“I understand.”

Family parentingHow many of you have yearned to hear those two simple words from a family member, a friend, or a colleague?

How many of you as parents have said those words to your children?

We’ve been speaking with individuals from across the world, raised with P.E.T., Parent Effectiveness Training, a program developed in 1962 by Dr. Thomas Gordon, founder of Gordon Training International, to learn how the P.E.T. skills affect people in real life.

What we learned in the following interview touched our hearts – and it shows how sometimes everything changes once we feel understood.

In our first blog in a series from EZ, we talked with P.E.T. Kid and Parent, EZ. Here’s his true-life, step-by-step example of how he used the P.E.T. skills to find the real root of a problem – and come to understand – his teenage son.

Sheryl: Can you think of an example of using the P.E.T. skills with your children? When a problem comes up, how do you handle it?

EZ: Yeah, I have one. My middle son, he’s quite the athlete. He’s a swimmer and a water polo player, and he loves his sports. He’s very good, a varsity champ and all that kind of stuff. This year both he and his coaches noticed that he seems to have lost interest in the game. Kind of late to practice, the usual stuff. He’s not highly participatory.

So, through a bunch of Active Listening and trying to get the bottom of it all, we found all the things that maybe we thought were the reason, weren’t. It took a lot of effort to find out that what was really going on, was he didn’t feel that the seniors on his team liked him and he didn’t feel it was the inclusive, social, fraternal experience that he had been having his whole life with his other teams.

But it took Active Listening and vulnerability for him to get to the point where he basically said, “I don’t think my friends like me that much.” That’s not the first thing that was going to come out of his mouth. It was always about, “The practices are too early,” or, “I have too much homework,” and it took a while to get really to the truth. The truth was buried underneath all that stuff you look at first. The truth is that he didn’t have a bond with his teammates outside of the pool, so he was less excited to go to the away games and stay in a hotel and all that. He didn’t feel included.

And so I think without sort of pushing deeper to find the root cause, we would’ve wasted all of our time trying to fix things that weren’t the problem.   

S: Can you give me an idea of what you said? You said it took a while to actually get to this point where you found the core reason. What were some of the things that you did and said to get to that point?

E: Some of it was probably on accident. You try certain things. You try the first ones, like, “Hey, I’ll drive you to practice.” And then when you see those things not working, it’s like, “Okay, this is deeper.” I can’t really put my finger on exactly what was said, but I think the way it revealed itself was by offering another solution that actually exposed the problem.

For example, he wasn’t feeling connected with his friends, right? Well we didn’t know that yet, but we started saying, like, “Hey, why don’t we have your friends over and we’ll do a pizza party after the game,” or whatever, and starting to see that there was no interest in that. And then it was like, “Well, why wouldn’t you want to have your friends over after the champ’s game?” It kind of forced him to say, “Well, because I don’t think they like me.”

I wouldn’t have guessed that. We had to offer a situation and when it was noticed that that was uncomfortable for him, that made your eyebrow rise a little bit.

S: And what happened then? You found out what the problem was, and what happened then?

E: Well, I think it was more just an admission. Like, “Okay, now I understand. Now we understand what’s going on here. Now can we fix that?”  So there were a bunch of discussions and ideas. The solution was that there really wasn’t a solution. You can’t make somebody feel a connection with somebody.

So the solution was, “I understand.”   

If I wasn’t feeling connected to a group of people, I wouldn’t be as motivated to be so rah-rah-rah about the team. You can’t make them like you, so “Why don’t you just fulfill your role on the team throughout the rest of the season?”

He loves the game. So, focus on the stuff that he likes, play hard, stay in shape, feel good. He has a great relationship with his coach. We started talking about how it’s important to see this through for college, to kind of highlight the benefit of the things that he likes and just accept that this isn’t the year where he’s going to be going to the movies with all of his buddies on the team. And that’s okay. That’s okay. Next year might be different.   

So it’s kind of a combination of all that stuff. It’s the Active Listening, it’s the iceberg (The Iceberg Theory suggests that often a deeper emotion, below the surface, is the source of a problem.  For more information, go here.

This iceberg was growing; we had to figure out what was going on, because at the end of day he wants to play and we want him to play, so…

S: What happened during the rest of the season?

E: He was just like, “Yeah, you’re right.” It kind of took the pressure off of him. Before there was always this pressure. Social pressure. And once I think he got his parents’ approval, instead of us pushing it, and we just said, “Hey, just have fun. Have fun with the game. You’re 16 years old. You don’t have to connect with everything 100%. Let’s just have fun and that’s okay.” And then water polo wasn’t a chore or a punishment anymore. Not a punishment, but it wasn’t under the microscope as much, and I think it just made it more enjoyable for all of us.

“It made it more enjoyable for all of us.”

How would you have handled this situation?

We all have problems. Getting to the root of them – and coming to a resolution that everyone involved is happy with – can sometimes seem next to impossible. But, as shown in this example, it can be done!

We can come to understand one another.

Next week, in our third and final installment of EZ’s story, he will share a very personal example of how the P.E.T. skills can help – even with major life issues…like drug use …with a teenager no less.

(This interview is part of a continuing series focusing on learning the real-world effects of being raised with the Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) skills.  To read prior interviews, you can go here.

Learn more about P.E.T