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How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen

How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen

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How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen

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  1. How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen Working Effectively with Parents John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.Department of Counselor Education, University of Montana – Tip sheets and resources:

  2. Why a Workshop on Working with Parents? • Opening survey • Maybe . . . • It’s easy to be afraid of (or angry at) parents • Parents have special needs and interests • Parents can be very critical consumers • Parents sometimes say things that throw us off our helping/counseling game (Bite-back)

  3. Another Reason Why • As Linda Braun of Families First Boston used to say: Because children are the future, parents are our focus.

  4. Workshop Overview • This workshop is rated “PG” • A blend of personal discoveries and evidence • Caveats and excuses • This is YOUR workshop • Talking and not talking • Communicate respectfully • Opening survey • We will never get finished

  5. Opening Story • The Portland VA Hospital – 1984 • Basic common sense conclusion • One of the best ways to provoke people into misbehaving or into behaving in threatening ways is to ________________.

  6. The Foundation • The foundation for working effectively with parents boils down to using your common relationship sense • Avoid being too bossy • Avoid being insulting • Avoid telling people they’re being stupid or silly • Avoid backing people into corners • Be respectful . . . And DO NOT live by the Satanic Golden Rule

  7. A Way of Being with Parents • Instead of following the SGR, use THESE PRINCIPLES • Empathic understanding • Radical acceptance • Collaboration • Positive feedback and validation • Because you are a: R_ _ _ M_ _ _ _

  8. Quick Summary So Far • Listen before you educate

  9. Empathy • Two forms of empathy with parents • General – It’s hard to be a parent; parents worry about judgment . . . in the grocery story, by in-laws, etc. [They feel insecure and indignant] • Specific – Clean your room story • Some parents will REALLY NEED to tell you a parenting story

  10. Radical Acceptance as Attitude • Radical Acceptance as an Attitude (from DBT) “I completely accept you as you are and am fully committed to helping you change for the better” • We use this especially when parents say something extreme

  11. Radical Acceptance as Skill • Parent Volley: “I know it’s not popular, but I believe in spanking. When I was a kid, if I talked back I’d be picking myself up off the floor. Kids don’t have any discipline these days and as a parent, I have a right to parent my kids any way I want.” • Teacher/Counselor Return: “Thanks for being so honest about what you’re thinking. Lots of people believe in spanking and I’m glad you’re being straight with me about your beliefs.”

  12. What Helps You Develop an Accepting Attitude? • Believing in the usefulness of openness . . . • Understanding that some parents will posture . . . • Knowing the data on MI (and techniques like concession)

  13. Radical Acceptance Follow-Up • In the previous example, this is what happened: • Parent Response: “Yeah. Okay.” • Teacher/Counselor Return: “But I’m not all that positive about the picking yourself up off the floor thing.” • Parent Response: “Oh no. I didn’t mean I think that’s right.”

  14. Practicing Radical Acceptance • Group participation – Volunteer example • Thank you . . . because . . .

  15. Practicing Radical Acceptance II • Practice with a partner • Case Example: Parent (speaking to the consultant about her adolescent son). • “I just can’t accept his homosexuality. I won’t tolerate sinful behavior in my home.” • Three Minute Practice

  16. Collaboration as Attitude • How do we bring collaboration into the room? • Not knowing or understanding too quickly (holding back your pearls of wisdom) • “Expert” dance with a parent as your partner

  17. Collaboration as Technique • How do we facilitate collaboration? • Tell the parent(s): “You’re the best expert on your child and your family • Before offering your ideas, ask permission • Offer suggestions using an experimental attitude and mind set • Share “ideas” and not a definitive new plan

  18. Positive Feedback and Validation • Watch for the opportunity to give positive feedback and validation • You really know your child well • You’ve been working on this a long time and have tried lots of different strategies • Your child is lucky to have you as a parent • Look under the anger and posturing • Love reframe story

  19. In Sum: The Philosophy • We begin with empathic listening • We move to collaboration • We make sure to be radically accepting • We offer compliments and validation • We do all this so we can get to the main point: • Providing parents with specific parenting tips or guidance.

  20. Philosophy in Action: The Practice • Self-Preparation • Initial Contact, Connection, and Assessment • Techniques

  21. Self-Preparation • Preparing for button-pushing: Just like with challenging students • Responding to questions about your credentials or competence • Self-disclosure: When and how much and what kind? [Joining, empathic]

  22. Initial Contact, Connection, and Assessment • Meet, greet, and comfort (Mary Cover Jones: What did she use to extinguish fear?): What do you use? • Role induction: As needed, explain the terrain • If needed, obtain and provide a problem description (homework, classroom behavior) • Honor the parent as expert by asking for the parent’s best explanation for the problem

  23. Initial Contact, Connection, and Assessment • Expressing support, offering compliments, and using universality • Identifying goals (ask permission to write them down) • Listening for backward behavior modification

  24. Video Clip 1: Listening+ • Watch for: • Anything that seems comforting or reassuring • Complimenting • Goal-setting • Parent-child dynamics (e.g., backward behavior modification)

  25. Technique 1 • A New Attitude • Looking forward to the problem (like nightmares)

  26. Technique 2 • Whispering and Plans • The Whispering Story

  27. Technique 3 • Grandma’s Rule • When you, then you . . .

  28. Techniques 4 & 5 • Use Passionate Praise and • Boring Punishment • Emma the Great

  29. Technique 6 • Special time • You be my little brother

  30. Technique 7 • Simultaneous empathy and limit-setting • Children at the fair

  31. Technique 8 • Mutual problem-solving • Vide clip 2 or story

  32. Technique 9 • Character feedback • Broccoli story

  33. Technique 10 • The Seven Magic Choice Theory Words • I want you . . . but it’s your choice

  34. Bonus Technique 11 • Everyday connection: • That Dog Don’t Hunt story

  35. Closing Comments • What will you remember? • What will you try out? • You’re the kind of counselors who . . .

  36. For Free Parenting Tip Sheets and Homework Assignments go to: • The best spot for these is: • John’s blog at

  37. Additional Info: Two of John’s Books

  38. Book Info • Go to: •

  39. A Few References • Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 539-579. • Holcomb-McCoy, C., & Bryan, J. (2010). Advocacy and Empowerment in parent consultation: Implications for theory and practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 88, 259-268. • Johnson, D. C., Harrison, B. C., Burnett, M. F., & Emerson, P. (2003). Deterrents to participation in parenting education. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 31, 403-424. • Lassally, R. (2009). True mom confessions: Real moms get real. New York: Penguin Group

  40. A Few More References • Murphy, J. J. (2008). Solution-focused counseling in middle and high schools. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. • Sommers-Flanagan, J. (2011). How to listen so parents will talk and talk so parents will listen. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. • Sommers-Flanagan, J. (2007). Single-session consultations for parents: A preliminary investigation. The Family Journal 15, 24-29. • Sommers-Flanagan, R., & Sommers-Flanagan, J. (2003). Problem child or quirky kid. Minneapolis: Free Spirit. • Vazquez, C. I. (2004). Parenting with pride Latino Style. New York: Harper-Collins