Nobody hands you an instruction manual when you become a parent.
If you’re lucky, a flurry of well-meaning friends will probably lend you a selection of parenting books, each one containing fascinating yet vastly conflicting advice, leaving you with less answers than you had before.
More often than not, most of us are all just desperately trying to keep our child alive whilst making the rest up as we go along. Parenting is all about muddling through. But wouldn’t it be nice to feel like we’ve occasionally got this?
Why enrol on a Parenting Course?
We have a bright, wild, beautiful and spirited little girl. Like many, motherhood has posed various challenges for me and for some time I’ve wanted to boost my confidence as a parent by understanding more about how children operate and how we can best meet her needs as well as ours.
Partly due to my profession, I’ve always been particularly sensitive to the type of language that’s used when speaking to people and since becoming a parent I’ve been especially aware of how we communicate to our little girl.
Before she turned two she started to disagree, push back and make her specific needs known. We wanted to find a way to converse without reverting to discipline or parenting techniques such as manipulation and domination (star charts and the Naughty Step) – outcomes of each pose challenges to the parent-child relationship.
Sifting Through the Noise
There are so many books out there to choose from! Where to begin. To me there was only one technique that seemed balanced, straightforward and fair. It’s called Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) and in December I graduated from a course hosted by a wonderful coach and consultant called Andrea Rippon who teaches the technique here in Norfolk. (For those who live further afield, Andrea can support you online (link this to Services)
Andrea’s taught me before. I completed two introductory courses in Person-Centred Counselling Skills and Theory, through her business Stronger Relationships Ltd.
In a Nutshell (or should that be conker?)
Let me begin with the concept that left its mark on me the most: There’s no such thing as bad behaviour. All behaviour is communication.
Secondly, what I loved about this method was that it was fair. The parenting approach is not authoritarian or submissive; it is authoritative, assertive, respectful and kind.
It is also evidence based. The central goal is to provide communication skills and strategies that can help parents have happy, healthy and mutually satisfying relationships with their children, whether they are toddlers or teenagers.
It is based on the principle that humans want to thrive, belong and do the right thing by others. They want to be themselves AND fit into the world. Our behaviour, as a form of communication, tries to tell others what we need in order to achieve this. But we are not always skilled at identifying our needs, let alone communicating them, especially when we are children. This is when problems can arise.
By using the PET Behaviour Window™, I can identify who has the problem in the relationship: my daughter, me or both of us. Understanding problem ownership has helped me to select the most appropriate form of communication to address it. In every situation, the idea is that I facilitate the process by which problems are owned and solved, appropriately, by one or both of us.
One of the skills is Confronting I-messages, which I use in situations where I have a problem with my child’s behaviour. These are brilliant!
They strip away all labeling: You’re lazy, you’re unkind, you’re messy and you’re naughty. Instead, it encourages me to focus on what I see and hear in the behaviour that is causing the problem, how it has a negative effect on me and how that makes me feel. By communicating this in simple language, without blame, my daughter can experience things from my perspective. This allows her to change her behaviour to fit in with me, if she wants to (or rather, if it doesn’t cause her a problem).
In a nutshell, Andrea’s PET course is about awareness and communication, with some psychology thrown in, to help understand the context.
PET Teaches You How to Handle Every Situation
There’s so much more to it than this but in short, the approach offers a communication skill/strategy for every situation:
When your child has a problem – use Active Listening skills to help them identify what they need and how they might solve their own problem. (For those problems where there is no solution, the aim is to achieve better coping strategies.)
When the parent has a problem with a child’s behaviour – use a Confronting I-message
When both the child and parent have a problem – use win/win conflict resolution and/or values collision strategies. The aim is to find solutions where everyone can win: Parent and Child.
When neither the parent nor the child has a problem (precious time!) – use I-messages to build the relationship and prevent problems from happening in the first place.
Did I mention that this technique can also be applied to ANY relationship in your life? I’ve tried it on my partner, parents and colleagues. I won’t go into specifics but it worked!
What I learnt
One of the greatest skills I left with was not only how to use the Behaviour Window but also I had a chance to brush up on my Active Listening skills. Mastering this opens up so much! Since using Active Listening Skills more, my little girl has been sharing more about her inner workings and her day, how she’s feeling and why she’s behaving in a certain way.
The course also reminded me about the importance of mindfulness. I used to have a very strong mindfulness and meditation practice before my daughter was born, which has since slipped. Yet as a parent, if you can use mindfulness as part of your relationship with your child, not only are you more aware of what’s really going on for you or your child but you’re also able to take a moment to pause before you react to a challenging behaviour.
On my feedback form to Andrea, one of the things I said included something like: “I want to be just like you!”. For me, this was what was so extra brilliant about the course. Yes, the method is proven but Andrea is such an inspirational person. Very wise, straight forward and calm, with a terrific sense of humour.
I left the course feeling more confident in my abilities and more resourceful in our parenting approach.
I wrote the below after watching a You Tube video about Donald Winnacott. He didn’t invent PET but he was a very famous paediatrician and psychoanalyst. who had a very amazing stance on parenting. He basically said, hey guys, don’t worry about being the perfect parent, you might end up doing more harm if you try too hard, instead, be real, be true and just strive to be good enough.
The Good Enough Parents
after Donald Winnacott
The happiness of humankind does not
depend on Donald Trump’s ability to
conquer carbon emissions or malaria
but on the way we parent our children
parents don’t need to be perfect, just OK.
Remember your child is fragile, helpless
fighting to simply find words to stay alive
if you fail her, it must feel to her as though
the wild beasts will gobble her up whole
Allow your child’s anger to expend itself
If a baby wails, be unruffled and unheard
this strengthens what she believes to be true
is not necessarily real. Be her still ocean.
Make sure your child isn’t too obedient
we should be very scared of good children
Adults who are dead inside are those who’ve
been made “good” way before their time.
those with chaotic parents, will overthink
those with depressed parents, will be too jovial
giving no time to process their own melancholy
Parenting is more vital than being a president.
don’t get offended when something bad emerges
from your child: tune out of yourself, empathise.
prevent the walking wounded who may have
visible success but are not true beneath the skin.
How to enrol
The course took us through Thomas Gordon’s Behaviour Window ™, the full set of communication and conflict-resolution skills and all the principles that underpin the PET approach. Andrea runs very small groups, so sign up if you’re interested in working with her.
Post written by Leah Larwood