As a mostly happily married parent of four children, I know that we aren’t born as good parents (or communicators), it has to be learned. Makes sense really, after all we wouldn’t do any other job without training, yet we assume we’re going to know what to do when it comes to our children. We do have our parents as a reference point, but often they were just doing their best without any training too. And life now is very different from when our parents were raising us.
I have been working as a Mediator and Conflict Coach for more than six years. I loved mediation from the beginning, particularly when the Parties (who walked into the mediation hating each other) found mutually satisfying resolutions at the end of the mediation (and sometimes even hugged each other and agreed to catch up for coffee later). However, I could see that most of these painful situations could have been prevented before they reached the crisis stage and needed external assistance. It all comes down to having the skills to deal with conflict and problems as they arise.
Before I became a mediator, I learned of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) and found the skills very similar to what a professional mediator would use: first and foremost, listening to the child in an active way (or getting the Parties to listen to each other), really trying to understand what they are saying before expressing my (or getting the other Party to express their) concerns or needs in regard to what is being said. Then negotiating a range of options to meet the mutual needs before settling on a plan to be put into action.
Having these professional communication skills is always beneficial, whether in crisis or not. However, as a parent, I have found that using them with my family has benefitted not only me as the parent but the whole family. I was inspired to teach others how to do it within their own families.
I’ve read many of the parenting books available and done other parenting classes however P.E.T. is the one that stood out and resonated the best with me as it is gentle yet firm and focuses on parents creating better relationships within the family to solve current behaviour issues and prevent future problems such as getting ready for school, bedtimes, mealtimes, homework, screen-time, etc.
Even more importantly, my husband and I could have different viewpoints without discipline falling apart. If we both used these skills (even if he didn’t use them but I did), the children felt heard and were then willing to listen to us. We found solutions that worked for us all. Soon, the children were using P.E.T. with each other so we didn’t have to resolve their fights.
It was liberating!
My hope is that so many parents learn these skills, and their children as well, that some day in the future we will all get on without the need for learning communication skills. World Peace! (Actually, Dr Thomas Gordon, who wrote the original ground breaking program was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, 1998 and 1999 so maybe this dream is not as lofty as it may sound!)