How A Parenting Course Helped Our Family. Stories from Parents Putting Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) into Practice.

Blog post Larissa Dann 10th November, 2016                            Image: Shutterstock

As a parent educator, I find coaching parents, carers and grandparents an indescribable privilege.  I meet people who love their children deeply, who have compassion, curiosity, humility, self-awareness, an eagerness to learn, and a sense of humour.  I meet people who may, at times, struggle with their role as a parent or carer.

No matter what reason brings a person to a parenting class, all are committed to providing the best emotional environment possible in which to bring up their children.  They are seeking a peaceful family life, and positive outcomes for their children into their adult lives.  

As a new parent, babe in arms, I discovered Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T). I learnt a respectful, peaceful approach to parenting, and effective ways to communicate.  After researching other parenting methods, I chose to teach the parenting skills and principles offered in P.E.T.

Over the years, many course participants have shared their parenting stories with me. I’ve been moved by their descriptions of beneficial changes, and their gratitude for the skills, reflected in many of the stories.

The parenting journeys described here range from immediate differences observed while attending a course, to a reflection on family warmth and closeness two decades after attending the course.

I share the family stories in this blog, and more on my website, with respect and sincere appreciation.  Thank you.

All names have been changed, and stories shared are from over 20 years of teaching. 

Nineteen Years On – Learning to Survive and Thrive with the P.E.T. Skills and Philosophy

(from a couple with adult children, who completed the P.E.T. course 19 years previously).

"We attended our first PET course in 1997 when our two boys were 3 and 6 years old.  We had heard about it through our local Montessori school and thought we needed to learn about 'peaceful parenting!'

With much insistence my husband also committed to coming along and this proved invaluable as we were able to go through this experience together and essentially be on the same page to avoid the good cop/ bad cop scenario.  Twenty years later we continue to naturally present a stable, united, supportive and agreeable front for our children (now young adults) to bounce life's ideas off.

We took home weekly learned strategies to try out in many different scenarios with our children and were completely amazed at the results, not only in our own relationships with the boys but between ourselves at a time when we behaved as stressed, edgy and floundering parents.

These have been life-long and life-affirming skills learnt.  Meaningful, loving relationships between us all that have not only helped mould resilient children but resilient parents too.

Our boys (now aged 22 and 25 years) still joke about how Mum and Dad had to learn how to become parents - and we did!

Only through PET at a critical time in our family life did we learn to survive and then thrive and really enjoy our children."

A Description of the Skills We Learned as a Couple – after just 7 Weeks

(A letter from a volunteer coach (a father of three children, age 9, 5 and 3) to the parents of his young team.)

“You may have noticed that I take a slightly unorthodox approach to the way I communicate with the boys and discipline the team. This is because I have almost finished a Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) course, which was recommended to me. 

I very highly recommend the course to all parents and wish it were a compulsory course for all parents to do. The course has caused me to completely re-evaluate the relationships I have with my children (and my partner and other children) and has had a profound impact on the way our family now communicates. 

My wife and I have found that:

  • We are much more aware of our children's behaviour, and how our level of acceptance dictates how we respond - we now have a much broader level of acceptance which means less unnecessary conflict (sometimes we used to say NO for no good reason).
  • We have learned how to actively listen to our children and identify their real needs, not just react to the behaviour they are displaying at the time.
  • We have learned how to understand and convey our needs to our children, so that they will initiate and willingly modify their own behaviour to accommodate our needs, without us ordering them to do it (sounds too good to be true!). 
  • We have learned how to problem solve with our children to get a win-win outcome
  • We now have almost no need to use physical force to change our children’s' behaviours - i.e. no pulling, pushing or holding against their will. 
  • We have much more meaningful and deep conversations with our children and they are willing to tell us about things they were previously fearful to share.

and there is still a week to go.....

We have noticed real changes in ourselves and in our children - there is much less shouting, less tantrums, less fighting, and less stress. Our children (9, 5 and 3) have told us how they like the change a lot. Even my 3-year-old son’s play schoolteacher has commented that he is much less aggressive, more considerate and more cuddly than he used to be (he used to be a "problem" child).  

I recommend it to all parents, and if possible both parents should do the course together, but if you can't manage that then one should do it. It's well worth the time.”

‘Instead of finding a mental health professional for our 4 year old, we changed the way we parented.’

(from the mother of a 4 year old and 2 year old).

“Temper-tantrums had been increasing in frequency and intensity for a few months when my mum came to visit.  Being an 'old school' mum she immediately raised concerns over our just 4-year old daughter's behaviour.  Mum's love-filled recommendation was to see a GP straight away and seek help.  We had not been avoiding seeking help intentionally.  Both of us were worried about Xanthe’s behaviour and the effect it was having on us as a couple, but more importantly on our soon to be 2-year old daughter's life as well.  

One Saturday morning a gymnastics class went horribly wrong for Xanthe. Afterwards, she bailed me up in the car for about 45 minutes, before my husband arrived from the other side of town to 'save me'.  Xanthe was hysterical, inconsolable, scared and a dribbling, crying mess.  She had self-inflicted red marks (later bruises) where she had lashed out at me or whatever was in her way (car seat, dashboard, baby seat, glove compartment, steering wheel etc.).  I was totally defeated.

We sought help from the GP, and the conversation immediately went to one relating to a mental health assessment and referral to a paediatrician.  We went along with the recommendation because by this stage we were frightened and desperately wanting someone who 'knew better' to help us 'fix' the 'problem'.

I shared our story with a friend who had done P.E.T. and experienced fantastic results.  A few weeks later we had a call from the local mental health program, only to find out that we were not eligible (as we were not receiving government benefits).  After having reflected on the information our P.E.T. friend had provided, we were strangely somewhat relieved that Xanthe was not going to be 'mentally assessed' just yet.  We had started becoming more comfortable with the idea that perhaps the 'problem' was not Xanthe and her behaviour, but perhaps we needed to reflect on ourselves, and the way we were parenting.

Fast-forward two months, and without exaggerating in the slightest, our family life has undergone a total step change.  From Week One of the P.E.T. program we have triggered a life-long learning process.  Learning more about ourselves, how we work with (and sometimes against) each other, and how we relate to our two beautiful girls.  Our relationship with the girls is being nurtured in new ways.  Looking back now, the 'old way' feels so foreign, transactional and evening slightly 'master servant'.  Now we are more relaxed with our parenting, and are less judging of ourselves (and our girls).  I am now taking great joy in gently teaching Xanthe the P.E.T. way so she can communicate more clearly with us, and her little sister, Bethany.  She's nearly mastered the I- Message, and seems genuinely engaged in the learning process too.  She seems to be enjoying expressing herself and being understood by us.  And by teaching her it has reinforced our own lessons in the loveliest way possible.

Here is an example.  One day Bethany, our youngest, was upset, crying and telling me something (in her 2-year old gibberish language).  

Before I could respond, Xanthe jumped in and said, "Oh, Bethany, you're feeling sad because you really want a bar?"  She had Actively Listened to her sister! Bethany’s sobbing reduced, and she responded in more gibberish.   Without missing a beat Xanthe said, "Oh, don't worry little Bethany, it's okay, but you can't have a bar now because it is nearly dinner time."  Bethany kind of huffed and then walked away from the pantry to amuse herself elsewhere.

Priceless.”

Boys and Empathy

(from a mother of two boys, 8 and 15, who completed the course 4 years before she wrote this story)

“Andrew (age 8) was at his drumming lesson and his teacher asked if he wanted the bright green shiny sparkly shaker or the dull brown shaker. He chose the brown one. She asked him why. He said it was because it wasn't fair on the brown one, because everyone would choose the green one because it was more attractive.

She paused for so long I thought she hadn't understood what he said. Then she said, "Andrew, you are AWESOME".

Then yesterday my 15 year-old rang me because he and his friends had found an injured blue-tongue lizard. They rang the RSPCA to work out what to do with it, removed all the ants biting it, washed it and we took it to the local vet.

Empathy and understanding have always been extremely important to me. But it was doing the PET course that gave me the skills to teach these values to my children. Thank you so much.”

‘The P.E.T. skills helped save our relationship as a couple.’

(from a mother of two teenagers.)

The writer of this testimonial completed a P.E.T. course eight years before her husband.  At the beginning of the first session, he expressed some misgivings about attending the course. 

However, after her husband’s course finished, I received this moving feedback (the name and some details have been changed).

“I just wanted to say thanks for the P.E.T course once again.

John really enjoyed the time for self-reflection and hearing other people’s stories.  It helped enormously when he let go his feeling that he has to solve all the problems. He said there was always something that bugged him about his parenting, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Recognising that he has needs has also helped, as has letting himself be authentic and real. Now that he has realised he has his own needs and that it is OK to meet them, he says “no” to things, or drops the children off [e.g. at sporting events] without feeling guilty if he doesn’t stay to watch.

He's much calmer about things now and it's created space for us to talk, which hasn't been there for many years. 

About half way through the course, I got really upset and went outside to let off steam. Usually, he would get angry and stomp off out of the house. This time, he came over, put his arms around me and said, "It's OK to get angry. You need to let it out." and then just held me until I stopped crying.

This was the first time in 21 years that he has been there for me emotionally. Huge, huge step! When I said this to him he said that was good and bad. "Bad because I haven't been there for so long; good because you it shows I can change." Cue tissues!

The course has literally saved our relationship as I was at my wits end as to where to go next. It's baby steps, but the fact that I feel we are both attempting to listen to each other and support each other emotionally after 21 years is a huge thing.”

The Positive Effects of the P.E.T. skills with Long Parent Absence (such as Deployment)

(from a Defence Force father with two young children.)

“From my perspective P.E.T. assists significantly in dealing with some of the difficulties associated with service life. As a parent, after extended absences it is difficult re-integrating into family life and re-adapting to the role of a parent. This re-integration can be frustrating and lead to conflict both amongst parents and with the children.

P.E.T provides a systematic and consistent approach to parenting to 'fall back on' when returning after an extended absence.  Thus I would envisage with an understanding of the P.E.T system, adaption to family life after an extended period would be far less stressful that otherwise might be the case. 

From the children's perspective, the absence of one or both parents for extended periods and the readjustment to new schools and friends at posting time can be very difficult to cope with. 

P.E.T provides for an environment of open communication amongst family members that will encourage children to discuss the difficulties they encounter, minimising the stress of absence and relocation.

On occasion where the stress gets 'too much,' children may resort to anger and aggression to deal with their problems.  P.E.T assists by providing children with alternate, constructive mechanisms to resolve difficult situations.”

Improving Relationships Between Adult Children and Their Parents

How P.E.T. Helped a Parent Confront their Parent – and Maintain the Relationship.

(from a father of two young children.)

This is a story relayed by a P.E.T. participant - a father of two young children - after just four weeks of the eight-week course.

Ray was a father of two young children. Ray’s father Tom travelled from his hometown to stay with Ray’s family for the weekend. 

On the first day of the weekend they went out for a picnic and swim.  On the way home the children, being tired, were loud and crying. Grandad lost it.

“You need to discipline those children!! You let them get away with too much. They just have to learn to stop!”

There was a frozen silence for the rest of the trip.  Once home, the grandfather went into the lounge room, and virtually threatened to leave. 

Ray vacillated about what to do or say.  He was very angry with his father – a lifetime of stored emotions had erupted inside him.  He went to try and talk to Tom, but could only manage to get to the door of the lounge room before retreating to another room, where he’d think about how to confront his father. After a while he summoned the courage to walk through the door to face his Dad.

The P.E.T. course teaches confrontation skills in the form of I-Messages, which we had covered the week before this particular scene. Before talking to his father, Ray formulated a careful I-Message.

“I was shocked and hurt by what you said in the car. I would like us to sit down and talk about this parenting course that I’m doing, and why I’m doing it”. Tom looked taken aback, and instead of storming out, sat down and listened.

Ray told his Dad why he was doing the P.E.T. parenting course.  He said that things had been getting worse and worse, that he was feeling stressed and yelling a lot, and he didn’t want to have a household like that. 

He said to his father,

“That’s how I remember it being when I was growing up, and I don’t want to do the same thing to my kids.” 

They continued to talk together, for over an hour. Ray endeavoured to explain what the P.E.T. course involved, and why it was so important to him. 

Towards the end, Tom said,

“I don’t understand half of what you’ve said, but if it’s what you want, then that’s OK”.

Ray reflected that this was a very different outcome to what could have happened, had he not used his newly acquired PET skills. He maintained his relationship with his father – even becoming closer, while managing to say things he’d wanted to say for the past twenty years.

Improving the Relationship with My Mother after 25 Years

“Thank you SO much [for the course]! I am sooo appreciative of both Thomas Gordon's work and your presentation of it!

I wanted to let you know that it led to a wonderful breakthrough for me! I have been aware for years that there is stuff between my mother and me, and that we are entangled. In fact I had just had a conversation with her about my need to differentiate, grow up and step out of the entanglement. She wasn't thrilled, but she understood the developmental aspects.

In talking with her recently, and feeling all the tangled feelings arising again I suddenly realised: "Our family is in everyone else's business. We all take responsibility for each other's problems in exactly all the unhelpful ways we were discussing in PET."

It's really helping me think about how I can be with my mother, to not take responsibility for her difficulties, but to take responsibility for my own life and needs and how to support her (through active listening) to take responsibility for her experiences.

It feels clearer, like I can get a glimpse of being able to keep myself and allow her to be herself and break our old tangled cycles.

I just really wanted to thank you!! And let you know that I think this might hold a very important key for changes I have been trying to make for 25 years!!”

Conclusion

No matter what reason brings a parent or carer to a P.E.T. parenting class, all are committed to providing the best emotional environment possible for bringing up their children.  They are seeking a peaceful family, and positive outcomes for their children into their adult lives.  Their stories, relayed over decades, are a testament to the effectiveness of respectful parenting skills in shaping positive family relationships - for life.

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved 

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