Practicing What I Preach: P.E.T. Interview with Lance Johnson, father of two and employee of Gordon Training International

This, our last parenting blog for 2019, is quite simply, awesome. Lance has been working at GTI since 2011. An essential part of working at GTI is learning and using the Gordon Model with one another, with clients, vendors and so on. After a couple of years here, Lance started a pretty serious relationship with a woman named Kristy. But as it happens, some issues popped up that troubled him and he decided to test out his Gordon Model skills with her and the result is….well….read for yourself.

Here’s the interview between Sheryl Wilde (who also works at GTI) and Lance—we hope you enjoy it!

Sheryl: How have the Gordon Model skills affected your life?

Lance: They’ve helped me tremendously just in the few years that I’ve known about them, since I’ve started working at Gordon Training. I think the main thing is I’ve learned more about myself and the way I used to communicate. These new methods show me how to be a more effective communicator with my wife, my kids, and everyone I come in contact with.

Sheryl: Are you using the skills with your boys now – even though they’re quite young?

Lance: Yes, most definitely. What’s great is that my wife uses the skills, too. So I think it really helps that we’re on the same page and the boys see that we’re both communicating with them the same way. That way there’s no confusion as far as what they’re going to expect from us and it will make it easier for them to learn and use these skills as well.

Sheryl: Can you give me any examples of how you’re using the skills with them?

Lance: Well, I think it’s important to know the Behavior Window and figure out where the person is in the window. Then being able to apply a certain set of skills depending on where they are. Our boys are three and a half and two years old, so right now we’re using a lot of Active Listening and I-Messages. And my wife and I have seen that they prove to be very, very effective.

Sheryl: I wonder if you can give me any specific examples of how you use the Active Listening and the I-Messages.

Lance: Well, our older son, he’s three and a half, he’s in preschool right now. And at dinnertime I always like to talk about his day, and just see how his day went, what new things he learned at school. What’s great is that his preschool posts pictures and videos on Instagram so we can see what he was doing that day. Then I can bring that up at dinnertime and say, “Oh, I see you were learning about butterflies today. It looks like you were really enjoying it. What else can you tell me about them?” It really helps opens up the conversation to where he can tell me about it.

But there are some times when he’ll let me know something bad happened, like one of his friends didn’t want to play with him. So I think Active Listening really comes in handy then where you can say, “Oh yeah, it really made you upset that your friend didn’t want to play with you and just wanted some space. But all you wanted to do was run around with him.” Things like that. And he’ll say, “Yeah, I just really wanted to play with him so it made me sad.” So it really helps when you can talk to him about his day and really get him to share more instead of just, “How was your day today?” “Oh, it was good.” And then that’s it.

With our two-year-old, he’s still learning how to form sentences and say certain words, so it can be challenging sometimes to understand what he’s trying to say. I think that’s when Active Listening is really helpful. There are times when I don’t get it right at first and he’ll shake his head or become upset that I’m not accurately repeating what he’s trying to say. So I’ll keep trying to relay back what I think he’s trying to say like “Oh, you’re really upset because you wanted that toy and he’s playing with it.” Once I do get it right, he’ll usually say “Yes!” and sometimes get this big smile on his face! That’s really neat to see. And I know he feels a strong connection to me because of that.

Sheryl: Do you see any differences in how you’re raising your kids than your friends or other family members?

Lance: Yes, I definitely can. We have some friends and family members who have a more authoritarian or a more permissive approach to parenting. In both approaches I can see that either the children or the parents aren’t getting some type of need met and are not being fully heard or understood and the relationship is suffering because of it. With the Gordon Model, you really strengthen your relationships by using good communication and making sure everyone is respected and gets their needs met.

Sheryl: Can you give me an example of the kinds of differences you see in families using authoritarian or permissive parenting styles?

Lance: Yes, there’s one family that comes to mind. They have two teenaged boys and both parents are very much authoritarian type parents. And whenever we see them, there’s usually some type of argument which makes for an uncomfortable situation for everyone around them. And you can tell that the teenagers just don’t respond well to the way that they’re being talked to by their parents. They will yell at them things like, “Get off your phone!” or “Stop doing that!” and then there is usually some type of threat or punishment. Sometimes the teenagers will change their behavior. But you can tell they don’t like it. Other times they don’t change their behavior and might even do the opposite of what their parents are telling them to do. And that just escalates the conflict further. Now that I have kids and have been using the Gordon Model, I have become more aware of different styles of parenting, and believe even more than ever that the Gordon Model really works.

Sheryl: Can you give me some examples of how you use the skills?

Lance: We use a lot of I-Messages; from cleaning up the toys in their playroom, struggles at bedtime, to throwing food on the floor. I-Messages are used pretty regularly with my wife and I.

When you really formulate a good I-Message that includes their behavior, the effect, and how it makes you feel, you can see it really work. We have a lot of friends that have children around the same age who use some type of threat and punishment. They’ll say something like, “Pick up these toys, or else you’re going in time out.” Either the kid does not do it and the situation escalates or they do it but only because of the fear of punishment.

Sheryl: Can you give me an example of a time you used the skills – what did you say or do?

Lance: If they do leave toys on the ground, I’ll say something like, “Hey buddy, when you leave these toys on the ground, someone could walk through here and step on them, and it’ll really hurt them.” So when they really hear the reasoning behind why they need to clean them up, then they can understand that and do it. Rather than just ordering them to clean up their toys. Now they’ll usually just put them away so they can play with something else or clean them up at the end of the day.

Sheryl: Do they usually respond right away to your I-Messages? Or is it a process of learning?

Lance: I think at their age especially, I think it’s a process. They’re still developing, they’re still learning things and how their behavior affects others. So it does take time and sometimes sending even stronger I-Messages to get your point across. When they were younger kids, I would use more nonverbal type I-Messages. If I was holding them and they began hitting, kicking or something like that, I would set them down so they would see and know that I didn’t like that. Rather than say, “Oh, I don’t like when you hit me, because it doesn’t feel good.” They wouldn’t be able to comprehend something like that yet.

Sheryl: Do you see differences between how you’re raising your kids versus how you were raised?

Lance: Yes, I can. My parents divorced when I was about eight years old. So my siblings and I split up our time with my dad and my mom and they used two totally different approaches with us. My dad was definitely more of an authoritarian style parent and my mom was very permissive. So there usually weren’t many conflicts with her because she would always just kind of give up and let us do what we want. And looking back, I can see that there were times that my siblings and I would take advantage of that.

But with my dad, it was the opposite. There were definitely a lot more conflicts with him, where he would use punishments and threats in disciplining us. So it was hard sometimes going from one approach to the other. But I think I’ve learned a lot from those approaches and know what not to do with our kids.

Sheryl: How do you think it affected you, especially with your dad, the authoritarian…

Lance: I actually have a really good relationship with him now and we have been able to communicate a lot better. But at the time, I would do things behind his back, or not tell him things, or even lie, just so you could get out of being punished. But in a way it has been helpful to me to see how I want to be different with my boys.

Sheryl: Can you give me an example of how your mom and dad handled issues with you and your brothers and sisters, versus how you and Kristy handle issues with your boys?

Lance: My dad would use a lot of discipline like grounding, taking toys or games away and even spanking. Kristy grew up in the same type of household. Her father was more of an authoritarian parent and she experienced that as well. So I think it was great that after Kristy and I met, even before kids, we talked about how we would want to be if we were parents and how differently we would do things. And since then, since we’ve learned about the Gordon Model, it’s been wonderful to be able to implement the skills and use them with the boys and see those differences between how they’re being raised versus how we were raised as kids.

Sheryl: What would you say have been the benefits of using the skills?

Lance: I think the biggest benefit is having just really open, trusting and strong relationships with Kristy and the boys. I also think that it’s really beneficial for the boys to see Kristy and I communicate this way and be a good example of the skills to use in all their present and future relationships.

Sheryl: Have there been any “ah-ah” moments when something happened and you thought, “Yeah, these skills really work.”

Lance: Yeah. I would say we’ve had a few of those. But the one that comes to mind just happened recently. Our older son really likes to go on errands with Kristy or I, and just really likes to help and be included in doing things. The other day, the boys were playing with some toys in the play area. Kristy needed to run to the store really quick to get an ingredient for dinner. She came by and told him that she was going to go to the store and that she’d be right back. And he seemed okay with that and continued playing.

But once she shut the door, it’s almost like he snapped out of it and saw that he’s missing this opportunity to run an errand with his mom and ran to the door crying. He’s figured out how to unlock the door and get outside so I had to quickly run over to the door and lock it by taking the key out of the deadbolt to basically keep him from going out and chasing her down the block. This upset him even more and he started screaming and crying.

So that was a great time to use some Active Listening with him. I got down next to him and just gave him a big hug and just started listening to him. “You really wanted to go with mom on this errand.” “You enjoy helping her pick out stuff and paying for them at the store.” “And you’re really upset that she left without you. “ And he was like, “Yeah, I’m really sad. I really wanted to be with her.” After doing that just a few times, you could see his emotional temperature coming down to where he began calming down by just being able to express himself and showing empathy with him.

By that time she was already coming back. She opened the door and he came up to her and said, “Mommy, I really wanted to go with you.” And she’s said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I told you I was leaving, but it sounds like after I left you really wanted to go with me. I’m sorry, I’ll make sure to ask you again next time if you want to do that.” And then he was fine after that. He was able to help her get all the ingredients together for dinner, and helped her cook, which he loves to do. So it was really neat to see just how some Active Listening can help in those situations by being understood and validate his feelings.

Sheryl: Have you had any difficulties or challenges in using the skills?

Lance: Yes. I think the biggest challenge for me and for Kristy is that we didn’t grow up with these skills. So we try not to fall back to the way we used to communicate and the way we used to handle situations. I think that has been the biggest challenge. But what’s great is that we continue to use them to where they are becoming second nature to us and you’re not even aware you’re using them.

Also, I used to think I was a good listener. But after learning these skills and especially Roadblocks, I realized that I used a lot of praising and reassuring when listening to someone. Now that I’m aware of those roadblocks, I can think of a better way to respond by Active Listening to them.

Sheryl: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with other parents about using the skills and how they might benefit their families and kids?

Lance: I’m just really thankful that my wife and I have been introduced to these skills. They really do work and really help in building strong, trusting, open relationships with your children, with your spouse, and with anyone that you come in contact with. I really feel that these skills should be learned by everyone to help bring more peace and love to this world that really needs it right now.

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