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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 EducationUniversity of Montana – For tip sheets and resources:

  2. Why a Workshop on Working with Parents? • It’s easy to be afraid of (or angry at) parents – both of which interfere with our effectiveness • 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. A Way of Being with Parents • The Principles • Empathic understanding • Radical acceptance • Collaboration • Summary: Listen before you educate

  4. Empathy • Two forms of empathy with parents • General – It’s hard to be a parent; parents are judged • Specific – Clean your room story

  5. 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

  6. 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.” • Counselor Return: “Thanks for being so honest about what you’re thinking. Lots of people believe in spanking and I’m glad to have you be straight with me about your beliefs.”

  7. Radical Acceptance Follow-Up • Parent Response: “Yeah. Okay.” • Counselor Return: “Now 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.”

  8. Practicing Radical Acceptance • Audience participation – Volunteer example • Thank you . . . because . . . • Practice with a partner

  9. Collaboration • How do we facilitate collaboration? • Collaboration as an attitude: Not knowing or understanding too quickly • Holding back your pearls of wisdom • “Expert” dance

  10. Self-Preparation • Preparing for button-pushing • Know the parent education literature • Responding to questions about your credentials • Self-disclosure: How much to talk about your own children

  11. Initial Contact, Connection, and Assessment • Meet, greet, and comfort (Mary Cover Jones and her therapeutic cookies): What do you use? • Confidentiality and the role induction (parents won’t know how to act with you) • Sharing power through collaboration • Honoring the parent as expert: “No one knows . . .” • Obtaining (or providing) a problem description

  12. Initial Contact, Connection, and Assessment • Expressing support, offering compliments, and using universality • Identifying goals • Listening for backwards behavior modification

  13. Four General Therapeutic Strategies • Focus on parent strengths and using compliments • Tune in to parallel process . . . and role model appropriate responses • Collaborative goal setting • Primacy of social interactions (ADHD, Bipolar, etc.)

  14. Understanding the Parent Influence Model • What parents want • Parents generally want to know how to be a positive force or influence in their children’s lives . . . So their children turn out relatively happy and free (e.g., not in prison)

  15. Approaches to Power/Influence • Direct Power • Indirect Power • Problem-Solving Power • Relationship Power

  16. Practical Parenting Interventions • The new attitude (foundation) • Grandma’s Rule or Behavior Mod (direct power) • Character feedback (indirect power) • Mutual problem-solving (problem-solving power) • Seven magic choice theory words (relationship power): “I want you . . . but it’s your choice . . .

  17. Closing Comments • What will you remember? • What will you try out?

  18. For Free Parenting Tip Sheets and Homework Assignments go to: •,descCd-DOWNLOAD.html • To access 10 tip sheets and/or “follow” John’s blog go to or

  19. 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

  20. 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