Time for Parenting...
...because raising children is a full-time job
October 2002 Newsletter
Parent Effectiveness Training for full time mothers
Having embarked on my career as a speech and language therapist, I was soon reassured that this was a job I would enjoy. Here was my chance to make a real difference - enabling children to improve their ability to communicate in a world where I felt they were already powerless and often not afforded the respect and understanding they needed. In my childless professional approach, it was hard to empathise with parents who, in my estimation, seemed to be 'getting it wrong'.
Some years later, as my first two children approached 4yrs and 2yrs, I was not working, living in France (husband's job), and a much humbler person. Turning myself into the listening, understanding, democratic parent (i.e. not my mother) was proving more difficult than I thought!
Help came in the form of an American parenting course - Tom Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training. I had tried the somewhat diluted English version, Parent Link, and, despite a wonderful facilitator and like-minded group of parents, it didn't enable me to change things. Luckily, my husband's next job was in Canada and I signed up for a PET course as soon as child number 3 arrived!
Because PET is based on the learning and research of leading psychologists (Carl Rogers, Haim Ginnott, etc.), it has a sound theoretical basis. It is both anti-authoritarian and anti-permissive and its credo embraces the ideas that both children AND parents have a right to get their needs met and that families are important and can be harmonious.
The communication skills taught in the course are not new - Active Listening, Confrontation, Problem-solving - but what is new, and unique to PET, is the framework which characterises the parenting 'job'. This makes it much easier to understand every situation (there are only four different types!) and so to use the appropriate response.
Unfortunately, PET does not instantly transform your children into angels and you into a saint. But it DOES give you effective skills with which to help your children solve their problems, to influence them to change when their behaviour bothers you and to find strategies and solutions that best suit your family's needs.
For us the result has been no need for reward/punishment/threat scenarios. Instead, with a reliance on clear, direct communication, we can solve differences without resorting to someone handing down solutions and edicts, causing resentment or rebellion. I have been so impressed and grateful for the insights and skills I have gained that I enjoy the opportunity to teach classes and to pass it on to others.
So, PET does exactly what it says on the tin! - It trains parents in effective skills, enabling them to raise considerate, responsible children, without the use of damaging power, and maintaining positive relationships.
The PET course is fully scripted and can only be delivered by a trained authorised Instructor, and unfortunately there are currently few in the UK. The course comprises 24 hours of tuition, usually organised in 8 weekly sessions of 3 hours, though this can be arranged in different formats.
These classes can be held in a private home or hired space, with ideally 8-12 participants. The teaching methods include instructor presentation, skill practice, workbook exercises, audio/video presentations and discussion. There is no specification for age of children and, though couples would gain from attending together, this is not a requirement.
The parent company, Gordon Training International, has over the years adapted the basic philosophy to different environments, e.g. Teacher Effectiveness Training for use in school, and their most recent development is a kit for use at home - Family Effectiveness Training. Information is on their website - www.gordontraining.com.
Review of "Parent Effectiveness Training"
This book was sent to me by Val Winfield who describes her courses above. It offers techniques of proven value in handling family relationships and in parental dealings with their children. I found the concepts described both interesting and helpful.
Particularly refreshing is the idea that parents do not have to feel it is their job to sort out all their children's problems. The first thing to establish under this method is who 'owns' the problem. If it is a difficulty that the child has, the child is encouraged to accept responsibility for finding his own solution. If their behaviour is giving the parent a problem, then the latter describes why it gives them difficulty and asks for the child's help in finding a solution.
I liked the idea of treating the child with sufficient respect to expect him to find his own solutions. This of course is much more harmonious than the more typical strategy of telling the child what to do, an encountering not infrequent resistance.
The other very valuable skill described is that of Active Listening. In this the parent listens to what the child is really trying to say; what need is he voicing? It may not be obvious, but by hearing him out, saying the minimum, echoing and as it were giving him back his feelings (rather than interjecting one's own answers), so as to show they have been recognised, the child is enabled to communicate his real message and be truly 'heard'. This is enormously different from those exchanges between parent and child in which anything but real communication takes place.
In encouraging an attitude of acceptance of the child by the parent, in fostering mutual respect among members of a family and in facilitating problem-solving, these techniques would seem to have much to offer any family.