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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 EducationUniversity of Montana – For tip sheets and resources:

  2. Why a Workshop on Working with Parents? • 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. 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

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

  5. The Foundation • The foundation for working effectively with parent 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

  6. A Way of Being with Parents • The Principles • Empathic understanding • Radical acceptance • Collaboration • Summary: Listen before you educate

  7. Empathy • Two forms of empathy with parents • General – It’s hard to be a parent; parents are judged • Specific – Clean your room story • Some parents will REALLY NEED to tell you a parenting story

  8. 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

  9. 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.”

  10. Radical Acceptance Follow-Up • 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.”

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

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

  13. In Sum: The Philosophy • Because parents are vulnerable . . . • We are supportive, positive, and validating • We work to see the positive goals and love underneath anger and imperfect parenting • We join with even the most difficult parents to help them support their children’s education

  14. 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]

  15. 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 • Share power through collaboration • Honoring the parent as expert • If needed, obtain and provide a problem description (homework, classroom behavior)

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

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

  18. Understanding the Parent-Teacher-Adult 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)

  19. Approaches to Power/Influence • Direct Power: Behavior modification, etc. • Indirect Power: Modeling, manipulating • Problem-Solving Power: Mutual problem-solving • Relationship Power: Special time

  20. Practical Parenting Interventions • The new attitude (eliminate the dread) • Grandma’s Rule and passionate rewards and boring punishment (direct power) • Character feedback (indirect power) • Seven magic choice theory words (relationship power): “I want you . . . but it’s your choice . . . • Mutual problem-solving (problem-solving power)

  21. Video Clip 2 • Watch for: • Who’s talking now • What parent-child dynamics are being addressed • Mutual problem-solving

  22. Closing Comments • What will you remember? • What will you try out? • You’re the kind of teachers/counselors

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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