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PTA Coffee Break: Building communication with children

January 22, 2013|By Kate Rogers
  • Annemike Rogers, Krista Shaw, Linda Schmidt and Stacie Shonfeld attend the recent PTA Coffee Break meeting at Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. Meike Lemmens spoke about the model of communication between parents and children.
Annemike Rogers, Krista Shaw, Linda Schmidt and Stacie… (Coastline Pilot )

Last Wednesday at the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, PTA's Coffee Break welcomed Meike Lemmens to speak about Thomas Gordon's Model of Communication as it pertains to the relationship between parents and children. Meike is certified as a trainer in Parent Effectiveness Training, or PET, which has been around since 1962. The original book has been translated into 43 languages.

Despite the fact that PET has been around for 50 years, 75 parents and educators not only listened, but actively participated during a very lively morning. First, Lemmens defined behaviors as the primary unit we as parents are trying to influence, and defined them as that which can "be photographed or recorded." Audience members offered examples of various behaviors they would like to change and those they would like to reinforce in their children.

Lemmens then demonstrated the fundamentals of delivering a "Confrontational I-message," which contains an identification of an undesirable behavior and how that impacts the emotional world of the parent. For example, "I feel it's unfair if you leave your dishes on the table and I have to clean them up." The behavior — leaving the dishes on the table — is irrefutable, as is the way it makes the parent feel. The elegance of this approach is its simplicity and underlying truthfulness, which seeks only to share and not to judge or shame, and invites the child to empathize with their parent and come up with a solution to the problem; in this case to clear the table and help clean up.

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Similar communications can also be used to reinforce desirable behaviors, or so-called "relationship building I-messages." Unlike simple praise, which, as Lemmens pointed out, can sometimes be received as belittling to the child (think if your husband said "Good Job" when you emptied the dishwasher), this kind of I-message actually honors the efforts of the child and reinforces a strong relationship with the parent. "I feel so proud when I see you helping your sister with her homework." Again, it is truthful and clear, and reinforces an atmosphere of respect.

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