PNDC Family Stories with Comments & Tips

When we remember the story, we recall the lesson …

…and so story has always been a profound vehicle for learning. I believe that a crucial way for people to begin to take in what it means to use Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is to read stories about how people have actually applied it in their own lives. I built my book around stories, even to the extent of putting in an index that lists every story in the entire book. Unless permission was given to use someone's real name, names have been changed to protect individual privacy.

While the first examples are about young children, all examples contain information relevant to young people of any age. I recommend reading the stories about the younger children even if you have teenagers. My goal is to be very specific in order to offer the greatest learning opportunities. You can go to the one you need at the moment or read them all. You can come back and review any story that helps you solve an issue that comes up and/or look for new stories. If you like, send us your own story and we'll consider using it. Below is the list of stories to select from:

2+ Year-Old Grabs Food from Dad's Plate

3-Year-Old Has Tantrum when Leaving Playmate

3-Year-Old Resists Doing Routine Activities

4-Year-Old Sets Bedtime Limit for Mom

4-Year-Old Fights over the Oar when Canoeing

5-Year-Old Asks Mom a Non-Defensive Question

7-Year-Old Tantrum about Homework

7-Year-Old Sibling Jealousy & Major Meltdown

11-Year-Old Doesn't Want to Do Chores

15-Year-Old Refuses to Wear Car Seat Belt

17-Year-Old Is Depressed and Demanding

2+ Year-Old Grabs Food from Dad's Plate

From Gloria, a MFT Therapist

I have been using the" If . . . Then" predictions with my granddaughter who will be 3 in a month. My technique is primitive but wildly effective.

Tessa loves bell peppers and the salad at our Christmas dinner had many peppers in it. She picked out the ones on her plate and then her mother gave her more. When she had chomped through those, she saw one on her Papa's plate and grabbed it and whacked it down on her plate. In the past, I would have said, Tessa, that is not nice, put Papa's pepper back." And she would have said "NO!" and we would have been stuck. Instead, I said, "If you want another pepper, then ask Papa politely and I am sure he will share with you." Within a nanosecond, that pepper was thwacked back down on Papa's plate and she was saying, "Papa can I have another pepper please?"

I wish I could show you or accurately describe the look on her face when I have been making the "If . . . Then" with just the simple facts of the situation. Her eyes are open wide, her facial muscles are relaxed and I swear that I can hear her neurons processing. Each time, she has chosen to do something sensible and sometimes her solution is even better than the thing I was thinking of. And it happens in nanoseconds. I would love to see how the brain is doing this.

PNDC Comments & Tips

What is the "If… Then" Prediction? It is a prediction (into the future) of the potential consequences if a child makes or does not make a certain choice so he/she can predict the outcome of her/his decisions. There are two forms of prediction.

Limit-Setting Prediction: The first form of is limit-setting, where we create the consequences and implement them ourselves.

For example, suppose Tessa's dad had said: "If you grab a pepper from my plate, then I will take it back. If you ask me for one, I'd be happy to share." Now Tessa can plan ahead, knowing what will happen if she makes the choice to grab or to ask.

Challenge-Choice Predictions: When we make a Challenge-Choice prediction, we are simply telling the child (or adult) what we think he/she will experience in life if he/she makes a certain decision or not. For example, "If you interrupt people, I think they might not want to listen to what you have to say. If you don't interrupt, I think they'll be more open to listening to you." In this case, we do not create or implement the consequences, other people do… life does.

Gloria, Tessa's grandma, made a Challenge-Choice prediction because she didn't create the consequence and implement it herself. She told Tessa what she thought Tessa's dad would do if she grabbed the pepper as compared to asking for it.

One Suggestion: The only suggestion I'd make is that I wouldn't say " … ask Papa politely and I am sure he will share with you." I don't want the child to think that asking politely always results in getting what she wants. Also, when predicting how others might respond, since we don't know for sure, we need to be more tentative. So I'd say, "ask Papa politely and I think he might share with you." Or, "be more likely to want to share with you."

Tessa's Response: While Tessa might have chosen to say "NO!" to asking her dad to share his peppers, the positive response she had is more common, even the first time an adult uses such a limit-setting prediction that outlines choice and consequence for a child. Here, even a child who is not yet three, was able to process the prediction and instantly change her behavior.

I have seen the look Gloria describes in her grandaughter. I never tire of it. I think it is a magical look, when the child shifts away from being demanding and opens up heart and mind. In such moments, the choices the child makes inherently contain the elements of respect and reciprocity, so positive energy and self-esteem radiate from the child's face.

3-Year-Old Has Tantrum when Leaving Playmate

A Second Story from Gloria, an MFT Therapist

I picked up Tessa, who is now 3 years old, from the house where she had been playing with her neighborhood best buddy, Sophia. She did not want to leave Sophia as they had been having a great time. We go to violin lessons every Monday and Tessa is usually excited about going. As she came down the steps she was protesting quietly at first and then with each step the protest got a bit louder and she began to cry. As I buckled her into her car seat she began to cry in earnest and then to wail. I took a deep breath and got into the car and started down the street thinking this is not going to go well.

I had just been listening again to some of the Taking the Power Struggle Out of Parenting CDs so I thought about what I would normally do and then about what your CDs say to do. Meanwhile the wailing continued. Any other time I would have said, "Tessa calm down. You love going to violin. Miss Julia will be very happy to see you. Please stop crying." Or something like that. Then, I thought why not try this new stuff out again? I must say that I was not expecting much as the crying had reached a fevered pitch. I took a deep breath and said, "Tessa, if you continue to cry, then you will just feel worse; if you take a deep breath, then you will feel better." The backseat went dead quiet IMMEDIATELY. I was shocked! When I started breathing again, a smile crept across my face. Tessa was quiet for the rest of the ride and actually had a good violin lesson.

PNDC Comments & Tips

Which Form of Prediction Was Used? Which form of prediction do you think Gloria used this time? It was another Challenge-Choice prediction. This time, the consequence wasn't even about what another person might do (Tessa's dad), it was about how Tessa might feel if she kept crying or if she took a deep breath instead.

One Suggestion: In this story, as in the first story, Gloria made her prediction absolute. If you cry you will feel worse. If you take a breath, you will feel better. Gloria may strongly believe that to be the case, and in fact, it turned out to be accurate for Tessa, but Gloria can't know for certain what will or won't make another person feel better or worse. Again, I'd recommend making it more tentative, "If you cry, I think you will proably feel worse; if you take a deep breath, I think you might feel better."

3-Year-Old Resists Doing Routine Activities

From Sarah, Full-Time Mother

I've written this story up to send to your website because what I learned from your book has made my life so much saner. My three-year-old son, Danny, had the aggravating habit of dawdling, well, more than dawdling, he would outright resist doing what I asked him to do, whether it was coming to me when I wanted him to, or to the table for a meal, or to the car when we were ready to go somewhere, or to his room at bedtime. It made my life difficult because then his brother, James, who is less than a year older and usually easygoing, would also join in the fuss. I found myself ready to scream (well, once in a while I actually did).

I decided to try some of the ideas you outline in your book about limit-setting with kids. I used the idea of starting small, so I said to Danny one day, when we were already at the car and he was resisting getting into his car seat, "If you get in the car seat by yourself, great; If not, I'll put you in." He screamed and I put him in. But after a few times doing this, maybe three or four, he suddenly started climbing in himself when I gave him the choice. In fact, most of the time I didn't even have to ask him anymore. I was pretty amazed. But sometimes he still wouldn't get in, and then I'd have to put him in.

I started giving this kind of "do it yourself or I'll do it for you" limit with all sorts of things. In the morning, I'd say, "It's time to get dressed. If you want, you can put your clothes on, but if you don't, I'll put them them on for you." Same thing at night with putting on his jammies.

Every single time I wanted him to do something, I gave him the choice of doing it himself, or me doing it for him. I even said, "If you don't give me your juice cup so I can rinse it and put your milk in it for dinner, I'll come and get it myself." Wouldn't you think he'd just let me do it, but no way, he'd rather bring me that cup than have me come get it!

If I had to send him to time out, I'd say, "If you walk into your room by yourself, that's fine, if you don't, I'll carry you." That one came straight out of your book. It's where I got the "You do it, or I'll do it for you" idea for everything else. Most of the time if I tell him to go to his room for a time-out, he just goes and my friends have their mouths hanging open. What drives me crazy now, is why my friends won't do the same thing when they see how well it has worked for me! Actually some of them are starting to.

But the story that made me send this in the first place is the most amazing of all. The other day James was banging a plastic cup on the table, in the beginning for no reason, but when he realized it was bugging Danny who kept saying, "James, stop it!! Stop it!! James, don't do that!!", James kept going just for the fun of irritating him. Danny was getting more upset all the time. Then, suddenly he stopped, and said, "James, if you don't stop banging the cup I'll come and take it." Just like that. And to my shock, James got up, left the cup on the table and went in the other room. The end. What more can I say?

PNDC Comments & Tips

Which Form of Predictions Did Sarah Use? Sarah's predictions were limit-setting predictions because she created the consequences, "If you want to put your shoes on yourself, that's OK with me. If you don't put them on, then I'll do it for you."

Starting Small: I think that Sarah was really smart to start small with her limit-setting. When parents try to set limits that are too big or too vague — like trying to get a child to stop crying or go to bed quietly — they don't really have control over whether the child makes noise, and so it can turn into a power struggle that accelerates. It is very important to set limits where you can control the consequence you give, such as putting the child in the car seat, or putting pajamas on.

Creating Independence: Once the child practices the choice-making offered by this kind of limit-setting, then he/ she is much more likely to make easier transitions and also be more independent. As Sarah discovered, Danny soon started making transitions, such as getting dressed and getting into his car seat without her saying anything at all.

I think the reason a child responds so well to these parent-does-it or child-does-it choices is because most children, unless they have learned to control their parents by being demanding, want to control their own bodies and minds. They want to learn and be competent. This kind of simple limit-setting gives children the ability to learn to make choices that are empowering instead of making them resistant and depending on adult intervention.

Modeling the Skills the Parent Uses: The bonus is that children not only learn to make choices that give them greater constructive power, but they get great modeling about how to set limits themselves with other kids. In fact, they can learn to do it with adults as well.

See the short story below…

4-Year-Old Sets Bedtime Limit for Mom

From Sharon Strand Ellison

My 4-year-old grandson, Sam, was waiting for his mom to come and tell him goodnight. When she didn't come right away, he said, in a very relaxed tone, without anger or blame, "Mommy, if you don't come and tell me goodnight pretty soon, I'll probably be asleep." My daughter, Ami, said, instead of feeling irritated, as she would have if he had been demanding (Mommy, come tell me goodnight now!), she felt completely loving and absolutely motivated to go immediately.

4-Year-Old Fights over the Oar while Canoeing

From Elizabeth

I had listened to your parenting CDs last summer. This approach is so simple, but does take a bit of practice. I had been using the "If you, then I" with my kids. I'll never forget saying that magical phrase to my friend's son. I was canoeing with my 7-year-old, and a friend of mine and her 4-year-old, James. James started a fight over the spare canoe paddle with Jenny. My friend started saying things like "Cut that out or we'll go back to shore!" (not overly realistic, and would ruin the afternoon). I asked my friend if it was OK for me to handle it (I received a hearty "yes please!" from her) and then implemented your "If you're not … willing to wait your turn for the paddle … then I'm not … willing to let you have a turn. If you're willing to … wait patiently and let go of the paddle … then I'm willing to … let you have a turn."

James looked at me (still with his hand on the paddle). I saw the wheels going in his little head, it took him (at most) 3 seconds, when he promptly let go of the paddle, stopped yelling at my daughter and whining and sat quietly waiting for his turn. It worked like a charm! We enjoyed a nice paddle ride after that.

PNDC Comments & Tips

First, unless Jame's mom was in the habit of setting clear limits and following through, I think it probably worked better to have Elizabeth do it. I think James might be less likely to push the limit with another adult besides his own parent.

It's also clear that Elizabeth set the limit very neutrally and so didn't ignite power struggle, as his mom most likely did with the threat of going back to the dock, which was an angry threat she might not have been prepared to carry out.

In response to a clear, firm, neutral prediction of choices and consequences, Jame's response was to evaluate his options and pick the one that was going to work best for him — and for everyone else too.

5-Year-Old Uses Non-Defensive Question with Mom

From Sharon Strand Ellison

My daughter Ami and I were working on a workshop proposal that had to be sent immediately and were running into the noon hour. Ami's twin five-year-old sons, Sam and Will, were getting hungry, so I fed them some cheese and crackers to hold them over until we finished. Several times they asked, with a bit of whine, "When are we going to have lunch!?" … or a bit of a demand, "MOM, you said you'd make us lunch!" Each time, Ami said she'd make lunch in just a minute when we got done.

About 5 minutes later, just as I was clicking the "send" button on the proposal, Sam came down the hall asking again about lunch and Ami said, "We're just finishing up and I'll be there in just a second." As Sam got to the doorway, he reached out and grabbed the door jam and swang on it, like kids do sometimes, looked up at his mom and said, in an utterly gentle, innocent tone, "Do you think I should believe you this time?"

Ami and I were both so surprised, that before either of us even answered him, we simultaneously said, "Great question, Sam!" and each gave him a high five.

PNDC Comments & Tips

The Impact on Ami: Each time one of the boys had asked about lunch in the tone of whine or demand, Ami had first blithely, then gradually with slight irritation, called back, "in a minute." Sam's question, with no hint of urgency, just pure curiosity — "Should I believe you this time?" — had a huge impact on Ami. She really stopped to consider how much she wanted her word to mean to the boys, in small things as well as bigger ones. It's not like she'd never say, "Just a minute" again to them in their lives! However, the question had great power to prompt her to think about what it meant to keep her word with her kids.

Sam's Skill Level: Sam had seen his parents ask sincere, curious questions, and he gained skill as children do, by modeling what he saw. At age five, he asked a question of his own creation that prompted his mom to think about her own behavior and values.

7-Year-Old Tantrum about Homework

From Claudia

I used PNDC with my 7-yr-old son yesterday after your workshop, and it was very effective. Marcus was having a temper tantrum about doing a homework paper that was frustrating him. I decided that, rather than just sending him to his room to complete his tantrum, I would do something different.

I told him, "When I see you throw down your pencil and I hear you crying, I think that
you are not ready yet to talk with me about this paper.

If you calm down, I will be happy to talk with you about your homework; otherwise I plan to
go wash the dishes."

He stopped his temper tantrum right away. Then I explained to him what I thought needed to be done on the paper, and he started getting upset again, so I changed my approach to ask calm, curious questions about what he thought
needed to be done. Again, he stopped crying. He explained, I gave a suggestion, and he was done a few minutes later. It turned out to be a calm, quick resolution rather than a big battle of wills about getting homework done.

It is amazing how well this can work. I just have to remember to use it.

PNDC Comments & Tips

Sending Marcus to His Room: When Claudia sent her son to his room until he finished his tantrum, depending on her intention, tone, and phrasing, it could either prompt power struggle or reduce it. If Claudia was angry or frustrated, or wanting to "get" Marcus to stop the tantrum, then sending him to his room could still cause power struggle and accelerate the tantrum, even if he eventually calmed down. Her wording might have also been in the form of an order, "Go to your room 'till you are done tantruming!"

Regarding the alternative of sending Marcus to his room, Claudia would need to make a very neutral prediction and not have any need to control what choice he made. An example of phrasing would be:

If you keep screaming (or crying or tantruming), then I'll ask you to go to your room until you are ready to come out and work on the homework.

If you stop screaming (or crying or tantruming) and want to work on it now, I'm happy to talk to you about it.

Notice that I made two opposite predictions. One for how I'd respond if he stops tantruming and one for if he doesn't. If parents make a two-sided prediction, they commonly put the more "negative" side last, as in "If you stop, we can work on your homework now; if you don't, then you have to go to your room." Usually, I like to end on the positive, though I often forget. This gives the child a very clear picture of her/his choices without any investment on the parent's part in controlling the choice.

Giving Marcus Feedback: This time, Claudia decided to start by giving Marcus feedback about how she saw his behavior, i.e., his trantrum meant he wasn't ready to work on his homework. Notice that the observation is neutral. She does nothing to try to convince him that he can do it. Even supportive convincing such as, "Honey, I know you can do this, I'll help you," usually prompts resistance. Saying it neutrally give Marcus a chance to evaluate without pressure.

Prediction: Next, Claudia did make a prediction, but it is was less extreme than sending Marcus to his room. It was simply that she'd go do the dishes if he wasn't ready to work on his homework, and she'd help him if he was. If he'd continued to tantrum, she could just go do the dishes and ignore him, and he'd be likely to stop. If he followed her and screamed at her, or pulled or pushed her, then she could have given the prediction I mentioned above about going to his room until he stopped.

Questions: When Marcus got frustrated at her suggestions while doing the homework, Claudia shifted and asked him questions about what he thought needed to be done on the paper. Here she asked a question about his reasoning, instead of just telling him hers. He was able to become more enaged in what he thought he needed and then also was willing to listen to her.

Conclusion: I believe we have three forms of communication — questions, statements, and predictions — any of which can be used defensively or non-defensively. Claudia used all three forms with Marcus, and effectively worked through more than one phase of his frustration. Doing this even once will often carry over to other situations and the child will gain confidence in his/her own ability to handle frustration and become a better problem solver. Ultimately, this leads to greater confidence and competence.

7-Year-Old Sibling Jealousy & Major Meltdown

From Elizabeth, who also told the boating story

We have two daughters. At the time of this story, the elder was 7 and the younger 5.

Our 5-year-old had made a brown paper bag turkey decoration at school and proudly brought it home and put it in the middle of the kitchen table. Our 7-year-old ignored it while supper was being made. Supper was ready so my husband and I called both of them to the table. The 5-year-old came and sat and pointed out to Daddy the turkey she had made. In came the 7-year-old who promptly took the turkey off the table and threw it in the family room.

I remained calm, told her the turkey was fine on the table and asked her to put it back. I recall I also gave some parental lecture on how that was impolite and how her sister was really pleased with her turkey. She practically yelled at me and said it was not fair for little sister's turkey to be on the table because she herself had not made one to be on the table too. Uh oh. Alright I said to myself, let's put Sharon Ellison to the test.

So I calmly told her the turkey was staying at the table and that if she was not willing to sit at the table and eat in a calm manner (with the turkey) then I was not willing to have her in the kitchen. If she was willing then I was willing to have her stay and eat dinner.

Turns out I've got to be more precise with this child. She got up from the table, went into the family room 8 feet away and proceeded to loudly carry on about how unfair it was that she did not have a turkey too and that little sister gets to have hers on the table. Disturbing our dinner just as much as she was before.

So, here we go again. I told her disrupting our supper was not going to be "on," and that if she's not willing to sit quietly in the family room until she is ready to come to the dinner table under my conditions then she's to go to her room until she is.

Turns out I've got a defiant child on my hands. She then loudly carries on that she's not going to be quiet. I upped the ante. I had to graduate to: she had the choice of walking on her own to her room or being carried (again using the same calm voice and giving her the "if - then" prediction).

Well, she was not going to play ball. I ended up carrying her upstairs to her room (good thing I'm fit as she weighs 60 pounds) screaming at me all the while. I plunked her in her room (it was amazing how I stayed calm during this) telling her she can come down to dinner when she's prepared to sit quietly, and eat her dinner with the paper bag turkey on the table.

She proceeded to scream at me. LOUDLY. Of course, I'd said nothing about not screaming at me during this, only that she had to sit quietly at the dinner table, and that was far behind us at this point. She also tried to bolt past me and get out of her room. So, I had no other great Sharon ideas left (sorry, but you never get into this level in the CDs) so I resorted to an old "big gun" theory. I was grasping at straws by this time. She had a big birthday party invitation for the next day — I'm not proud of this part but, I told her quite calmly that if she's not willing to stay in her room until she can come down and eat quietly, then she's not going to have permission to go to the party the next day. It worked. She sat in her room. However she kept screaming at me. At the top of her lungs. Needless to say, I closed the door and went downstairs to eat supper with my now upset 5-year-old and Daddy who was calming the 5-year-old.

It amazed me that this was all over a paper bag turkey.

My elder daughter sat up there screaming at the top of her lungs for 25 solid minutes.

We know this exactly as having a 7-year-old scream at the top of her lungs makes an impression on you. After 25 minutes the screaming stopped. I first thought she had screamed herself out and passed out and gone to sleep, but 5 minutes later she quietly and sheepishly came into the kitchen. With tears in her eyes, she came over to me and stood there next to me. I asked her gently if she was ready now to eat quietly with the turkey on the table. She nodded. I asked her if she wanted a hug, she nodded. I gave her a hug, she sat down and ate her dinner (now rather cold) with the paper bag turkey squarely on the table.

Unbelievable that she'd push the edge of the envelope so far to see what control she had. My husband and I talked it over later that night and agreed we're in for it when she's a teen! An interesting observation however, is while she has kept pushing at the envelope ever since, usually, all I have to do is say "if you're not willing to... then (whatever the consequence is); if you are willing . . . then (whatever the priveledge is)." Usually that's the end of it. She's only pushed it once or twice past the "first round" at which point I simply say I'll come up with a consequence that she really won't like if her behaviour does not change, and viola, she comes right around. She's now quite an amazing little girl.

PNDC Comments & Tips (I'll call the 7-year-old Jenny and the 5-year-old Melissa)

Gradiated Consequences: Well, first off, I think the parents here were very courageous in following through on a major tantrum. It's so easy to give in, or get drawn into the power struggle. What Elizabeth did is what I call "gradiated consequences." It invoves starting with the smallest, simplest consequence you can think of, i.e., sit at the table with us (and the turkey) quietly, or go to the next room. When she still made life miserable for those at the table, it became: If you can be quiet where you are versus going to your room. When she refused to go to her room, it became: walk yourself or be carried. When she refused to stay in the room, it became: stay in your room or no party.

When the First Consequence Is Too Big: The reason for the gradually larger consequences is that Jenny (or any child) has a series of opportunities to learn that consequences become bigger when we act in ways that are disrespectful, rude, disruptive, and so on. On the other hand, Elizabeth's starting right off with the last consequence she gave for missing the party is just too big and too fast. The child will probably blow it and then have nothing more "to lose" as we might say. Elizabeth's daugher learned, one step at a time, that her mom meant business. It took several of those steps for her to get the message. Ultimately, by the time her mom gave the last prediction about the party, Jenny knew her mom meant it and she didn't want to miss it. So she made the choice to stay in the room, albeit, with her vocal cords going strong.

My Opinion about Using the Party as Consequence: Elizabeth suggested that her last consequence wasn't one I'd approve of, which is not exactly accurate. While I would not have wanted it to be the first consequence and I prefer consequences that don't take away special events, such as losing free time priveleges, I also think children need to learn if they continue to be out of control and disrupt a family, they will not continue to get the special things they want. I don't want to overlook the kind of trauma that 5-year-old Melissa experienced when her joy about the turkey turned into a major trauma.

Be Careful about Getting into Physical Conflict: One caution is to be careful about physical contact when a child is having an extreme tantrum. It is vital to be calm and not angry and not let it turn into a physical conflict. Elizabeth was very careful about this. Of course there are many cases where a parent has to take a child to another room, but if the risk of physical altercation is strong, it's better to think of another consequence that you can control — even it you don't get the immediate relief. Depending on the circumstance, dad and Melissa might go out somewhere and mom stay home and just ignore Jenny's screaming. Or, she might be told that if she refuses to eat dinner at the table tonight (I'd still feed her), she'll not have her regular free time priveleges until she had a meal with the turkey on the table. In such cases, creativity and making the consequence work in your own situation is vital, even if difficult.

Once the Consequence Is Accepted and the Child Choses to Re-Join the Family: When Jenny came back to the table, I recognized something I often see, which is a kind of quiet and gentleness in the child. She didn't come back with an ounce of sullenness or resistance. When I see chidren accept clear limits, they seem to feel a calm and security that make them feel safe and connected.

Internalization: Once Jenny had genuinely accepted a clear boundary, she began to internalize it, with only one experience where her parents were firm to the end. (See the next example also)

The Option of Starting with Conversation Instead of the Limit-Setting Prediction: At some point, I'd like to see a conversation with Jenny (and Melissa) about what it means for each girl to have her special things to share with the family instead of only sharing when both girls have something. I'd also like to see some conversation about jealousy. However, in this situation, and many others, when a child is in a defiant, angry place, attempts at conversation are not effective. Later, at some point after Jenny returned to the table, but probably not even that night, questions for her about her reactions, and more discussion could be very meaningful and help to build value systems.

11-Year-Old Doesn't Want to Do Chores

From Maureen

We had gone away for a vacation, and I had listened to some of your parenting CDs on the plane and practiced different scenarios in my mind. When we got home, we had a lot of loads of laundry to take to the basement and I asked my son if he'd help me take it down. He said, "No I'm playing my video games and I haven't gotten to play them since we went on vacation!"

In the past, I would have said, "Get up now and help me!" Instead, I asked, "Do you think it’s fair that we all share the same space in our home and not share the responsibility of caring for our home?"

He never even answered me, he just got up and started carrying the laundry down. He wasn't shouting for joy, but he didn't even act angry. He was quite pleasant about it.

PNDC Comments & Tips

The Son's Perception: By chance, I happened to be talking to Maureen one day when she had just picked up her son from baseball practice. On a whim, I asked her if she'd ask him if he remembered that situation and if so, what his immediate reaction was to her question. He did remember and said it just seemed fair.

The Shift: Why would a kid who usually might argue and not want to tear himself away from his video game, suddenly decide it's fair to help with a chore and do so immediately? This would shock most parents, as it did Maureen.

I think there are several crucial reasons. First, we are often unconscious of how our tone conveys judgment and thus prompts a defensive reaction that blocks any child (or adult) from processing information and listening with an open mind. Two, it's important to ask a question based soley on curiosity rather than using it to lead or guilt trip the person into doing what we want. When we ask a question with no agenda, except to find out what the person actually thinks, feels, or believes, they are far less likely to shut down into a defensive reaction. Then, much of the time, it's as if we are suddenly talking to a different person than the one we thought we knew!

If you like, you can listen to some of the audio stories to hear how I use a tone of voice that is very relaxed and actually comes down at the end instead of up, as we traditionally ask questions in most languages.

15-Year-Old Refuses to Wear Seat Belt in Car

From Amy

I picked up my son after he had spent the night with a friend and when he got in the car I could tell immediately that he was exhausted. He laid down in the back seat and mumbled, "Mmm, Fine, had great time," when I asked if he had fun. As I started the car, I asked him to put his seat belt on, and he made an irritated sound and said, "I wanna' lie down." I asked him again, and he got angry at me, "Mom, it's not a big deal, I'm tired!" Then I shifted and asked him, "Do you want to risk your safety in order to lie down?" To my shock, he sat up and put the seat belt on without another word. He even seemed in a better mood.

PNDC Comments & Tips

I think this simply reinforces the previous story in showing that asking a question with no agenda other than curiosity seems to prompt even a teenage mind to think more clearly about options.

17-Year-Old Is Depressed and Demanding

From Sherry

My husband and I are divorced and we have both been beside ourselves with worry because our 17-year-old daughter, Lindy, who had been a straight-A student, has been almost failing her classes and cutting school a lot of the time. She stays up on the phone until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I took her phone away once and she refused to go to school until I gave it back. She's so depressed we've been afraid to set firm limits with her. We were afraid she'd run away or worse, try to hurt herself, as she's started threatening to do when we expect her to do anything — chores, school, you name it. She's also been very demanding when she wants something.

A friend told me about your book, so I got it and read it, then listened to her copy of your parenting CDs. With her help, we looked for a small boundary I could set, like you say to do, that would feel safe to me and that I could control easily.

One thing she hasn't given up on is her baseball practice, she's on the school team. Sometimes a friend picks her up, but sometimes at the last minute she asks me to take her (rudely asks, I might add) like "Mom, I have to go now! I'm going to be late. Hurry up!" My friend suggested I just tell her that if she wants me to take her she needs to let me know 15 minutes ahead and ask me with some respect. If she is demanding, then I won't take her and she can ride the bus (it's not too far) even if it makes her late. I was afraid to do it, but with my friend's help, I decided to try.

I told her ahead, like you suggest, and told her I meant it. Very calm. Oh, my god, she was so mad at me. She threatened me, "You Bitch, followed by everything in the book. She'd never be nice to me, I didn't deserve it, she'd leave home as soon as she was 18, or maybe just leave now, it would serve me right. She would just quit the team (a fear I already had), but I just kept breathing, didn't argue with her. I actually left and went to visit my friend and cried. She helped me hold firm.

The next time she asked me for a ride she still asked me right before time to go, with a kind of sullen look and roll of the eyes, but not as rudely as usual. I held my breath, actually. I let it go this time that she hadn't told me ahead of time, but I did say I needed her to ask me without rolling her eyes and she pretty much shaped up and said, "Can I get a ride mom, please." I could hear the "please" almost, but not quite, sound sarcastic. Like she started to be, but toned it down. I know we have a long way to go, but I can really see how setting a clear limit even just on how Lindy talks to me if she wants something can be a first step in making changes. She seems to be sort of softer with me since then. We laughed together about someting the other day, like we used to.

PNDC Comments & Tips

Setting One Small Limit in Situations Where There Are Overwhelming Issues: When our kids get older, or in some cases, when they are very young, if there are multiple, complex issues, parents may try to take on the bigger ones first. Or try to figure out how to handle everything. I think it's just too overwhelming, and it won't work. So I recommend picking any single limit-setting prediction that you can most easily and safely carry through on. In Sherry's case, refusing to take her to baseball practice if she asked rudely was much easier than trying to make her go to school, or even take away her phone. All her mom had to do was not take her. She had easy control over that. Well … I'm sure it didn't feel easy.

There is still a lot of work to do, but starting small is, I think, essential to parent and child working their way through the bigger issues. I've had parents of teens who started with one simple limit — do homework or no TV until it's done, and have to be willing to put the TV in the trunk of the car, or take it to work just to follow through on that one consequence. If the teen refuses to do homework and watches TV anyway, then the only consequence is removing the TV until the homework is done. Of course if I have to go to the trouble to move the TV, my teenager will have one extra consquence besides finishing the homework, which is likely to be doing an extra chore for me to make up for the extra effort I had to put in. However, any consequences, including moving the TV if necessary, must be done without frustration or anger. If there is anger or a punitive attitude, it will prompt power struggle.

Once Lindy decided to have a respectful interaction with her mom to get what she needed, in this case, a ride to practice, there was a shift in the power dynamics of the relationship. I think Lindy actually felt safer when she didn't have so much control over her mom (and/or her dad). Being "out of control" is not a safe feeling for the teenager experiencing it, any more than it is for a parent. Hence, her mom reported that she actually had a moment of relaxed laughter together.

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"I wish I could show you or accurately describe the look on Tessa's face when I have been making the "If . . . Then" predictions . . . Her eyes are open wide, her facial muscles are relaxed and I swear that I can hear her neurons processing. Each time, she has chosen to do something sensible and sometimes her solution is even better than the thing I was thinking of. And it happens in nanoseconds."

—Gloria Vanderhaar, Marriage and Family Therapist





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