By Allison Rees
After 21 years of teaching parent education, writing books, articles, doing radio and television Q&A’s and raising my own kids, I think I’m ready for the next step. I want to support other people who teach parent education. Like all jobs, this one can have some challenges, but the work is so meaningful that the rewards are endless.
Parent education involves public speaking, thinking on your feet, managing group behaviour or difficult behaviour within the group, and of course presenting your material. I was so fortunate to come across LIFE Seminars when Dr. Alison Miller, the original creator, was teaching. I felt like I had found the mother ship of parent education. As I continue to teach, I’m still learning more and more and putting new spins on the original material but, more than that, the actual teaching of the material itself and dealing with people within my groups.
For those of you who are teaching parenting, running small groups, or even taking courses, I want to outline some of the traps that can disrupt a class.
Difficult behaviour within groups can include angry skeptics, people having sideways conversations, which I call “tea parties”, and parents expecting you to have pat answers to complex situations.
Approximately fifteen years ago, I remember speaking to a large group about the importance of using logical or natural consequences as opposed to using punishment in the heat of the moment. It was a two-hour talk at a local school. This was a time when, people were much faster to accuse parent educators of teaching permissive parenting or flakey ideas. Even the suggestion of listening and paying attention to feelings was often received negatively. As I was speaking, an angry man started yelling about the fact that kids needed discipline! I can’t remember everything he said, but I do remember going completely numb. I’m sure my face went one hundred shades of red and then probably white. I was stuck; my mind had left the building while my body stood weak in front of this crowd. What saved me? A woman who had attended a previous lecture spoke up. She told a story about how she handled a situation with her son allowing natural consequences to teach instead of her anger. She was so excited by her experience that her enthusiasm zapped all the negative energy out of the room. I returned to my body and was able to redeem myself and continue with my presentation.
Now that I’m older and more experienced I’m not as easily rattled, but it can still happen on occasion, and of course at times when I least expect it. The thing is, I’m sensitive and I’ve often marveled at the fact that I still find myself standing in front of a group of people pissing them off! A true testament to the fact that this is my passion and I believe deeply in the work.
If you are leading a group and you come across an angry skeptic, don’t argue for the material that you are teaching. When you do, you create more resistance and more of a confrontation. Anytime you try to change somebody’s point of view, it backfires.
What to do: Take a deep breath and step back, roll with it. Hold up their point of view by repeating it back. Ask questions about what is important to this person and draw out their values. Hear their feelings of frustration, not about what you’re teaching, but about how they feel when those values (examples: “Getting kids to be responsible” or “Needing respect”) aren’t met. Then simply continue with your teaching. You aren’t arguing, you are acknowledging the person’s feelings and needs and you can then return to your material. The underlying attitude as you present is: I believe in this, it’s okay if we see it differently. My task is to present what I want to cover in this class.
Remember that people are there for a reason and everyone has something new to learn.
In looking back at the experience I had so long ago, the fellow who got upset could have been stressed, or dragged there by his partner. I certainly pushed a button for him, but there is still a chance that he got something from the experience, even if it didn’t come from me.
In my next blog post, I’m going to attack the tea parties. Would you like one lump or two?
Allison Rees has taught LIFE Seminar courses since 1993. She is a regular contributor to Parenting Today, Times Colonist: Family 411, Island Gals, and her monthly column Cut it Out in Island Parent Magazine. She has co-authored two books: Sidestepping the Power Struggle and The Parent Child Connection.