, I can't stand this tonight...I go into the kitchen, count to ten, decide that I'm going in there and try Active Listening even if it kills me! Entering Danny's room): "C'mon, it's late but I'll sit on your bed for a while and rest my feet before I do the dishes. [She takes the book from him, turns off the lights, closes the door, and sits on the bed beside him, leaning back against the wall.]

DANNY: Gimme that book! Don't turn off the light. Get out of here. I don't want you in here. I'm not going to sleep. I hate you!

MOTHER: You're feeling very angry.

DANNY: Yeah, I hate school, and I'll ever go back, never!

MOTHER (He loves school.): You're fed up with school.

DANNY: It's horrible. I'm not good in school. Don't know anything. I should be in second grade. [He's in third.] Math, I don't know it. [He is very good at it.] The teacher must think we're in a high school or something.

MOTHER: Math's pretty hard for you.

DANNY: No! It's easy. Just don't feel like doing it.


DANNY (sudden shift): I like baseball. Much rather play baseball than go to school.

MOTHER: You really like baseball.

DANNY: Do you have to go to college? [Oldest brother will soon enter college and there is much family talk about it.]


DANNY: How long do yo have to go to school?

MOTHER: you have to finish high school.

DANNY: Well, I'm not going to college. Don't have to, right?

MOTHER: Right.

DANNY: Good, I'll play baseball.

MOTHER: Baseball's really fun.

DANNY: Yeah. [Completely calmed down, talking comfortably, no anger.] Well, good night.

MOTHER: Good night.

DANNY: Will you sit up with me some more?

MOTHER: Uh-huh.

DANNY (pulls up covers which had been kicked off; carefully covers up Mother's knees and pats them): Comfortable?


DANNY: You're welcome. [Period of quiet, then Danny starts snorting and sniffing with much exaggerated clearing of throat and nose. Snort, snort, snort. Danny does have slight allergy with stuffy nose, but the symptoms are never acute. Mother has never heard Danny snort like this before.]

MOTHER: Nose bugging you?

DANNY: No. [Snort, snort.]

MOTHER: Nose really bugs you.

DANNY: Yeah. [snort]. [Sigh of anguish.] Oh, I wish you didn't have to breathe through your nose when you sleep.

MOTHER (very surprised at this, tempted to ask where that idea came from): You think you have to breathe through your nose when you sleep?

DANNY: I know I have to.

MOTHER: You feel sure about it.

DANNY: I know it. Tommy told me, a long time ago. [Much admired friend, two years older.] he said you have to. You can't breathe through your mouth when you sleep.

MOTHER: You mean you aren't supposed to?

DANNY: You just can't [snort]. Mommy, that's right, isn't it? I mean, you gotta breathe through your nose when you sleep, don't you? [Long explanation--many questions from Danny about admired friend. "He wouldn't lie to me."]

MOTHER: (Explains that friend is probably trying to help but kids get false information sometimes. Much emphasis from Mother that everyone breathes through the mouth when sleeping.)

DANNY (very relieved): Well, good night.

MOTHER: Good night. [Danny breathing easily through mouth.]

DANNY (suddenly): Snort.

MOTHER: Still scary.

DANNY: Uh-huh. Mommy, what if I go to sleep breathing through my mouth--and my noise is stuff--and what if in the middle of the night when I'm sound asleep--what if I closed my mouth?

MOTHER (realized that he has been afraid to go to sleep for years because he is afraid he would choke to death; thinks; "Oh my poor baby"): You're afraid you might choke maybe?

DANNY: Uh-huh. You gotta breathe. [He couldn't say, "I might die."]

MOTHER (more explaining): It simply couldn't happen. Your mouth would open--just like your heart pumps blood or eyes blink.

DANNY: Are you sure?

MOTHER: Yes, I'm sure.

DANNY: Well, good night.

MOTHER: Good night, dear. [Kiss. Danny is asleep in minutes.]


The case of Danny is not a unique example of a parent whose Active Listening brought about the dramatic resolution of an emotional problem. Reports like these from parents in our classes confirm our belief that most parents can learn the skill employed by professional counselors well enough to put it to work to help their own children solve rather deep-seated problems that used to be considered the exclusive province of professionals.

Sometimes this kind of therapeutic listening brings only a cathartic release of a child's feelings; all the child seems to need is an empathic ear or a sounding board.