Remember last winter when I resolved to be a better parent? The truth is, I had no strategy for achieving that aim, just plenty of parental good will. However, as I pondered that resolution, I began to notice people all around me talking about P.E.T. No, not the organization with the same acronym, Pets for Ethical Treatment, rather Parent Effectiveness Training. Although an acronym, P.E.T. is not an organization but a concept. I know what you are thinking, “But Chris, for me to be a better parent, I need a course in Child Effectiveness Training.” That may be true, but since I started participating in a P.E.T. workshop, I feel confidant that we parents must take the first step – especially those parents with children who are still crawling.
The P.E.T. workshop takes 24 hours to complete (the workshop I’m in meets weekly for 3 hours a session) and covers the subject as it was developed by Dr. Thomas Gordon. Yes, that is a commitment of valuable time, but then again, so is raising a child. Although I had met a number of P.E.T. trainers, I decided to take the course with Cindy Tarratz, which she gives at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).
From the very start, I realized that there was something familiar about the P.E.T. material. It is not a set of rules about how to “raise” your children to sit at the table, brush their teeth, and do their homework. Nor is it a set of parenting guidelines such as don’t hit your child on the nose with a rolled up magazine (something I have subsequently learned is apparently wrong). What the workshop is about is learning how to communicate effectively, especially with your children. The reason all this sounded familiar is that I have a degree in Speech Communication, which apparently qualifies me as an expert on the subject. But like so many experts, I don’t always practice what I preach, especially with my own daughter. This was my first revelation in the workshop; that I should apply my experience and knowledge about human communication and relationships with my own child.
This tied in well with the first few workshops I attended as the focus in the beginning was on: actively listening to my daughter, trying to understand her needs/feelings/messages from her perspective, and confirming that I understood her correctly. Sounds easy, right? Judging from my discussions with other parents, it should be easy, but for most parents it isn’t. Basically, society did not train us to listen to our children so much as to dictate to them, which works for a while until the children grow up to become teenagers. At that point, they start protesting, and before you know it, you find your household has been swept up in an Arab Spring and you are no longer in power.
Although Reina knows I’m going to “parenting classes”, she has not really noticed the change in my communication style when I use active listening, probably because she is four years-old and has better things to do (lately we’ve been adopting her stuffed toys a lot – no doubt due to some latent feelings of abandonment). Other parents, particularly those with older children, have experienced some surprised responses from their children about how their moms or dads are talking, but we have all had positive experiences with using the active listening technique with our kids.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share more thoughts about P.E.T. and how it is working, effectively or otherwise, in my own family. If you would like to learn more about P.E.T. or Dr. Thomas Gordon, visit www.gordontraining.com.