Dec 11, 2013

Christmas Gifts You Wish They Hadn't Gotten

The ugly Bill Cosby sweater, the delicious fruit cake, the...gulp...Crocs! You know where I'm going with this - Every year, poor suckers everywhere become the reluctant recipients of such undesirable gifts. You don't quite know how to handle it, but the "put-a-smile-on-your-face-and-say-thank-you" voice in your head always chimes in. Maybe it's the hesitancy of shattering the look of excitement on your mother-in-law's face, or perhaps it's the guilt of seeming ungrateful, but one thing is for sure: we've all had our turn playing the part of the begrudgingly thankful beneficiary.

Such is the case with *certain* gifts that will inevitably be given to your children as well. Not the kangaroo underwear and socks combo from grandma (which is a whole other story), but the ones that you as the parent really wish your children hadn't received. Perhaps yours is the household that is overflowing with miniature toy cars and couldn't possibly make room for another. Or maybe you've been careful about what kinds of video games your children play with. In any case, most parents have at least one dreaded item on their "Please Don't Get This For My Kid" list.

But how do you tastefully tell someone what not to get your children? It seems so uncomfortable, so awkward...

Of course the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The Preventive I-Message is a tool used to communicate information and emotions in hopes to prevent a problem from happening in the future. Like all I-Messages, it should have three parts: (1) the behavior, (2) the feeling and (3) the effect. Letting people know all three components is critical, as it is the most effective way to let someone know exactly where you're coming from - and even - put them in your shoes.

Here's what it might look like:
We're nervous about Wyatt getting any more cars for Christmas because he already has so many that we can hardly keep up with the mess it creates when he plays with them. 
- or- 
Since he is so impressionable right now, we're worried that if Lucas gets that video game, we might have more issues at the playground if he tries to imitate the violence he sees from it. 
By communicating in this way, you're letting others in on some useful information about what is or isn't okay with you, which they may not have otherwise known. (And the same rule applies when you want to avoid being the recipient of a pair of monogrammed granny panties. We know, the ones from your birthday are gonna last you for years to come!)

Still, some people will be simply determined to get your kids what they want regardless of what you tell them and this won't always solve every instance of receiving unwanted gifts. But as Dr. Gordon wrote, "A Preventive I-Message in time might save nine [out of ten] confrontations."

This holiday season, give yourselves and your loved ones the gift of solving the problem before it happens. You may very well end up with one less item to add to the donation pile. We'll keep our fingers crossed for you. ;)

by: Selena George at Gordon Training International 

Sep 4, 2013

Greetings Fans o' PET! 

Some of you know what this is, some of you might not.  I think it's quite something. If you'd like a "fancy" copy sent to you via the post office, we'd be happy to mail you one.  Just email us and we will be happy to send you one.  

Okay, without further delay, here's one of Tom's masterpieces. Enjoy.  :) 

A Credo for My Relationships - by Dr. Thomas Gordon

You and I are in a relationship which I value and want to keep. We are also two separate persons with our own individual values and needs.

So that we will better know and understand what each of us values and needs, let us always be open and honest in our communication.

When you are experiencing a problem in your life, I will try to listen with genuine acceptance and understanding in order to help you find your own solutions rather than imposing mine. And I want you to be a listener for me when I need to find solutions to my problems.

At those times when your behavior interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me. Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can try to change my behavior.

And when we experience conflicts in our relationship, let us agree to resolve each conflict without either of us resorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other’s losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met, and so will mine—neither will lose, both will win.

In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.

Thomas Gordon, Ph.D., Founder
©1964, 1978 Gordon Training International

Sent by Gordon Training International, the makers of P.E.T. (and L.E.T., Y.E.T., Be Your Best, T.E.T., Synergistic Selling)

Jul 31, 2013

Learning to Loosen the Apron Strings

My nephew is three years old and full of insatiable curiosity, as all children his age seem to be. Most members of my family imagine that watching him for an evening is not for the weak at heart, but personally, I jump at the opportunity to take care of him while my sister is away. He turns on and off the faucet to just to watch the water disappear through the drain. He walks through bushes and shrubs just to figure out if he can do it or not. If he bruises himself in the process of one of his experiments, I know it isn't something that he's going to do again. But if he is entertained and amused by the outcome of the enchanting physics of the world, then it's probably going to be something he will want to repeat ad nauseum. This is simply the essence of the inquisitive and absorptive mind of a young child. Which makes it all the more painful to watch when I witness my sister put a shrieking halt to a majority of his elementary investigations.

A hefty part of the idea here is understanding that not all behaviors of our children have a tangible and direct effect on you as a parent. Your daughter might get her hands a little dirty, her shirt a little stained or her socks a little wet (you get where I'm going with this) but stepping aside and realizing that no real harm is being done to them or you is the first step in understanding that you don't really have to say no to everything that they attempt to do. Upon this realization, you might even find that fewer and fewer behaviors become unacceptable to you (recall the "Behavior Window" from the P.E.T. book). 

Whatever it is that gets you to a place of broader acceptance and greater awareness of the intentions behind many of your child's behaviors will ultimately create a fertile context for them to learn and grow.

But here's why this one's hard:

Parents get caught up on the idea that their child might get hurt or experience some form of discomfort by participating in certain activities. It's true that there is some risk involved in almost everything, especially with the life-experience and stature of a child. Let me clarify one important idea here.

In the face of clear and apparent danger, the answer is always and without question, to do whatever means necessary in order to stop your child from serious harm. Yes, that might mean the use of your parental power. However, when it comes to the proverbial spilled milk that we as adults steer away from, the most powerful way to teach and influence your child is to first model your own behavior and then give them the opportunity to try it for themselves.

As they get older, the inevitable trials of life begin to get more and more complex. Getting a bad grade in school or resolving a conflict with a friend are two of the most common things that parents want to step in on and help their child through. Or shall we say, solve for them? While you might be jumping at the chance to provide your wisdom and assistance during times like these, you might actually be doing more harm than good. 

When asked for, advice can be helpful at times. But when your child is walking straight through a thorny bush for the first time (just as you did at their age), stop yourself and consider what lesson might be unfolding before you decide to step in and stop them. You just might be surprised with what it is they're learning. 

By: Selena C. George, Program Manager

Jul 18, 2013

Talk Less, Listen More

by Gordon Training International Master Trainer, Steve Emmons

People often ask me, if you could only give parents one piece of advice about helping their children deal with problems, what would it be?  My answer is; “Talk less and listen more.”

In all of our relationships we experience conflicts and problems; life can be messy. In spite of our hopes and dreams for a happy, trouble-free family, strong friendships and positive work relationships, real life is not perfect. Communication can be confusing, problems difficult to solve and our thoughts, needs and beliefs different from the people we care about. No matter how close a bond we have, personal and professional relationships require constant attention and an investment of time and energy to keep them strong and mutually rewarding.

As parents we want to help our children when they struggle with problems or experience conflict; we want the best for them.  Our natural response is to do all we can, as quickly as we can to protect them and insure that they are safe and happy.

As mentioned in a recent article, the first step is to determine exactly whose problem it is.  Is it my child’s problem, is it my problem because of something my child is doing that I don’t like or is it a shared problem we have to tackle together?  You need to decide “Who Owns the Problem”? To determine this, figure out who the problem is directly affecting. (And no, if your kid is getting bad grades, the problem isn't yours!)

When you determine that your child, another family member, friend, coworker or other person “owns” a problem then you have a question to ask yourself and a decision to make.

“Do I let him deal with his problem without my involvement or do I take some action to help him solve the problem but without falling into the trap of doing it for him?”

The answer to this question depends on the nature of your relationship with that person and your investment in them. If the person is a family member, friend or work colleague and you have a special interest in the relationship then, in most situations, you will want to help.

Most people - regardless of their cultural background - will wonder: “What can I say that will help?” or “What solution can I provide that will help my child?” But there are usually some pretty undesirable consequences that come with being the parent who always solves their child's problems.

Besides creating dependency, you can fall into the trap of answering a question that may not really be a question at all, or may not even be about the real underlying problem.  Questions are often used as an attempt to express feelings or thoughts. Your daughter asks the question “Mom what should I do?” may really be a disguised way of her saying : “I’m confused”, “I feel stuck”, “I want time with you.”, or “I feel scared about making that decision.”

A clear indication of this is when you answer a question and get back the reply: “Yes, but…” or “What if…” Clearly, the other person wasn’t really asking you to solve their problem for them.  In fact, talking and providing your opinion or idea is not what is needed to help your child in these situations. What’s called for is listening.

Helping by listening can be broken into two general groups; Basic Listening and Active Listening.

BASIC LISTENING to help others when they have a problem or concern includes giving your child space to talk, devoting your full attention to her and providing a few short signals that you are listening. Basic Listening includes:

Being Silent:  silence can be uncomfortable and the urge to say something to fill the void can be strong.  However, silence can give your child or another person space to talk.  It puts the ball in their court and lets them share their feelings and thoughts without interruption.  Helping by silence is sometimes enough for your child to solve a problem.
A father shared this story with me about using silence.  His teenage son came home from school one day and instead of stopping to chat about school; he slammed down his books and went out the back door.  Dad went out and sat down beside him on the steps. 
The father was taking a P.ET. course but he told me his mind went blank and could only remember “Just be quiet and listen.” so he sat there with his son in complete silence.  After 5 minutes of silence his son turned to him and said; “Dad, thanks for listening now I know what I’m going to do.” Then in a good mood he when off to do his homework.

Show You Are Listening With Your Body Language: often silence by itself is not enough; you need to demonstrate that you are really listening. Comfortable eye contact (not staring), sitting facing the person, smiles, frowns, nods of your head and hand gestures all show your child that you are tuned in and connected and makes it comfortable for them to talk about their upset or problem.

A Few Simple Statements: “Ah!”, “I see.”, “Wow!”, “Mmmm.” provide some simple verbal signals that you are listening.  Just don’t overdo it, keep these few and far between.

Door Openers:  sometimes simple invitations to say more can help your child to get started.  “I’m ready to listen if you want to talk.” “I’ve got time to talk right now.” “Seems like something’s bothering you.”  “I’m all ears.” are a few examples.  Just remember, these are only to open the door to speak so one or two at the beginning are enough.

ACTIVE LISTENING as the name implies is more active and involving than Basic Listening.

Active Listening allows your child or another person to talk about a problem and identify what the real problem, issue or upset is and then come up with his or her own best solution.

Active Listening is not about asking questions; instead it’s about making statements to check out what the other is saying and prove that you heard and understood.  Years ago I was taught to ask questions to help someone talk about a problem.  What I’ve learned is that questions may instead act as roadblocks.  When you ask a question, your child has to stop talking and think; “Do I know the answer to Dad’s question?” or “Do I want to tell Dad?” Maybe a handsome, athletic teenage son is reluctant to admit to his Dad that he is really anxious about asking a girl on a date or a daughter is worried about the bad grade she just got on a test and what Mom will say about it.

A question can also pull your child away from her real problem and focus instead on what you as parent think the problem is.  Or, if your daughter is really flooded with emotion, she may not even be able to think about an answer to a question and she may stop talking altogether.

It’s hard to not ask questions; as parents we want to know what our child’s problem is, we want to know all the details and completely understand how they are feeling and what their options are.  The relevant word here is “we”, the only person who really needs to know all the details is the one who is going to solve the problem and that’s your child, the one who owns the problem.

Replacing questions with statements is not easy and yet it can make an almost magical difference in how our children respond and deal with their problems. Instead of having to stop and think about answering a question or digesting your advice, listening can create a non-blameful, safe feeling and actually help your child talk more.

QUESTION                            vs.                    ACTIVE LISTENING STATEMENT
“What happened?”                                           “Seems like you’re upset.”
“Why are you worried?”                            “Looks like you are really worried about that.”
“Why can’t you just talk to her?”                  “Sounds like you’re really anxious about talking to her”

Using statements to reflect back what you hear and what you see in your child’s body language makes it easy for your child to continue to talk.  A very comforting thing happens; you don’t need to be perfect!  Even if your reflective statement is off the mark, it won’t stop your child from continuing to talk.  He will usually just correct you and continue; “No Mom, I’m not frustrated, I’m just confused about what my teacher meant.”  

Sometimes only one listening response is needed: “Wow that really hurts!” may be enough to let him know you get it when your three-year-old son comes in crying with a scraped knee.  His response may be something like “Yeah Mommy it’s a big ouchy!” and then out the door he goes to play without further crying and dramatics.

Active Listening, however, is more than just letting your child vent and “unflood” feelings, it is also a process that allows your child to first, identify what the real problem or concern is and second, to actually do some simple problem solving and come up with her own best solution.

Many problems are more complicated; in fact, problems are like onions, there are multiple layers of feelings and thoughts that need to be peeled away to get to the heart of the problem. This type of reflective listening allows your child to talk about a problem, peel back the layers of the onion, identify the real issue or feelings and solve the problem.

So, when your child (or partner or other person - it can work wonders even with your own parents!) has a problem, talk less and listen more. In fact, listen most.  Let the person who “Owns” the problem be the one to solve it.  You daughter’s solution of not talking to her friend for a week may not be a solution you would choose, however, it may be the best one for your daughter given her unique situation.

Active Listening is most often done face to face or on the phone however, there are exciting possibilities using email and even texting.

Of course there will be times when your child’s solution does have a direct negative effect on you.  In those situations, it changes to a “Parent Owns” or a "We Own" the problem situation and then it’s time for you to speak up, which we’ll talk about more coming up next...

Jul 11, 2013

How Children REALLY React To Control

by Dr. Thomas Gordon

When one person tries to control another, you can always expect some kind of reaction from the controlee. The use of power involves two people in a special kind of relationship - one wielding power, and the other reacting to it.
This seemingly obvious fact is not usually dealt with in the writings of the dare-to-discipline advocates. Invariably, they leave the child out of the formula, omitting any reference to how the youngster reacts to the control of his or her parents or teachers.
They insist, "Parents must set limits," but seldom say anything about how children respond to having their needs denied in this way. "Parents should not be afraid to exercise their authority," they counsel, but rarely mention how youngsters react to authority-based coercion. By omitting the child from the interaction, the discipline advocates leave the impression that the child submits willingly and consistently to adults' power and does precisely what is demanded.
These are actual quotes from the many power-to-the-parent books I've collected along the way:
  • "Be firm but fair."
  • "Insist that your children obey."
  • "Don't be afraid to express disapproval by spanking."
  • "There are times when you have to say 'no'."
  • "Discipline with love."
  • "Demonstrate your parental right to lead."
  • "The toddler should be taught to obey and yield to parental leadership."
What these books have in common is advocacy of the use of power-based discipline with no mention of how children react to it. In other words, the dare-to-discipline advocates never present power-based discipline in full, as a cause-and-effect phenomenon, an action-and-reaction event.
This omission is important, for it implies that all children passively submit to adult demands, perfectly content and secure in an obedient role, first in relationships with their parents and teachers and, eventually, with all adult power-wielders they might encounter.
However, I have found not a shred of evidence to support this view. In fact, as most of us remember only too well from our childhood, we did almost anything we could to defend against power-based control. We tried to avoid it, postpone it, weaken it, avert it, escape from it. We lied, we put the blame on someone else, we tattled, hid, pleaded, begged for mercy, or promised we would never do it again.
We also experienced punitive discipline as embarrassing, demeaning, humiliating, frightening, and painful. To be coerced into doing something against our will was a personal insult and an affront to our dignity, an act that devalued the importance of our needs.
Punitive discipline is by definition need-depriving as opposed to need-satisfying. Recall that punishment will be effective only if it is felt by the child as aversive, painful, unpleasant. When controllers employ punishment, they always intend for it to cause pain or deprivation. It seems so obvious, then, that children don't ever want punitive discipline, contrary to what its advocates would have us believe. No child "asks for it," "feels a need for it," or is "grateful for it." And it is probably true, too, that no child ever forgets or forgives a punitive parent or teacher. This is why I find it incredible that the authors of power-to-the-parent books try to justify power-based discipline with such statements as:
  • "Kids not only need punishment, they want it."
  • "Children basically want what is coming to them, good or bad, because justice is security."
  • "Punishment will prove to kids that their parents love them."
  • "The youngster who knows he deserves a spanking appears almost relieved when it finally comes."
  • "Rather than be insulted by the discipline, [the child] understands its purpose and appreciates the control it gives him over his own impulses."
  • "Corporal punishment in the hands of a loving parent is entirely different in purpose and practice [from child abuse]....One is an act of love; the other is an act of hostility."
  • "Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted."
  • "Punishment will make children feel more secure in their relationship."
  • "Discipline makes for happy families; healthy relationships."
Could these be rationalizations intended to relieve the guilt that controllers feel after coercing or committing acts of physical violence against their children? It seems possible in view of the repeated insistence that the punishing adult is really a loving adult, doing it only "for the child's own good," or as a dutiful act of "benevolent leadership." It appears that being firm with children has to be justified by saying, "Be firm but fair"; being tough is acceptable as long as it's "Tough Love"; being an autocrat is justifiable as long as you're a "benevolent autocrat"; coercing children is okay as long as you're not a "dictator"; and physically abusing children is not abuse as long as you "do it lovingly."
Disciplinarians' insistence that punishment is benign and constructive might be explained by their desire that children eventually become subservient to a Supreme Being or higher authority. This can only be achieved, they believe, if children first learn to obey their parents and other adults. James Dobson (1978) stresses this point time and time again:
  • "While yielding to the loving leadership of their parents, children are also learning to yield to the benevolent leadership of God Himself."
  • "With regard to the specific discipline of the strong-willed toddler, mild spankings can begin between 15 and 18 months of age....To repeat, the toddler should be taught to obey and yield to parental leadership, but that end will not be accomplished overnight."
It's the familiar story of believing that the ends justify the means. Obedience to parental authority first, and then later to some higher authority, is so strongly valued by some advocates of punitive discipline that the means they utilize to achieve that end are distorted to appear beneficial to children rather than harmful.
The hope that children eventually will submit to all authority is, I think, wishful thinking. Not all children submit when adults try to control them. In fact, children respond with a wide variety of reactions, an assortment of behaviors. Psychologists call these reactions "coping behaviors" or "coping mechanisms".
The Coping Mechanisms Children Use
Over the years I have compiled a long list of the various coping mechanisms youngsters use when adults try to control them. This list comes primarily out of our Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) and Teacher Effectiveness Training (T.E.T.) classes, where we employ a simple but revealing classroom exercise. Participants are asked to recall the specific ways they themselves coped with power-based discipline when they were youngsters. The question yields nearly identical lists in every class, which confirms how universal children's coping mechanisms are. The complete list is reproduced below, in no particular order. Note how varied these recurring themes are. (Can you pick out the particular coping methods you employed as a youngster?)
  • Resisting, defying, being negative
  • Rebelling, disobeying, being insubordinate, sassing
  • Retaliating, striking back, counterattacking, vandalizing
  • Hitting, being belligerent, combative
  • Breaking rules and laws
  • Throwing temper tantrums, getting angry
  • Lying, deceiving, hiding the truth
  • Blaming others, tattling, telling on others
  • Bossing or bullying others
  • Banding together, forming alliances, organizing against the adult
  • Apple-polishing, buttering up, soft-soaping, bootlicking, currying favor with adults
  • Withdrawing, fantasizing, daydreaming
  • Competing, needing to win, hating to lose, needing to look good, making others look bad
  • Giving up, feeling defeated, loafing, goofing off
  • Leaving, escaping, staying away from home, running away, quitting school, cutting classes
  • Not talking, ignoring, using the silent treatment, writing the adult off, keeping one's distance
  • Crying, weeping; feeling depressed or hopeless
  • Becoming fearful, shy, timid, afraid to speak up, hesitant to try anything new
  • Needing reassurance, seeking constant approval, feeling insecure
  • Getting sick, developing psychosomatic ailments
  • Overeating, excessive dieting
  • Being submissive, conforming, complying; being dutiful, docile, apple-polishing, being a goody-goody, teacher's pet
  • Drinking heavily, using drugs
  • Cheating in school, plagiarizing
As you might expect, after parents and teachers in the class generate their list, and realize that it was created out of their own experience, they invariably make such comments as:
  • "Why would anyone want to use power, if these are the behaviors it produces?"
  • "All of these coping mechanisms are behaviors that I wouldn't want to see in my children [or my students]."
  • "I don't see in the list any good effects or positive behaviors."
  • "If we reacted to power in those ways when we were kids, our own children certainly will, too."

After this exercise, some parents and teachers undergo a 180-degree shift in their thinking. They see much more clearly that power creates the very behavior patterns they most dislike in children! They begin to understand that as parents and teachers they are paying a terrible price for using power: they are causing their children or students to develop habits, traits, and characteristics considered both unacceptable by most adults and unhealthy by mental health professionals.

Excerpted from "Teaching Children Self Discipline", by Dr. Thomas Gordon

May 16, 2013

The Problem With "Quick-Fix" Parenting

Many will say that this day in age, people have traded slow and old-fashioned ways of doing things for anything that can be done easier, faster and cheaper. In reality, we've been doing this all along. From the invention of the wheel to laptop computers, humans have been attempting to reinvent cheap convenience since...forever. And we don't stop at technology, either.

A distressed mother called recently, desperate for help after experiencing the utter failure of a well-known quick-fix parenting program. We won't name names. But here's the summary: The entire program was based around a method that instructs parents to (upon experiencing some undesirable behavior from their children) warn their child that if the behavior has not ended by the time they count to three, that the child gets put in a time out or gets privileges taken away. Theoretically, after the count to three, the child receives their consequence and that is the "end of story." (Yeah, right.)

Tempting as it may be to seek parenting methods that publicize to get-your-kids-to-behave-themselves-in-five-minutes-or-less-for-$29.99, I can't help but think about the old familiar saying: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Yet, I sit here in disbelief over the amount of (successful) parenting programs that claim to achieve exactly that. The victims being those parents in desperation to try anything.

It can't go without mentioning that there seems to also exist an underlying implication that parents are too busy to spend the necessary time working on the behavioral and emotional issues of their children. This may be another problem all on it's own, but the ultimate doom of these parenting methods seem to ultimately (and without fail) become an insurmountable heap of disaster.

Here's why they don't work:

Let's assume that the inner-workings of a developing child's brain is a highly complex and growing instrument composed of electricity and soft tissue, that has the astonishing capability to communicate, create patterns, grow and think, all the while maintaining continuous functionality of every other vital organ in the body. This instrument is actualized by biology, culture and experience. Also keep in mind that every event that this "instrument" experiences during childhood has an immeasurable influence on who that child becomes for the remainder of their lives. If you are among those individuals who believes in facts, then feel free to set aside assumptions at this point and embrace these ideas as truths. How can something as intricate as the brain of a child be permanently guided and influenced by count-to-three type parenting methods?

Wait a minute, though - there's nothing wrong with many of the advantages of life in 2013. We all want to save time, money and effort for most of life's daily tasks.

Here are some quick-fix solutions that won't haunt you later on (to name a few):
  • Microwaves
  • Self-adhesive envelopes
  • Dishwashers
  • Blow Dryers
  • Cellphones (to be debated)
But by using simple tools, with something as complex and profound as the human brain - which has the ability to react, brainstorm, re-evaluate, and re-route its behavioral avenues - it's no wonder that quick-fix parenting tricks never cease to fail.

For parents who've got nothing but a few minutes, a few dollars and (most of all) a tiny bit of effort set aside to solve the intricate behavioral dilemmas of their children, I hope they consider this question: Would you hire a heart surgeon on the same basis?

by: Selena George, Program Manager

Apr 10, 2013

How Can Children Be Trusted to Use Their Own Judgment?

By Certified P.E.T. Instructor, Catherine Dickerson, LCSW, Lic #24454

Recently, several parents and teachers have asked, "How on earth can a child know what to do if we don't tell them?!"  How can children whose unacceptable behaviors seem completely natural to them know what you need them to do instead?

The answer is actually pretty simple: they know what to do because you've been teaching them since the day they were born. Every day you have been modeling for them the details of how you live your life. Every day, your children have been watching and following you, absorbing your words and most of all, your actions. Admittedly, many of those actions have been too quick for a child to absorb the details (I recall the story of the little girl who wanted to tie her own shoes and, when given the opportunity, just moved her fingers together quickly with the laces between them--then was disappointed at the result!). Your two-year-old may not know that it's her job to put away her toys (for example), but if she has witnessed the way that you put them away for her and if you help her to get started before things become overwhelming, she's certainly got an idea of how to get it done!

Your 4-year-old may not know exactly how to set the table, but he's got a pretty good idea as well! Your school age child certainly knows where his dirty laundry goes, and how to make and clean up after a simple snack or meal. Teenagers know . . . let's just say, a great deal more than we give them credit for.

The P.E.T. skills of Active Listening, I-Messages and Method III all help you to give your children additional essential information and experience that most adults deny children. Additionally, being a consultant to your children in the No-Problem area is a highly effective way to influence your children's values by sharing your own. Benefits of implementing these P.E.T. methods include:

  1. Increased self awareness as they explore the depths of their thoughts and feelings (while you Active Listen);
  2. The impact their actions have on themselves, others, and their world (from your I-Messages);
  3. The experience of thinking and solving problems with a bigger picture in mind (Method III, where they help find solutions that allow everyone to get their needs met).

The end result? 
For you:  P.E.T. skills take the burden off of you to do other people's thinking and problem-solving for them, and instead leave the responsibility for that work with each individual (including helping you meet your own needs);

For your children: The satisfaction of experiencing themselves as capable, intelligent, contributing, respected individuals in a loving family, and of experiencing their parents as complete human beings (not just "my parents").

Parents say it best:  "[P.E.T.] Opened my eyes to a whole new world of loving and affectionate interactions in our family when conflicts arise (vs. yelling and stress where everyone feels bad after). My daughter is more empowered to make her own decisions and resolve conflicts on her own. Less stress on me to solve everyone else's problems."

"Seeking to really understand what is going on is something that is really helping, and working with my child to help her develop her own solutions to problems has been very helpful."

Catherine's next P.E.T. workshop begins on April 16th in Solana Beach, CA. Fore more information, please email us at

Mar 18, 2013

P.E.T. Tip of the Month

For your I-Messages to be effective, you often need to spend more time active listening to the other person’s responses than you spend giving your I-Message.

Remember the Gear-Shifting diagram (page 60 in the P.E.T. workbook)?

A clear I-Message is a powerful tool. You get to think seriously about your needs and stand up for yourself with clarity and confidence. No blaming, directing or otherwise roadblocking the other person, so you’re also strengthening your relationship with him. You expect to get a quick positive result.

And sometimes you do. What often happens, though, is that the other person instead starts to defend himself. It can feel as if you haven’t given an I-Message at all. The temptation then is for you to defend yourself—or, at the very least, to try to drive your I-Message home. Instead, now is a good time to take a discrete deep breath.

Most people are expecting to be dismissed or controlled when there is a problem. Until their point of view and feelings about it have been thoroughly listened to and accepted, they can’t experience the profound respect of your I-Message.So you need to active listen until they relax a bit, restate your I-Message as clearly and briefly as you can, then active listen again. Once the other person experiences that you:

1. Sincerely accept his position and its importance to him;

2. Are not trying to change his mind;

3. Are simply expressing your conflicting need, and

4. Trust him to come up with an effective solution, or to work one out with you that meets both your needs;

...he is much more likely be able to listen to you, and willing to help you out.

In the meantime, best wishes for plenty of happy and effective parenting!

By: Certified P.E.T. Instructor, Catherine Dickerson, M.Ed., LCSW, Registered Play Therapist, License #24454

Catherine's next P.E.T. workshop begins in Solana Beach, CA on April 16th! Email for more details.

Mar 13, 2013

How P.E.T. Helped Our Family Handle An Incident Of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a phenomenon that is unique to this generation and it personally touched my family when my daughter was 10 years old and in the 5th grade.  It is a form of bullying that has evolved due to the rapid onset of our use of electronic technology and the arrival of social media sites in the late 1990's.  According to (, "Cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm (i.e., harassing, humiliating, or threatening text or images) inflicted through the Internet, interactive technologies, or mobile phones."  In short, anyone who uses a computer, email, instant messaging, social media sites, mobile phone, or interactive online video games, is using the tools that enable cyberbullying to take place.  As a result there is a high risk of experiencing cyberbullying either as a victim, a bystander, or as the perpetrator.  
This week there has been a Cyberbullying Prevention Act put forward in the state of Maryland in response to a few high profile suicides by young teens who were the victims of cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying has real and serious consequences.  There is some evidence to show that the rates of depression are higher among children who experience cyberbullying versus "traditional" bullying.  In the words of Noah Brocklebank ( (, who was a young victim of cyberbullying, "Words have power."  In my opinion there is no better book or course than Dr. Thomas Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training in order to equip parents, and everyone who interacts with children, with the communication tools ensure that their words have positive and not negative power.

Cyberbullying is a fact of modern life that we all need to take seriously, but especially anyone who interacts with children.  In my daughter's instance, cyberbullying occurred in the first year that she was actively using the internet to socialize with her friends after school via Skype conference calls and Skype instant messaging.  It started as a form of social acceptance and camaraderie.  It quickly and very easily turned into cyberbullying. defines cyberbullying tactics as the following:

  • Gossip: Posting or sending cruel gossip to damage a person’s reputation and relationships with friends, family, and acquaintances  
  • Exclusion: Deliberately excluding someone from an online group
  • Impersonation: Breaking into someone’s e-mail or other online account and sending messages that will cause embarrassment or damage to the person’s reputation and affect his or her relationship with others 
  • Harassment: Repeatedly posting or sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages 
  • Cyberstalking: Posting or sending unwanted or intimidating messages, which may include threats 
  • Flaming: Online fights where scornful and offensive messages are posted on websites, forums, or blogs
  • Outing and Trickery: Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information, which is then shared online
  • Cyberthreats: Remarks on the Internet threatening or implying violent behavior, displaying suicidal tendencies

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, cyberbullying is the “most common online risk for all teens” and girls are more likely to engage in cyberbullying than boys are.  Our children are using these interactive technologies more and more, at younger and younger ages, and they can have access to them in every area of their life.  Although cyberbullying may be a fact of modern life I believe that the skills taught in the P.E.T. course provide a model of communication and parenting that can help turn the tide on cyberbullying in two key ways.

Modeling How to Resolve Conflicts Without the Use of Power

Firstly, the P.E.T. model of communication and parenting is unique because of the fact that it dissects how power is used in relationships and puts forward a model of resolving conflicts without the use of power, called Method III.  Cyberbullying is a form of power that the perpetrator inflicts on the victim and bystanders.  By raising our children using the P.E.T. model, and specifically the Method III approach to resolving conflicts without the use of power, we are modelling behavior that they can then follow themselves in their interactions with others.

Helping Children Meet Their Needs

Secondly, the P.E.T. model of communication and parenting does not use the term misbehavior but rather states that "all behavior is to get a need met".  Think about this in terms of the behavior that the victim of cyberbullying will exhibit, the behavior of a bystander, and then the behavior of the perpetrator.  All three are exhibiting behavior to have a need met and the better we all are at identifying when a child needs our help, whether they are a victim, bystander or perpetrator, the sooner we can begin to put an end to an incidence of cyberbullying.  The P.E.T. parent uses the Helping Characteristics of Empathy, Acceptance and Genuineness, combined with the powerful Helping Skill of Active Listening in order to help their children meet their unique needs.  In turn, by modeling this type of communication, the P.E.T. parent helps their child learn how to communicate more effectively in order to meet their own needs or to ask for help when it is needed.

In our personal experience of handling my daughter's instance of cyberbullying I can identify the following things that I learned through the P.E.T. course that helped us to resolve the situation.

Sharing Values Respectfully - It is a strong value of mine to treat others the way that you want to be treated and I share this with my children in different ways.  About 6 months before my daughter experienced cyberbullying I had asked the kids to watch a series of talks with me on CNN called Stop Bullying: Speak Up (  This initiative is also the first place that I heard about a recently released documentary about bullying called Bully (  The timing could not have been better. When my daughter began experiencing cyberbullying, she knew that this behavior was not okay, she also knew that I was aware that it can happen and that she could talk to me about it.  I know that the discussions we had following our viewing of the CNN programs had a positive impact on the situation she experienced.

Modeling behavior - Shortly after reality shows became a popular form of television viewing, I recognized that some of them condone the use of bullying behavior in the name of entertainment.  I made the decision not to watch those shows and since we don't have cable television my children have not watched those shows either.  Funnily enough, the discussion has never come up but if it did I would explain to my children why I don't watch shows of that nature, because they normalize bullying tactics and desensitize society to their impact.  I would be sharing a value with them while at the same time ensuring my behavior was consistent with that value.

Active Listening - As a parent who has taken the P.E.T. course, and as a P.E.T. Instructor, I know the power that Active Listening can have on your day to day interactions with your children.  When your child is going through something like cyberbullying, the power of Active Listening really comes into its own.  Throughout the period that my daughter was experiencing cyberbullying, we were using Active Listening and this allowed her to share with us the story of what was happening to her.  We helped her to problem solve and she took examples of the cyberbullying she was experiencing through the use of instant messages to her school counselor.  The fact that she had cut and pasted the examples onto a piece of paper and scheduled a meeting with the school counselor were totally her initiatives.  She knew she had our support and I was so proud of her for feeling empowered to take this course of action.  I know that Active Listening helped her begin to solve the problem.

More Active Listening

The element of Active Listening that completely caught me off guard involved me Active Listening in an email communication from one of the perpetrators.  In this email he was threatening my daughter and encouraging others in the email chain to exclude her.  He stated that her actions in bringing the situation to the school's attention had resulted in his friend, the primary perpetrator, getting into big trouble at home.  Now believe me, his email was very serious and threatening in nature and I got on the phone and called his mother straight away to inform her that I needed to bring this to the school's attention.  What was different about how I did this was a result of what I had learned in the P.E.T. course.  I explained to her that I could tell that her son was being a loyal friend, and that his need in that moment was to protect a friend that he was worried about.  His email provided me with the information I needed about both of the perpetrators unmet needs that had led to their behavior.

Resolving Conflicts Without the Use of Power

The fact that I knew what the perpetrators needs were and had empathy for them and their families as well as for my daughter, the victim, had a huge impact on how we dealt with the situation as a combined team with the school principal and counselor, the parents and the children.   We had a very constructive discussion, the children were able to become friends again and are still in touch today.  I feel certain that it is because my daughter also began to use some of the P.E.T. skills that she saw us modelling and that empowered her.  The parents of the perpetrators were able to better understand what had led to their children's behavior and help them to meet their unique needs at the time.

I will forever be grateful that P.E.T. had come into my life before I had to handle the situation of cyberbullying that my daughter experienced.  If you have already taken the course and you have an evening to watch the Bully movie you will see many instances of parents, teachers and school administrators who do not handle the situations they encounter with the P.E.T. skills and you so wish they would.

All of the resources mentioned above are a great source of further information about cyberbullying, and what to look out for if you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying.  In addition Robert Pereira, head of the Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia, has written a powerful book called "Why We Bully" which I highly recommend:  

Heidi Mulligan Walker is a mother to three children and is the Founder of The Difference.  As a certified Parent Effectiveness Training Instructor she assists families achieve more peaceful and rewarding family dynamics by sharing the communication techniques pioneered by Dr. Thomas Gordon.  Heidi and her family relocated to Cary, North Carolina in 2012 after living abroad in the UK and China for the past 18 years.  She is loving sharing the American experience with her husband and young family.  You can register to join a course, take part in a free monthly parenting call, find family reflections and read her blog on her website and follow her on Facebook

Mar 7, 2013

The P.E.T. YouTube Channel

We recently uploaded a TON of fresh new P.E.T. videos on YouTube, including some clips from the T.V. show "Everybody Loves Raymond" from an episode about P.E.T.!

Here are just a few of the videos that you'll find on the P.E.T. YouTube Channel:

For more videos, subscribe to the P.E.T. YouTube channel HERE.

Feb 28, 2013

Date Night: Stoking the Hearth of the Home

By Judy Arnall

In the movie, Date Night, the characters played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey, are in a long term relationship that they try to spice up by going out to dinner once a week on a date night.  The trouble is that their date night is, monotonously predictable: they go to the same restaurant and order the same food on the same night.  They start to notice the sameness when they become a little too clich├ęd even for their own taste by talking about the variation of the chicken quality instead of their feelings, week by week.  One night, they do something different – they dress up, pick a new restaurant and go to dinner in the city for a change.  What happens next is hilarious and they end up with an incredible evening tale – probably one that no couple would wish for – but the end result was that they had a renewed sense of each other as the people they loved – not just roles such as parents, children, siblings, etc, although those roles were strengthened as well.

No matter how long they have been together, couples need sparks, creativity and fun in their relationship.  As the years pass, they need it even more.  For centuries, organized religion has discovered that people need continuous affirmation of their faith in the form of weekly rituals such as church attendance.  Relationships need the same kind of tendering and care.  Regular meetings are required in order to talk, have fun, and spend time together. We know that friendships survive on shared interests, yet, as soon as we partner up with our very best friend, we tend to settle into domestic boredom and let the shared interests slide. Every relationship has peaks and valleys – moments where love is overwhelming and moments when you seriously wonder why you are still with him or her. Couples need to remind themselves the qualities that they saw in each other at the beginning of the relationship, and what they still love about each other.  This is even more critical when mortgages, pets, children, jobs, laundry, broken appliances, normal conflicts and elderly caretaking occur alongside the couple relationship.  These are normal stresses, but they can be overwhelming in a relationship without some nurturing buffers such as date night and time together.

Research shows that the first five years of a relationship are the most difficult because of career building demands, money woes, and especially the parenting of babies and toddlers.  The lack of sleep, child tantrums, worry, and differing parenting styles, can tear down the closeness and caring of even the most loving of couples as we tend to take our parenting frustrations out on each other, rather than the children.  This can be toxic to relationships.  We need frequent reminders to be kind and caring to each other, in the good times and especially in the challenging times.  As kids get older and easier to parent, relationships naturally improve, but take a dip again in the teen years.  This coincides with menopause, career peaking, travel, and mid-life crisis issues.  We may start to look around the buffet table, even though we are on a diet!  The parenting of teens can be challenging and adds to the stress.  Couples need to put more work into their relationship at this stage, similar to the first five years.  Research shows that after the teen stage, relationships improve and enrich. There’s a no-brainer, because parenting is so much “done”.

We started our own date night when we have three children under three and felt we were losing the essence of “us” in the dreary day to day details of domestic life.  We made a point of hiring a standing sitter to come every Tuesday evening.  Some days we were so tired, we blearily welcomed in our sitter, grabbed our pillows and headed to the parked car in the driveway for a blissful, uninterrupted nap.  People would question the cost of a standing sitter but we considered it a financial investment. Research shows that divorce is the single most disastrous event that devastates couples’ finances and wealth, and in light of that, we felt that hiring a weekly sitter made sound financial sense.  Not only did we fund her college education, the kids actually enjoyed the sitter coming, since we didn’t have any grandparents or relatives to take over. She was fun, responsible and became an extended family member.  The kids loved the new video games she brought each week.

It was hard when the young babies and toddlers were going through separation anxiety.  Although we are both attachment parents, their crying seemed to bother me more than my partner.  I would like to say the decision was easy, but like many grey areas in life, sometimes I felt that I couldn’t leave the kids and so I discussed with my husband some ways to stay at home and not leave them, and he was sensitive to my needs. Other times, I realized his needs had to come first and we absolutely needed some time alone for the sake of our relationship or we might not make it through another week.  We would desperately say goodbye to the kids as gently as we could and walk out the door. Like any relationship, we had to see whose needs were paramount at that moment, and meet them. That’s real life and the eighth principle of attachment parenting. The kids usually had settled in with the sitter, when we phoned ten minutes later, and most often, we had a great evening, a heartfelt talk and the kids were okay.  We felt that a strong parenting partnership was the greater good for all concerned in the long run.  As is many parenting decisions, when and how to leave the children is a decision that each couple must make and decide when is best for them.

We felt a critical aspect of parenting is giving the kids a role model for respectful relationships and a blueprint for keeping love, passion and companionship alive in long term, monogamous relationships, whether that followed a traditional husband –wife marriage or domestic partnership between consenting, loving adults, whatever gender. We try to hash out conflicts in front of the kids as well as resolve and make up too. We also need to show them that parents are humans too.

In addition to date night, we also have private time on our own.  We have Mom’s night out (mommy goes to the movies or book club with her friends) and Dad’s day out (dad goes out to play volleyball with his friends).  People need to care for themselves in order to care for others.

We also have kid date night (although I can’t call it that anymore with the teens around) where one of us or both will take each kid out one-on-one for some special time. They get to pick what we will do.  We mark off their birth date on the calendar each month and then everyone knows that is the date to keep clear.  For example, my son was born on September 4th so every 4th of the month is his day. In the early days, with my partner working out of town, I would get a sitter to stay with the other kids.  It’s amazing the difference in our parent-child communication because of that and how much it cuts down on sibling fighting.

Twenty four years later, we are still going strong.  With five children, some of who are teens and adults, we no longer need sitters.  Spontaneity is back.  We can suggest a movie to each other, and be out the door in five minutes, just like we did BC (before children).  We even put some friendly daring into the mix – once we parked in the expectant parent’s parking spot at the movie theatre and then ordered the seniors rate movie tickets to get in!  Don’t tell the kids!

The “Date Night” Rules
Together, choose an evening of the week for date night, but make it consistently the same day of the week or it gets left by the wayside. If you have children, hire a standing sitter to come each week at the same time. Try to get a sitter who drives and pay the sitter well. If finances are a problem, join a babysitting co-op and trade tokens. If separation anxiety is a problem, plan date nights at home when the children are asleep. Each partner takes a turn planning the date, executing, driving, and paying. The other partner is the guest.  Then, the next week, switch roles.  It’s more fun to keep plans a secret until you are both in the car or it’s the time of the date.  Surprise is part of the fun! The planner should hire the sitter and feed the kids before you go out. Look your best, even for home dates.  The only information the guest needs to know is what to wear and if they should eat before going out. Try to plan an evening without friends, so that intimate subjects can be addressed if need be. Some subjects are difficult to bring up, but with time and space, it’s better to broach the subjects and give it air time, than to bury it.  Couples who bury critical conversations end up with nothing to talk about in the later years and drift apart.  Be tolerant and enjoy the evening as much as possible knowing that your partner put a lot of effort into making it special for you, even if they didn’t quite nail it that week.

For more ideas that are continually updated, visit our blog, Date Night YYC.  Even though the ideas are for Calgary and area, they are easily transferable to any city.  If you have young children, check out the blog for information on how to start a Baby Sitting Co-op.

Date Night-Out Ideas
Live Theatres (High schools and smaller troupes have cheap or no cost nights)
Concerts (Check out university and community bands)
Parks and reserves offer boating rentals
Go out for a coffee or a beer at the local pub
Movie in the park
Picnics everywhere
Dinner crawl – go to several restaurants for appetizer, salad, main and dessert.
Pub hopping downtown
Zoo, Museum, Library or Science Centre
Wine tasting events
Couple massage
Pottery painting
Friends’ house party
Go out for breakfast or meet for lunch
“Lovers or couples” trade show
Comedy theatre, Pecha Kucha, MoMondays
Bike ride, either cycle or motorcycle
Drive-in or movie-in-the-park
Pick up take-out and watch the planes land at the airport
Go-carting or laser tag
Shakespeare or other plays  “in the park”
Fitness: gym date, bowling, rock climbing, yoga, roller skating, golf, hiking, or simply running
Lecture (Check out libraries, universities and bookstores)
Volunteer together such as canvassing, working at the food bank and places where you can talk and have fun
Window shop
Ride the City trains – bring a snack and have a train picnic

Date Night-In Ideas

Snuggle in bed with a movie and a picnic of wine, bread and cheese
Dinner and movie at home with a theme such as French night – have crepes and watch “La Chocolat”
Board or card game night
Bake cookies
Play video games
Read together in the bathtub, with candles, salts and wine
Grab a pillow and blanket and sleep in the car with the baby monitor on
Pick up books from the library and have a read-in around the fireplace
Sit around the fire-pit outside and make marshmallows or hot dogs
Relax in the hot tub
Be a kid again and use the trampoline (or just lie on it and watch the stars), swing set, or swimming pool.
Turn off all the lights and sit in the dark and watch the animal world outside.
Bring out photo albums or watch photos and videos on the big screen at home

Date Night-No Sitter-Available Ideas

Car rides and walks (kids will either fall asleep or be entertained by the DVD player you bring).
Go to places like Ikea, McDonalds, Airports and children’s hospitals.  Grab a coffee and a bench and utilize the play places to keep your kids entertained where you can talk but keep an eye on the children.
Go to Chapters or other book stores and plunk the kids in the Kids section with an assortment of books.  Grab the in-house coffee and find a nearby seat.
Set the alarm early and have coffee on the porch and watch the sun come up together.
Take the kids to the playground and have a picnic for you two.
If your kids are school-aged, book two tables at a restaurant at least 10 yards apart.  Sit your kids at one table, and you and your partner at another.  Monitor them from afar. Pretend you are the Aunt and Uncle so you don’t worry about their behavior.  Works even better with teens.

Happy dating!

Judy Arnall is a conference speaker, family communications trainer, and bestselling author of “Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery.” She is co-founder of Attachment Parenting Canada which offers webinars on various parenting topics, and Her date night blog is at

Feb 7, 2013

One Mother's Testimony on the P.E.T. Workshop

Our P.E.T. Instructor in Bend, OR - Natalie Hull- was kind enough to share some feedback that she received from a participant after her most recent workshop concluded.

Here is what one mother wrote:

The Parent Effectiveness Training dramatically influenced the way I interact with my two teenagers and it significantly altered my relationships in positive ways. Before I took the course, my connections with my kids had much depth and lots of laughter, however there were many power struggles and times of stress. Now, we have depth, laughter, honest and open communication and more peace.

The book offers many ideas and insights, and when I took the class, the philosophy and concepts were easier to understand and implement. Discussions, storytelling and role plays help cement ideas and the different exercises gave parents to the opportunity to tailor responses based on the age level of his or her child. The philosophy is the same for all ages, and with all relationships, which is something that really comes to light when taking the course.

After taking this course, I can honestly say that I approach my teenagers differently, communicate differently and respond differently.  As a result, our relationships have strengthened. My parenting still has its challenges, however, there are  many new understandings that have helped me to pause and take a look at the situation, ask myself who owns the problem if there is a problem, how to communicate in the most effective way and how to actively listen in the hopes that my kids can feel understood and valued. I highly recommend the Parent Effectiveness Training course, as it has no doubt enhanced and strengthened my relationships with my kids in a way that encourages creativity, honesty, trust and authenticity which I believe are central to building healthy relationships with our children, and in all meaningful relationships we encounter.

For more information on Natalie Hull or Parent Effectiveness Training, please email us at

Jan 24, 2013

Can You Active Listen in a Text Message?

In a world continually swamped with technology, it's no surprise that the average person now spends more time typing than they do talking over the course of an average workday. Text messaging spares no subject matter. Personally, I have shared deep sentiments, philosophical debates and even conflicts, all from my beloved iPhone. With P.E.T. in mind, Active-"Listening" is very much a possibility. While P.E.T. states that effective Active-Listening should feedback what you "see and hear" from another person (who is experiencing a problem), there's no reason why we can't attempt to do our best via texting as well. You may not be getting the non-verbal messages that you would face-to-face, but hey, that's why emoticons were invented, right?

This is a transcript of a real text conversation between a Mom (M), while she was taking a P.E.T. Instructor Training Workshop, and her Daughter (E). Her daughter’s friends are represented by Briana  Gina, Rachel and Justine. (Names have been changed to ensure privacy).

M: Hey baby, how was your day? 
E: Good, Briana wasn't so nice to me and ruined my day. 
M: You sound upset sweetie. 
E: Yes because I was with Briana and Gina comes and I say hi because I was happy to see her and she doesn't even answer back and pushes me away!! What is happening??  : - o  : - o  : - o 
M: I can see that you felt ignored by Gina. 
E: She always treats me badly. 
M: So you feel she doesn't respect you. 
E: Today I said hi after going trick a treating on the school street and she completely ignored me just because she’s jealous of me that she doesn't have the amazing parents I have – that love like you love me. And because she doesn't have friends like Briana and she’s jealous just because she wants to be like me. 
M: So you are feeling that she’s jealous of what you have and at the same time you are sad because you want your friendship to be the same as before. 
E: The thing is that when I’m with Briana and Gina arrives she only greets Briana and says come here and bla bla bla and takes Briana away from me and I HATE when she does that. I HATE it. 
M: I can see it really makes you angry that Gina only spends time with Briana and you feel lonely. 
E: No I don’t feel lonely because I have Rachel and Justine it’s just that Gina always takes what I am using or what she shouldn't be taking away because I’m with someone or something. 
M: It make you angry that Gina wants what you have and you don’t want to tell her not to do it.
E: Yeah and she just gets jealous because I’m with Briana. 
M: So you feel that she’s jealous that you have more time with Briana because you’re in the same school. 
E: I don’t know, but when she joins us she has to take Briana away and I don’t like it because it bothers me so much. 
M: So you get upset when Gina takes Briana away and you can’t really find the words or the way to tell her that what she does bothers you. 
E: Yes. Exactamondo!!! The best answer ever xoxoxo 
So what are you doing? 
M: It makes me happy to listen to you baby and that you want to share this with me : ), : - ) : - )   : - ) 
E: Me too mom. I love you!!  : - D   : - D   : - D 
M: Me too!!!

What do you think? Let us know!

by: Selena George, P.E.T. Program Manager

Jan 16, 2013

I Am Adam Lanza’s Therapist

By Dr. Faye Snyder,
Psychologist, marriage and family therapist and forensic evaluator

            Less than one week before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut I sat with eight children in my RAD Group (children with Reactive Attachment Disorder) who shared a few things in common with one another: contempt for adults and authority, a terror of abandonment, and hatred for siblings and anyone who competed with them for mom’s affections. I frequently look into their eerie little faces that have contemptuous sociopathic smirks or estranged identities. I have learned to see injured souls instead.

            I have treated Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Jared Loughner and Seung-Hui Cho and their mothers too. Most are in earnest as much as Liza Long, who wrote, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”. Most want help and don’t know what to do. First they will have to learn where things went wrong and understand how it happened.
What Happened to These Children?

            RAD children were not born RAD. They were born to love and be loved. Every child I ever met with a propensity for violence was the natural product of extremely painful treatment, usually beginning with being left in daycare too young (perhaps as newborns) and too long (daily, throughout their first years).  It was so painful the child drew a conclusion that they were alone in the world, and they gave up on the deepest drive and hope of all, love. They gave up on loving and being loved and cherished. They were not loveable. They decided they were on their own and there was no adult in the world they could trust. They decided never to be vulnerable again, because it hurts too much. We all know adults who feel that way. This is why. However, our injuries were small compared to Adam’s, Dylan’s, Eric’s, Jared’s and Seung-Hui’s. It’s relative.

            Sometimes a three-month-old draws this conclusion. I have seen it. The infant will arch her back and push away. If the parent tries to make eye contact or talk tenderly, she will wriggle or point to the corner in the ceiling to “change the subject”. Sometimes a two-year-old draws the same conclusion. It is a decision a child forms before the age of three when the seeds of extreme violence are set. By the same token, the seeds of resilient mental health are set before the age of five, the optimal year to let them leave home for a while. It all stems from how they are treated in the beginning years of life. It’s a decision the child makes that can be unmade, with the right intervention. Everyone wants to love and be loved if it’s safe, only if it’s safe.

            Our evolutionary, genetic design requires a mother’s warmth, holding and interaction. All infants need safety or the feeling of safety. All of us wanted to nurse and be cuddled when we were infants. We all wanted to feel gently touched. We wanted to engage with loving eyes and softly spoken words. All of us got our identity or our idea of what we were worth and who we were by how we were treated in the beginning. It’s during this period that our temperament is formed, something that turns into personality as more experiences are had.

            During the first years our personalities form quickly, and our brains develop faster than it ever will again. More happens in the brain during these years. Unlearning and relearning the material of these years becomes more difficult as the child ages.

            If we spend our first years with one primary caregiver who adores us, but sets a reasonably high bar for us in terms of discipline and behavior, we become resilient and headed for greatness. If we spend our first years in daycare or with rotating caregivers or parents who are distracted, we form fragile identities. Anything in between produces in-between results. Without a secure attachment we are highly susceptible to future insults. From there, other abuses that most children could adequately handle become a tipping point for these children. As they get older, rejection becomes a trigger, rather, the trigger.

            Attachment trauma can be understood on a continuum from severe to ideal. Most of us had early childhoods that fell somewhere in between. Well-bonded children become high functioning and resilient. Poorly bonded children, but those who had it better than RAD Kids, may be more susceptible to wartime PTSD, drugs or a string of hurtful relationships. Their symptoms vary according to the age and intensity of their attachment trauma. RAD children are at the severe end of the spectrum.

            This is not about blaming anyone. It’s about understanding the infant’s point of view and our evolutionary design to stay with our mothers through our first years. It’s about how important mothers or primary caregivers are. I have heard mothers say, “I didn’t abandon my child. I went to work to pay for her food.” I so understand. Their intentions were noble, but their infant doesn’t understand. She thinks her mother prefers other places and other people more than her.

            When a child does not have a successful experience with bonding and attaching in the first few years, they tend to become psychologically stuck at that age, like Adam. The most injured are the most immature and fixated on changing or controlling other people rather than seeing themselves as their own resource. Some RAD children may seem like a super-mature toddler, acting like a little Mafioso, but he is stuck too, thinking the way to survive is to order people around. He is headed for trouble and punishment.

            My son and daughter-in-law just told me of a couple they met that had an infant. When sharing with this couple their plans for parenthood, a vitriolic debate ensued about the Ricki Lake Show on natural childbirth and how to treat an infant. “Infants don’t think,” the couple said. “They don’t care who is taking care of them,” they insisted. “They aren’t smart enough to care until they are older,” both parents argued. I predict they will have a RAD child.

            At the beginning of every violent person’s life there is some version of neglect, even if not abandonment. It could be relentless insensitivity, criticism, disappointment, indifference or a lack of attunement. None of us ever adapts to being someone who is not loveable. It’s a very bitter pill to swallow. He tells himself he doesn’t care, but in his heart of hearts he cares. Actually, he is secretly enraged that he is not loved and protected. He hates to see other children cherished.

The Children

            The root cause of RAD is abandonment trauma or failure to attach. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are much easier to treat than a core, learned belief that one is worthless or bad. Most of the children have been misdiagnosed already and prescribed inappropriate medication that didn’t work, and the worst part about this is that they have lost precious time. The younger they are when I get them the more successful our work. Time is of the essence, and bonding is supposed to take place in the very young.

            Many people think violent children are bad seeds and their parents are victims of these children, not realizing that these violent children suffer excruciating injuries at a very young age.  Each of these children is unique and different. Some are arrogant. Most of these children who kill are boys, however we are having an epidemic of “mean girls”, too. After the attachment trauma, boys are often disciplined more harshly for their defiance and disrespect of authority. They often engage with other RAD children and begin competing for top dog, and at some point, testosterone kicks in.

            Some RAD kids are profoundly self-conscious, like most of the mass murdering shooters we recently read about. Some cannot bear to be touched. Some are highly sensitive to certain sounds. All initially refuse eye contact, unless it’s on their terms.

            They have come to believe there is something wrong with them, and their experiences with rejection during infancy and repressed rage lead them to believe that they are not only unlovable, but inherently bad or evil. That becomes the essence of their identity, as well as their jaded worldview that everyone is out for themselves.

            Further, some medications push some patients, even children, into violent states of psychosis, a level they may not have attained without the catalyst of psychotropic medications. In other words, some children arrive at the psychiatrist’s office simply depressed from childhood experiences and leave as time bombs from medication. Others are near a tipping point and psychotropics put them over the edge. Psychiatrists Peter Breggin and Yolanda Lucire, as well as investigating journalist Robert Whittaker and many others, have been warning the public and writing about this phenomenon extensively. These experts have been evaluating medications that put children and adults at risk of suicidal or homicidal psychotic choices. In the meantime, conventional psychiatry recommends medicating these children without testing them first, even though there is a test to identify a person’s reactivity to medications (Lucire: 2011). You might say I am writing about the conditions that can lead to identifying these time bombs or at-risk children with or without medication and Dr. Breggin et al., is writing about what puts them over the edge if they haven't already tipped. To be clear, the children who become diagnosed all have emotional problems stemming from childhood experiences but they arrive at the psychiatrist’s office with an array of backgrounds which aren’t all necessarily RAD. Some have been close to exploding and are profoundly effected by the medication and some never would have harmed themselves or others without the meds.

            All have already been or could be dangerous without help. When they get my help and I watch them get better, I know I am doing what I need to do and sometimes I wonder how many lives were actually saved. My real wish or drive, however, is to prevent these unnecessary injuries in the first place with information and brainstorming.

The Moms

             Of course none of this means that the parents of RAD kids were mean-spirited. Mostly, they have been misguided by bad advice. Some of these parents are regular or almost regular people, or at least they seem so. They may be defensive. They are usually not very good communicators, themselves. They are predictably not open and expressive, as a rule. They are not good with hearing their children’s feelings. They may even be secretive. These characteristics become family traits that impede self-reflection and healing.

            Well-intentioned, good people in their lives, often give them advice and recommend socially acceptable choices that will hurt their children. Some of these advisers have the voice of authority and are grandparents, pediatricians, clergy, therapists, neighbors and teachers. Their harmful advice, like, “Put your child in daycare” or “Take a vacation while your baby is too young to notice you are gone,” may not be obvious to the rest of us.

            Once the child is old enough to show signs of defiance and defensiveness, parents often imagine that the problem is genetic and then resort to home schooling, diet changes, or medication, attempting to change their child's behavior, but never addressing the real root cause, abandonment trauma. It doesn't work. In fact, the child’s behaviors get worse as he gets older.

            Some mothers I have worked with recognized the signs early. Others couldn’t face the fact that their children were in trouble until they had to, something we can all understand. Some thought it was a phase and others thought they simply lacked good discipline techniques. Others thought or were told the problem was genetic. Some parents dislike their child and can’t keep it a secret. Some see themselves as victims and their child as the enemy. Some are single parents with more responsibility than they can handle. Others love their child enough to admit they made mistakes as soon as they can find out just what those mistakes were.

            Some biological parents insist they are innocent of any mistakes and blame the child. They may say she was always that way, but they just want to know how to manage her. As long as parents blame the child, we won’t get results. When parents accept responsibility, half the battle has been won.

            Some of the moms are not their biological moms and have adopted children who suffered major abandonment trauma in early childhood. Since their child was adopted, they may be even more likely to think the problem is genetic rather than attachment trauma. Maybe they understood the ramifications of adopting a child with a broken attachment. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they thought they did, but didn’t.

            They all have a tiger by the tail.

Getting Help and Becoming Help

            Unfortunately, most of my colleagues are not specialized in such cases, so it’s hard to find a good diagnosis and help, especially affordable help. Even our licensing exams no longer place an emphasis on attachment. Residential treatment facilities often do more harm than good, because they create additional attachment breaks.

            Some of my RAD children come to see me privately with their moms as well as in the RAD Group. A true attachment therapist will never see the child alone. They will always have the mom or primary caregiver, present. Before I work with these children and their caregivers, I will need to teach and train the parents and insure there is a support system. They must learn to become therapeutic parents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which requires another adult working to support mother and child. The parents must be up to the task. Their mental health must be good, and sometimes we have to put parents in therapy to move forward with the children. Unfortunately, most parents don’t have the time and money.

            There is a residential treatment design that would work, but it would take major funding to build the right facility with the right staff to accommodate the children and their mothers. If there were a facility that could treat them together, we could work faster, train parents on the spot, and single mothers could then get help too.


            The parents must fully understand that they or the child’s biological parent made hurtful, if not wrong choices, even if it was for a good and necessary cause, like affording food, clothing and shelter. Usually the parent and child have developed a history of resenting each other, so parents will need to find compassion in their heart for what they or a previous parent put their child through, if they are to establish the authority their child will respect. They must be willing to model the expression of remorse. Parents will need to apologize to their child for his injuries, both the ones they caused and the ones the biological parents caused. Such an apology tends to settle the child down, but then they look for change. Real change. If the parent can’t manage the show of remorse, I apologize to the child for what she has been through, while the parent watches. When I do that, the child begins to soften, sometimes almost imperceptibly. The parents may see how it works and then find it easier to apologize to their child. This is the beginning of earning trust. From there, the child can learn how to re-bond, how to relate and then the child will accept corrective discipline. It is only from there that the child can be taught personal responsibility.

            When parents learn that it’s not their child’s fault how they are and agree to make the commitment necessary, I coach these heroic parents in what to do. They provide the home environment that will heal their child and I become just a guide. I don’t treat the child, and the child doesn’t get to bond with me. They treat their child. The child bonds with them, maybe even for the first time. Again, this is more difficult with an older child, but yet possible, if we can persuade him how he must learn vulnerability and to surrender in order to heal. We have techniques that lead to regression where the bonding can begin. I can also tell him true stories or show him footage of strong men, successful men who were vulnerable, such as the late General Schwarzkopf, who cried for his troops and later said, “I would never trust a man who doesn’t cry”. It is necessary that RAD kids can see and believe that real winners know how and who to trust and learn that they must earn respect.  

            Even though I am not a hands-on therapist, so the mother can be, I run my RAD Group for parents and child. I am the teacher or coach for both parent and child, and I model for the parents how to relate to their child. In that venue I am the boss. I have to be. There is no opportunity for debate, and neither should the children should see it. Sometimes I discover that the parents are a bit RAD, themselves, modeling in front of their children a lack of respect for authority. Thus, no one gets to take me on, but anyone can ask questions. I’m not on a power trip. I am modeling healthy authority and strong parenting.  I seek to become the authority the child learns to respect and then the parent becomes that authority too. Finally, teachers, principals and police become the authority the child will respect.

            In the RAD Group parents meet other parents and a support system begins. The children meet other children like themselves, and they learn to socialize with peers first. They are also members of a Kids’ Group, that is, a relationship skills workshop for more regular children, a different group that teaches relationship skills, ethics, how to have a clean argument or disagreement, how to solve problems, how to assess for people who can be trusted, and how to be trustworthy.

            Hopefully, the older children who used to see me privately return at the beginning of adolescence again to maintain their level of mental health as they enter puberty, a disruptive stage for children, especially those with a RAD history. I tell them they have returned as veterans to help younger children, as well as to become vigilant about any possible relapses brought on by adolescence. It’s a self-awareness skill they will need again when they become romantically involved and when they become parents.

Understanding Adam Lanza

            I listen to the experts on television say they have no idea why Adam Lanza did what he did. It’s hard to hear.

            I listen for the information I would need to form a hypothesis. The thing I want the public to understand and hear the most is how his first three years went. Did he spend the first few years of his life in daycare or with multiple caregivers or with a distracted parent, with whom he could not securely bond, or was he simply abused as an infant (probably not). Journalists do not seem to seek such information about his early years. Perhaps, it’s taboo. But I have clues.

            I learn from a newscast that a friend of his mother said Adam’s mother, Nancy, volunteered in the classroom he shot up, and once she even took him there. I learned from a tabloid that he would sometimes demand that she sit outside his bedroom door so he could sleep. I learned that another source said he couldn’t handle school because he couldn’t bear to be touched by anyone. I heard that his mother had a favored son, who turned out healthier. I read in a tabloid that she was checking into putting Adam into a residential facility, of some sort. I learn that she believed the world was coming to an end on December 21, and I learn that she kept assault weapons. Everything I hear is familiar to me. It all fits.

My Tentative Hypothesis

            I have formed a tentative hypothesis based upon the only available information, however limited, that goes like this: Adam’s mother did not hold him or cuddle him in the first months of his life. Who would know? Perhaps she had postpartum depression or she worked and someone else cared for him, leaving him in a crib. In any event, without this touch, he developed intolerance for being touched and a mechanical like personality, as well. He learned to bond with things instead of people as an infant and he developed a fragile identity, concluding very young that he was perceived as worthless by others. As he grew older he learned to socialize with video games instead of people, leading to a childhood diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and an adult diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder. If he, indeed, heard voices, as one tabloid claimed, then perhaps he suffered from Schizophrenia. My cases of Schizophrenia and ones of successful therapists I have known have all included the following childhood ingredients (1) insufficient touch, plus (2) invasive dialogues with the child about his thoughts and how he should think, and (3) finally, bizarre or mind-warping parental choices. Paranoid children and adults experienced unpredictable verbal or physical threats.  

            As his rage and fantasies of retaliation grew, without understanding them, he developed an identity that he was evil or “the devil”. His abandonment issues manifested in fears his mother would leave him, even though he developed some ability to detach. He was allowed to live in a dungeon-like basement or bedroom, possibly absent sunlight and views of trees, clouds and birds. Why? Was he kept from people because it was too difficult to teach him to socialize? Or, did letting him play video games to his heart’s content provide her respite? Did she struggle to get him into relationships with people? It appears that she enabled him to withdraw, probably without any idea that this choice would create more harm.

            Perhaps, when he was still young, Adam’s mother saw that he wasn’t doing well, and some maternal “instincts” kicked in. Maybe she knew what she had done or hadn’t done, but didn’t speak about it. Maybe she had no idea what she had done. In any event, he began to tell her how to treat him, like RAD children do. She apparently complied to some extent or perhaps a great deal.  In some ways she let him be the boss. Maybe she was emotionally unavailable to him and then available and then unavailable and then available, creating more expectations for Adam and more tension between them.

            There was a healthier older brother (who must have had more bonding, healthier adult personalities have enjoyed some degree of bonding if not a secure attachment with their primary caregiver), with whom she probably compared Adam, when she was trying to inspire him to try harder. Maybe the older brother was jealous of a second child because he didn’t get all the affection he needed, so possibly he picked on Adam. Maybe not. But, there appears to be some evidence of animosity between them, especially on Adam’s part. Yet, one could understand it would be frustrating to have Adam for a brother. And, it would be threatening to Adam to have a higher functioning brother.

            If she did, indeed, check into institutionalizing Adam, and he knew it, it would have been extremely provocative. It would have been that rejection trigger. Perhaps, she should have just done it, if she was going to do it, without warning. Sometimes parents have their children picked up. This is a relatively common technique used to put teens into Wilderness Therapy, a very useful tool sometimes in turning RAD kids around.

            Wilderness Therapy is very expensive, about $30K, but my impression is that Adam and his mother lived in a large home, almost estate size. They probably could have afforded Wilderness Therapy, where the child learns to cooperate and interact to survive, as well as to air his feelings to someone who cares. In the meantime, parents are given parenting lessons. If Wilderness Therapy turns down a child, that would be a huge red flag.

            Why shoot up a classroom of kindergarteners? If his mother took him to see the classroom she visited when she left him so often, for no pay, preferring to be with these children rather than him, as she had done in his infancy, this would be the reason why Adam Lanza targeted that class. He thought she favored those normal children over him. That must have burned inside of him, causing excruciating pain.

            Without bonding, he had little empathy or compassion for others, if any. It is the experience of bonding with our primary caregiver that gives us intimacy, empathy, compassion and a conscience. If he had been sufficiently bonded to her as an infant, he would not have been threatened by this act. The less secure an attachment the more volatile the adult. Insecurely attached babies become adults who lack resilience, teenagers who get pregnant, stalkers, dangerous domestic partners or killers, depending upon the degree of infant neglect and the other types of experiences they have, especially when they get older and it becomes time for discipline.

            For some children, the lack of bonding leads them to accept friendships from strangers who molest them. It can also exacerbate parents and lead to brutal punishments. The icing on the cake for Adam may have been his mother’s catastrophic philosophy of life and her possible shared apocalyptic belief that the world was coming to an end soon, coupled by her affinity for violent weapons. This would meet the mind-warping component that creates schizophrenia. To live in an environment of expected doomsday, amongst assault rifles, is a mind-warping environment. I imagine such ideation was schizogenic or to be more clear, mind-fucking.

            Once again, why did Adam Lanza shoot up a classroom of kindergarteners? My tentative hypothesis can be summed up thus: He suffered from a profoundly insecure attachment and was unbearably rageful. He was jealous of the children he killed, and assault weapons were the way to go.

            I cannot help all the Adam Lanzas and Eric Klebolds, but I ask that journalists become part of the solution. I can hope journalists will learn to ask the most important questions about the child’s first years and get the information out to the public at large. If it becomes common knowledge how we innocently create killers in our homes, the public will begin to become part of the solution and we can learn how to prevent these tragedies.

For more information, Dr. Snyder has written a small book on Healing Your RAD Child, available at

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