Monday, May 04, 2009

Reading: Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon

Last week Zach and I visited a used bookstore where I had a credit. I was looking through some of the parenting books looking to see if by any chance they had What To Expect: The Toddlers Years. They didn't, but I did find a copy of Parent Effectiveness Training. I didn't know much about the "P.E.T." method, but had read a blurb in a different book and the little I'd heard made it sound similar to the Montessori approach and the advice in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen... (a book I have and find to be brilliant: I may not have direct parenting experience with it yet but saw those methods used in the classroom with 3-6 yr olds and be very effective). I figured it would be "free" since I had the credit, and what the heck-- I can't seem to get enough of reading about parenting advice (I figure I'm maybe just getting better at filtering out the advice I don't agree with...?).

I started reading it over the weekend, and am still only in the first couple chapters. I find myself going back and forth on the things they say, loving some things and feeling pretty apprehensive about others. But, it's only the beginning, and figure I should try to read the whole thing before making judgments.

I did have a pat-myself-on-the-back moment when I read their advice to try to let kids be and not interrupt them as much as possible, something I already practice as much as I can. Their reasoning is that when a child is doing something (building with legos, painting a picture, etc) any time we interfere we're sending a message that says "you can't do this right on your own, you need my help" (a message of unnacceptance in their words). Giving them a chance to explore on their own, even if they do it "wrong", sends a message of "you are capable of doing this on your own." In Montessori we also try to interrupt as much as possible, so as to allow the child to have uninterrupted flows of thought and as a way to help them develop concentration and focus in what they are doing. I realize I am quite lucky in that I have a kid who is able to entertain himself pretty well at least part of the day, and I try to get out of his way when this happens. This attitude also, very conveniently, allows me to not only feel no guilt but feel good about being able to do other things while he's happy playing with his blocks or dragging a paper bag all around the house. ; )

The other, more important, piece of advice they give is how to develop "active listening" skills. This I know I will have much more trouble with-- as is why I'm reading about this stuff now, in the hope of getting into good habits from the beginning. Active listening is about allowing the child to talk and elaborate on their thoughts without any sorts of judgments, advice, or opinions on our part. The idea is that this helps validate their feelings and thoughts, and allows them to talk things out and find their own solution rather than being told what to do by someone else. I'm a big-time advice giver, I always want to help people out and so am constantly giving out advice when it seems people are struggling with something. There are times when this can be helpful and appreciated, but I also should work more on not giving advice unless it's asked. The funny thing is I know I get frustrated at Zach for doing this exact thing-- when I want to just vent about something and he tries to help me solve it and all I want is an ear to listen. So this will be a challenge, to be aware of my reactions (both to other aduts, and eventually to Donovan as he starts speaking more) and work on developing these skills. One big lesson in parenting and dealing with children in general, is that KNOWING what you should do and how to handle certain situations and then ACTUALLY DOING IT, remembering to use that knowledge in the moment, are two very, very different things.

I'm curious to see what else they cover in the book. I've read a few things they allude to that kinda made me cringe-- at one point they mentioned being against "limit-setting" and I really want to know what they mean by that, as I so strongly believe that children most definitely need strongly-defined limits. I don't know if I had much of a purpose to this post, other than to "think aloud" some of my thoughts on what I've read so far. If any of you have experience with the advice in this book or other thoughts/comments to share I'd love to hear them.


  1. We have the What to Expect - Toddler Years if you'd like to borrow it. We won't be needing it for awhile. :)

  2. I seem to remember liking the book, but I haven't read it in a while.

  3. Re: "limit setting"
    To me, these words come across as meaning "doing well only up to a point, beyond which you are no longer given the chance to excell." But it sounds like the way you were hearing it, was more like defining boundaries for the child's own protection. Perhaps the author was referring to the former, which I think we can both agree should be something that is avoided.

  4. P.E.T. classes are a government program. The classes are free of charge and are frequently taught at schools and public libraries. We used to sponsor them at the library where I worked in Kansas City.

    You may want to look into them, not only for the information, but to expand your network of parents as well.

    I'm a believer in the program. Partially because I am the product of P.E.T. parents. My parents happened to be in one of the pilot programs way back in the early 70's.

  5. P.E.T. is a training program - the flagship product - of Gordon Training International. It, and its business oriented program Leader Effectiveness Training, both teach the same set of skills - listening (using both passive and active listening skills), confrontive (as well as other types) I-messages, problem solving tools, and values collision options. They are great tools if you choose to use them properly. Keep reading the book!

    I'm one of many who facilitate these programs, and know they can change the way you communicate, if you are willing to try, and try and try again.

    Good luck!



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