Two weeks ago, I began to dissect my experience with the Parenting Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) workshop that I am taking with Cindy Tarratz and a handful of other parents at the Western Academy of Beijing. The sessions on active listening, the subject of my previous blog, were revelatory for most of us, but effective communication is always a two-way process, and at some point, parents need to be more than active listeners. Fortunately, the P.E.T. workshop also helped enlighten us parents on the more effective ways of choosing our words when interacting with our kids (my mom always did say I should think before I speak – I’m still trying Mom!).
A prime example of how parents (or anyone) can alter the way they interact with children can easily be explained with the following example. Not long ago, we had a friend at our home and I couldn’t help noticing how he interacted with Reina (my 4 year-old daughter). While sitting down for a meal, he commented to me on how well she ate and sat at the table, but when he addressed Reina, he said, “You’re a good girl.” It seemed like harmless praise, but I heard it a lot that evening and it got me thinking about how adults interact with children. Adults often use this phrase (good girl or good boy) as a form of praise, but I think it misses the mark when it comes to conveying what the speaker actually means. Our friend’s intent was not to pass some god-like judgment on Reina proclaiming her good or worthy. What he meant was that he was impressed with how well she sat at the table and ate her food. No one would look at a woman in her thirties eating dinner and say, “You ate all your vegetables; good woman!” Yet that is precisely what people do with children all the time. P.E.T. trainers take the time to help parents focus comments on feelings, behaviors, and results, rather than phrases based on judgments (positive or negative). For many parents, it takes some time to reprogram their communication methods but the results of the changes in their interactions with their children can be dramatic.
The other day, I ran into a friend who is taking a PET workshop with another trainer, Kathryn Tonges, and I asked him how it was going. He spoke about how he and his family were adjusting to this change in communication styles at home and the challenges involved. Then he said something everyone with experience in effective communication can relate to, “Now that I know how to better communicate with children, my family, and even my co-workers, I’m shocked at how often I see people doing it wrong with kids all the time. That was me a few weeks ago!”
In my own home, I’ve paid much more attention lately to how I’m communicating with Reina and Savvy (my ever so patient wife). In the past, I use to give Savvy a hard time about how I majored in speech and how she only minored in it. I guess now the joke is on me as she pointed out that I’m the one who’s relearning how to effectively communicate. Hm, maybe this can go towards credit for a doctorate.
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, the founder of P.E.T., visit www.gordontraining.com.
Photo: Flicker by C. Strife’s.