Feb 25, 2010

How Many Parts to an I-Message?

I-Messages Usually Have Three-Parts

Here's the formula:

I feel.................................
(your feeling)

when you........................
(unacceptable behavior)

(effect on you)


When you............................
(unacceptable behavior)

I feel...................................
(your feeling)

(effect on you)

Here's an example of an effective I-Message:

You drive to school every day and your best friend rides with you. Lately, your friend has not been ready when you stop to get him. You have to wait for him and a couple of times you have barely made it to class on time.

"When you don't come out at 8:30 when I honk my horn, I have to wait for you, and I'm worried I'll be later for first period."*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's F.E.T. Young Adult Resource Book

Feb 24, 2010

What Becomes of Discipline?

With the discovery of non-power methods of relating to children, power-based discipline is a concept that has outlived its usefulness-it has become dysfunctional in a democratic society. Moreover, it's time we discard the concept in all human relationships in which they live together, work together, or worship together in harmony.

As a society, we must begin to replace authoritarian relationships with egalitarian ones, obedience with reciprocity, coercion with influence. What better place to start than in the family, where children acquire their first lessons in life. With parents modeling open and honest communication, respect for the rights of others, and democratic problem-solving, their children will grow up understanding the true meaning of The Golden Rule.*

* Writings from Dr. Thomas Gordon

Feb 23, 2010

What Are The Four Kinds of Authority?

Dr. Gordon talks about four basic definitions of authority. The first one is authority based on expertise. This kind of authority is derived from a person's expertise - his or her knowledge, experience, training, skill, wisdom, education. For example, we say, "let's rely on the authority of the dictionary"; or "he is an authority on corporate law"; or "she speaks with authority." This is often referred to as earned authority. We will call this Authority E, the E standing for expertise.

In a family, authority E is in operation frequently. For instance, Dr. Gordon would say that he would gladly accept the authority of his wife or daughter to influence him to change his shirt or pants (or both) if he was told that they don't match. However, he'd influence his wife with directions driving through a strange city using his navigation skills and good orientation that he acquired when serving as an army pilot.

Anja will often accept her 14-year old son's authority on fixing a frozen computer or finding something on the internet quickly. Her son will accept her authority to budget the pocket-money spending.

A second kind of authority is based on position and title or a mutually understood or agreed-upon job description, which defines a person's duties, functions, and responsibilities. A committee chairman is given the authority to open and close its meetings; a policeman has the authority to issue a speeding ticket; a teacher has the authority to tell students to take out their spelling books; the driver of a car has the authority to tell passengers to fasten their seat belts. We will call this Authority J, the J standing for job. It's sometimes also called designated or legitimated authority.

The key concepts here are "mutually understood" and "agreed upon" job description. For this type of authority to work in human relationships, the people involved must genuinely accept - sanction, endorse, support, approve - the right of the person "in authority" to direct certain of their behaviors (but not all, of course.)

In Karin's family there are many interactions in which Authority J plays a major part. There are long-term agreements with regard to who does what job. Her husband, Thomas, is in charge of grocery shopping, so it's fine for him to be told by his daughter that she is tired of the cereal she's been eating for a while and she'd like to try a new one. Hannes, the nine-year old is responsible for taking the trash out, hence it's legitimate for his mother to point out to him that the trash is overflowing. Maria, the 13-year old daughter agreed to set the table for dinner and when Karin is ready to serve the food and the table is not set, it's natural that she'll ask Marie to hurry up.

All of the duties and responsibilities in the above examples were made legitimate by virtue of their having been arrived at by the involvement of each of us in a group decision-making process that ends up with a decision acceptable to everyone. It is from this mutual acceptance of the decision that Authority J derives its amazing potency to influence behavior. This is why it is sometimes called "legitimated authority."

The third kind of authority is based on informal contracts. This kind of authority in human relationships is derived from the many understandings, agreements, and contracts that people make in their day-to-day interactions. For example, it's a common practice in many homes that it's understood if a member of the household said (or left a note to that effect) to be home at a certain hour and then can not make it, that person will call home to inform the family of the change. The purpose of this agreement, obviously, is to avoid causing worry or anxiety. We call this type of authority Authority C, the C standing for commitments or contracts.

There are many examples of Authority C in every family. Some are things like the understanding to knock on someone else's bedroom before entering, others are informal agreements like which chair is used by whom for TV watching, or that whoever returns home first will get the mail and turn the heat on.

Authority C derives its potent influence from the personal commitments it represents. In later editions of this newsletter we'll examine Authority C in greater depth and give examples of using it to influence youngsters both at home and in school.

The fourth and last kind of authority is based on power; the power one person has over another. We will call this Authority P, P standing for power, power to control, dominate, coerce, bend to one's will, make other do what they don't want to do.

This is the type of authority people almost always have in mind when they talk about parents and teachers needing or exercising authority, or when they wish that children would "respect" adult authority, or when they talk about a "breakdown in authority" in families or schools, or when they want children to be "obedient to authority", or when they complain that kids today are "rebelling against authority." Authority P is also the kind of authority we generally mean when we speak of a "hierarchy of authority" in organizations.

Feb 22, 2010

Isn't Authority All Right If Parents Are Consistent?

Some parents justify the use of power by their belief that it's effective and not harmful as long as parents are consistent in using it. In our classes, these parents are surprised to learn that they are absolutely correct about the need for consistency. Our instructors assure them that consistency is essential, if they choose to use power and authority. Furthermore, children prefer parents to be consistent, if those parents choose to use power and authority.

The "ifs" are critical. Not that the use of power and authority is not harmful; the use of power and authority will be even more harmful when parents are inconsistent. Not that children want their parents to use authority; rather, if it is to be used they would prefer to be used consistently. If parents feel they have to use authority, consistency in applying it will give the child much more chance of knowing for certain what behaviors will be consistently punished and what others will be rewarded.

Considerable experimental evidence shows the harmful effects of inconsistency in using rewards and punishment to modify the behavior of animals. A classic experiment by a psychologist, Norman Maier, is one example. Maier rewards rats for jumping from a platform and through a hinged door on which was painted a particular design, like a square. The door opened to food and the rat was rewarded. Then Maier punished rats who jumped from the platform toward a door that was painted with a different design, a triangle. This door did not open, causing the rats to hit their noses and fall a considerable distance into a net. This "taught" rats to discriminate between a square and a triangle--a simple conditioning experiment.

Now Maier decided to be "inconsistent" in using rewards and punishment. He deliberately changed the conditions by randomly alternating the designs. Sometimes the square was on the door that led to food, sometimes it was on the door that did not open and made the rats fall. Like many parents, the psychologist was inconsistent in applying reward and punishment.

What did this do to the rats? It made them "neurotic"; some developed skin disorders, some went into catatonic states,some ran around their cages frantically and aimlessly, some refused to associate with the other rats, some would not eat. Maier created "experimental neuroses" in rats by being inconsistent.

The effect of inconsistency in the use of rewards and punishment can be similarly harmful to children. Inconsistency gives them no chance to learn the "proper" (rewarded) behavior and to avoid the "undesirable" behavior. They cannot win. They may become frustrated, confused, angry, and even "neurotic."*

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

Feb 18, 2010

Can There Be Risks in Clear Sending?

Risks in Clear Sending

Many different factors affect whether or not a person sends clear messages. For example, the sender has to talk loud enough to be heard. She also should code her message in words that are familiar to the receiver--that is, the receiver has to know the sender's code. In addition, we know that a single message is usually easier to understand than several messages sent at once. A message can also get lost if the sender clutters up his communication with too many asides, conditional statements, and details.

Although these factors are important, they are not as crucial in their influence on "sending" as another less understood factor--that is, the degree of "congruence" of the sender. Congruence refers to the similarity of what a person (the sender) is thinking or feeling, inside, and what he communicates to the outside. When a person is being congruent, we experience him as "open," "direct," "honest," or "genuine." When we sense that a person's communication is Incongruent, we judge him as "not ringing true," "insincere," "affected," or just plain "phony." The human receiver apparently is a very sensitive judge of the degree of congruence in a sender.

Logically, it would follow that the greater the incongruence between inner feeling and the actual message, or hearing an ambiguous message. The inconsistency between the words she receives and the other person's inner feelings (sensed from non-verbal clues from the sender) confuses the receiver. For example, a mother who inside is feeling rejected, irritated, or unloving toward her child yet tries to communicate patience, permissiveness, and acceptance will send messages that are incongruent. The child usually perceives both the ambiguity of these messages and the insincerity of the mother.

The risk in being congruent in communication is simply that the sender becomes known to the receiver as he really is (inside). The sender exposes his true self--he becomes transparently real to himself and others. People must have courage to be what they are--that is, to communicate what they feel and think as of a particular moment in their existence; for when a person does this--and here is the risk--she opens herself to others and their reactions to her. Her listeners learn how she really feels. If they are involved at all, they may not like to hear her feelings about them. We also know that honesty in communication puts a demand on the listener to be equally honest. Most people are threatened by such a demand. So some people are frightened away by congruence in another person. Here is an additional risk of clear sending.*

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

Feb 17, 2010

You Don't Send "Solution Messages" To Your Friends, Do You?

If a friend is visiting in your home and happens to put his feet on the cushions of your new dining room chairs, you certainly would not say to him:

"Get your feet off my chair this minute."
"You should never put your feet on somebody's new chair."
"If you know what's good for you, you'll take your feet off my chair."
"I suggest you do not ever put your feet on my chair"

This sounds ridiculous in a situation involving a friend because most people treat friends with more respect. Adults want their friends to "save face." They also assume that a friend has brains enough to find his own solution to your problem once he is told what the problem is An adult would simply tell the friend her feelings. She would leave it up to him to respond appropriately and assume he would be considerate enough to respect her feelings. Most likely the chair owner would send some such messages as:

"I am worried that my new chair might get dirty."
"I'm sitting here on pins and needles because I see your feet on my new chair."
"I'm embarrassed to mention this, but we just got these new chairs and I'm anxious to keep them as clean as possible."

These messages do not "send a solution." People generally send this type of message to friends but seldom to their own children; they naturally refrain from ordering, exhorting, threatening, and advising friends to modify their behavior in some particular way, yet as parents they do this every day with their children.

No wonder children resist or respond with defensiveness and hostility. No wonder children feel "put down," squelched, controlled. No wonder they "lose face." No wonder some grow up submissively expecting to be handed solutions by everyone. Parents frequently complain that their children are not responsible in the family; they do not show consideration for the needs of parents. How are children ever going to learn responsibility when parents take away every chance for the child to do something responsible on her own out of consideration for her parents' needs?*

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

Feb 16, 2010

Do You Like When People Send You Solutions?

Sending a "Solution Message"

Have you ever been just about ready to do something considerate for a person (or initiate some change in your behavior to meet a person's needs) when all of a sudden that person directs you, exhorts you, or advises you to do exactly what you were going to do on your own?

Your reaction was probably, "I didn't need to be told or "If you had waited a minute, I would have done that without being told." Or you probably got irritated because you felt that the other person did not trust you enough or took away the chance for you to do something considerate for her on your own initiative.

When people do this to you, they are "sending a solution." This is precisely what parents often do with children. They do not wait for the child to initiate considerate behavior; they tell her what she must or should or ought to do. All the following types of messages "send a solution":

"You go find something to play with."
"Turn that music down!"
"Be home by 11:00."
"Go do your homework."

"If you don't stop, I'll scream."
"Mother will get angry if you don't get out from under my feet."
"If you don't get out there and clean up that mess, you're going to be sorry."

"Don't ever interrupt a person when she's talking."
"You shouldn't act that way."
"You shouldn't play when we're in a hurry."
"Always clean up after yourself."

"Why don't you go outside and play?'
"If I were you, I'd just forget about it."
"Can't you put each thing away after you use it?"

These kinds of verbal responses communicate to the child your solution for her--precisely what you think she must do. You call the shots; you are in control; you are taking over; you are cracking the whip. You are leaving her out of it. The first type of message orders her to employ your solution; the second threatens her; the third exhorts her; the fourth advises her.

Parents ask, "What's so wrong with sending your solution--after all, isn't she causing me a problem?" True, she is. But giving her the solution to your problem can have these effects:

1. Children resist being told what to do. They also may not like your solution. In any case, children resist having to modify their behavior when they are told just how they "must" or "should" or "better" change.

2. Sending the solution to the child also communicates another message, "I don't trust you to select your solution" or "I don't think you're sensitive enough to find a way to help with my problem."

3. Sending the solution tells the child that your needs are most important than her, that she has to do just what you think she should, regardless of her needs ("You're doing something unacceptable to me, so the only solution is what I say").

More tomorrow...

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

Feb 10, 2010

What If We Can't Find an Acceptable Solution?

This is one of the most frequent fears of parents. While it is justifiable in some cases, surprisingly few no-lose conflict-resolution sessions fail to come up with an acceptable solution. When a family encounters such a stalemate or deadlock, it is usually because parents and children are still in a win-lose, power-struggle frame of mind.

Our advice to parents is: try everything you can think of in such cases. For instance:
  1. Keep talking.
  2. Go back to Step 2 and generate more solutions.
  3. Hold over the conflict until a second session tomorrow.
  4. make strong appeals, such as, "Come on, there must be a way to resolve this," "Let's really try hard to find an acceptable solution," "Have we explored all of the possible solutions?" "Let's try harder."
  5. Bring the difficulty out in the open and try to find out whether some underlying problem or "hidden agenda" is obstructing progress. You might say, "I wonder what's going on here that prevents us from finding a solution," "Are there other things bugging us that we haven't brought out?"
Usually, one or several of these approaches works and problem-solving gets started again.

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

Feb 9, 2010

Can I Use Method III With Young Children?

A really good friend of mine that I've known since elementary school recently had a baby! :) So, I thought I would write a blog for everyone that has young children.


Many parents express doubts about using Method III with very young children. In fact, is is possible to apply the principals at a very early age by focusing on the non-verbal clues and cues your baby or child sends you. All behaviors are purposeful. Crying can be a communication about hunger, being cold, fear or an indication of another unmet need. When we relax, give up our preconceived ideas and listen to non-verbal as well as verbal clues from our infants and young children, we can find simple, creative solutions. Problems that could easily end up with parents using power are resolved in a true win-win fashion.

Case 1: with a 9 month old baby
Nine-month-old Erika got sick and resisted all attempts to give her medicine. Without it, her fever was increasing. Verbal encouragement did not work. Holding her firmly and putting small does into her mouth did not work either; she skillfully spit it out. Her increasingly desperate parents stopped and thought about their P.E.T. learning that behaviors are non-verbal messages about unmet needs. Her squirming behavior supported what they knew almost from birth - she did not like to be crowded or forced. The underlying message of her repeated reaching for the medicine spoon said, "I want some control." Tuning in to this they found a solution. Put part of the medicine in the spoon, let her hold it it with their help and aim it into her mouth. She made face but swallowed the three smaller doses. Even a nine-month-old can communicate her needs and show us a solution.

Case 2: with a 4-year old child
A four-year old girl put up a struggle each night at bedtime. Mom wanted some quiet time and was too tired to be patient by 10 p.m. The child explained she couldn't go to sleep right away and felt lonesome. It was mutually (and joyfully) agreed that the child would get tucked into bed, but could watch a DVD. Mom agreed to turn it off if the child fell asleep.

Case 3: with children ages 4, 6, and 8
Rhonda, age 8; Kim, age 6; and Danny, age 4, were confronted by their parents' irritation over their messy rooms. Rhonda and Kim complained that while they were at school, Danny came into their rooms and made a mess. Danny said he liked the girls' room because it has bunk beds. Mom and Dad listened to Danny say he really wanted a bunk bed. This wasn't feasible to Mom and Dad because the room was small and their baby brother, who shared the room, wasn't old enough to leave his crib. The family also couldn't afford it no. Many suggestions were made by all five people on how to construct a substitute bunk bed. Finally, Danny decided that he would be happy if his parents put a sleeping bag under the baby's crib and let him sleep there. He slept in the bag for three nights, and crawled into bed by himself on the fourth night. After that he slept in the bed, but left the bag under the crib to show his friends that Danny had two beds. After this, Danny tried hard to stay out of the girls' room.

Case 4: with a 2-year old child
A two-year boy wanted to stop and look into the display window of each store he and his mother passed. His mother was in a hurry to get to a store before it closed. She said, "You want to look in the windows, but if we do I will be late to the store. If we hurry now, I will let you look in the windows on our walk back to the car." Child agreed.

Case 5: with an 8-month old baby
An infant would spit out pureed vegetables every time they were offered. Her father, knowing she loved fruit, especially applesauce, decided to put a tiny big of vegetable on each spoonful of applesauce. The child did not reject it. Her father kept increasing the amount over a period of days until the child could eat vegetables without any applesauce.*

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

Feb 8, 2010

Confrontation.. is it Really Effective?

Confrontation is Effective!

Effective Confrontation
  • produces helpful change
  • preserves other's self-esteem
  • maintains the relationship
  • helps others grow

Feb 4, 2010

What Are the Benefits of I-Messages?

Benefits of I-Messages
  • Foster self-discipline and self-control
  • Foster high self-esteem, not self-blame
  • Effective in reducing children's disruptive behaviors
  • Help children control temptation
  • Encourage creative solutions
  • Influence instead of control
  • Reduce anger
Keep sending those I-Messages! :)

Feb 3, 2010

What is A Positive I-Message?

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 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 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!*

Happy Positive I-Messaging!

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

Feb 2, 2010

Do You Use Rules?

As seen in "San Diego Parent Magazine" -- January 1999
Written by: Renee Collier

"Parenting People"

In 1962, Thomas Gordon, Ph.D., of Solana Beach was working as a therapist in private practice. An overwhelming number or parents were bringing in their children for help. "These parents wanted me to fix the children up and send them back in better shape," says Gordon. "Very quickly I realized the problem parents were having had to do with the way the child was responding to their parenting techniques."

Gordon's need for a solution to this problem was the catalyst for his now internationally known program, Parent Effectiveness Training, widely recognized as the first skill-based training program for parents. PET focus on the parent/child relationships--and alternatives to the "rewards and punishment" technique. "My program was the first to tell parents they can raise healthy and loving children without ever punishing them or rewarding them by saying, 'If you do this, you will get this,' "says Gordon. "Treat your child like you would your spouse. If you think about it, you never tell your husband to go to his room because he didn't take out the trash." Democracy, he says, is the way to win in any relationship.

The 80-year-old author of eight books on relationships formulated his technique with his own family, involving his two daughters in making family rules, Children, he believes, love to be a part of decision making. "Rules become our rules instead of your rules," says Gordon. If children have problems with the rules, the family meets to discuss how to make them better. For example, if your child does not feel like going to bed at a time he is supposed to, discuss the objection. Find out why the child does not want to go to bed--perhaps because he's afraid of the dark or genuinely not tired.