Shortly after I became a parent, I realized that a lot of my so-called “parental instinct” was in fact a mish-mash of idealism, imports from my education degree, common sense, reactions to how my parents treated me, and even some magazine psychology. Yet after reading a few parenting books, I realized that I was barely bothering to assimilate many suggestions into my repertoire because I didn’t trust them. They often swung between current trends just like fashions. I was on the lookout for a book grounded in ethics, a system that isn’t swayed by the tides of time, belief and subjective opinion.
I was drawn to Parent Effectiveness Training because Dr. Thomas Gordon writes about children’s civil rights, and the need for a Bill of Rights for our youth. Since the connection between a child’s upbringing and his/her emotional health as an adult has been established, Gordon asks parents to take responsibility for the quality of the parent/child relationship.
Authors of how-to books want to reach the masses, knowing their readers are at different levels of understanding. His targeted level is those parents who have not experienced healthy and constructive conflict resolution. If you’re familiar with I-statements and sharing power when resolving conflict, then some chapters may be redundant. But he does go into the psychological effects of different parenting styles and their corresponding approach to conflict.
According to Gordon, most parents fall into one of three categories:
winners (authoritarian parents),
losers (permissive parents),
and oscillators (parents who try to be easy-going until their children’s behavior becomes so unbearable, they revert to authoritarianism).
These three types tend to have a win/lose approach to conflict. The authoritarian method of resolving conflict is problematic because the parent creates and enforces the solution to the problem, which may lead to resentment, low motivation and low self-discipline on the part of the child. The passive method of resolving conflict, allowing the child to have his/her own way, can lead to wild, uncontrollable behavior with little inner control. Since there may be resentment on the part of the parent as they succumb to their child’s will, it often breeds insecurity within the child about the predictability of parental love.
Gordon writes that permissive parenting is the most difficult for children to cope with since passive-aggressive communication and mixed messages from parents can detrimentally affect a child’s psychological health. The parent/child relationship is one of the most intense; feelings cannot be hidden easily, and children can sense whether their parents are being genuine. Gordon states that parents try to be like gods instead of accepting their human limitations, for example, in expecting to accept all children equally regardless of temperament. This is unrealistic and not how we relate to adults. Realizing one’s inconsistencies leads to authenticity. Gordon advocates for parents to honestly explore and express their feelings. Some things that might get in the way of such honesty are unresolved childhood trauma, lack of acceptance of own feelings, or low tolerance for imperfections in self and others.
Gordon presents other ideas, such as:
- Active listening supporting children in understanding their feelings and teaching them to be problem-solvers;
- I-messages and how to talk so children will listen;
- Common win/lose modes of resolving conflict, and a new method of win/win.
In my experience, these strategies work, and in using them, a parent is likely to raise responsible, self-disciplined and co-operative children without fear, and with mutual consideration of needs.
Gordon advocates for the rights of children:
My own conviction is that as more people begin to understand power and authority more completely and accept its use as unethical, more parents will apply those understandings to adult-child relationships; will begin to feel that it is just as immoral in those relationships; and then will be forced to search for creative new nonpower methods that all adults can use with children and youth.
He asserts the case for an ethical standard in parenting. Yet he doesn’t explore either the personhood of children or moral standards in parenting enough to convince me that a parent could hold the standard of NAP parenting towards their child in the face of stressful mood or circumstance. He writes that the use of rewards and punishments is an abuse of parental power, which can certainly be true, but not necessarily. Yet the power differential in the parent/child relationship is a fact which, if acknowledged, can be used to develop creative strategies to negotiate with the child and create win/win situations that share power.
Overall, I recommend this book as it has some good tips on effective parenting.