“It is one of those simple but beautiful paradoxes of life: When a person feels that he is truly accepted by another, as he is, then he is freed to move from there and to begin to think about how he wants to change, how we wants to grow, how he can become different, how he might become more of what he is capable of being.”
Parental Effectiveness Training: Communication is the Key
Clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon developed a parental effectiveness training course in 1962 that remains not only popular, but widely respected, even today. In fact, his books have been translated into 33 languages and over five million copies have been sold. Additionally, more than a million people in 45 countries around the world have participated in the course. Recognized as a pioneer in communication skills, in addition to authoring several parenting books, his training course was modified to address nearly any type of group. Several of the skills he outlined and advocated developing are frequently used by family therapists as well as business owners. Among those skills are active listening and communicating using I-messages. He believed that those basic skills were necessary for successful conflict resolution.
Families, like businesses, often experience conflict. A common source of conflicts is the internal power dynamic. One of the things that differentiated his theories from other parental effectiveness training experts was his belief that power had an adverse effect on relationships. While parents have power over their children both physically and economically, it was his opinion that it should never be used in a coercive manner to control their behavior. According to Gordon, parenting is a type of leadership and part of parental effectiveness training is teaching the skills that have proven to be useful in effective leadership in other types of human dynamics.
The Gordon Model of Parental Effectiveness Training
He began writing when he was asked by his mentor Dr. Carl Rogers, at the University of Chicago where he was earning his Ph.D., to author a chapter in a book he was writing. That chapter, titled “Group-Centered Leadership and Administration” would become the beginning of the parental effective training course that became known as the Gordon Model. Drawing on his experience as a business consultant he focused on the communication techniques he had found most successful. That experience led him to develop the core of his model using several key foundations.
The first principle of the model is that effective leaders create conditions in which they can relinquish control and become a member of the group. The desired result is that other group members will learn to function within a leadership role as well.
The second principle is that conflicts require that all people involved participate in resolving them. This requires an environment in which everyone feels safe and that their feelings and opinions are valued, which is the foundation of group-centered leadership. Achieving such an environment is accomplished through using communication techniques such as reflection and listening empathetically.
Another aspect of parental effectiveness training is parents learning effective problem-solving skills that they demonstrate to their children both through modeling and encouraging active participation in the process.
Gordon viewed group leadership as a number of functions that should be distributed to all the members. Problem solving consists of a number of steps, the first of which is recognizing that there is a problem. The next step is diagnosing or defining the problem more precisely. The group members then offer solutions to the problem before making a decision about what actions to take. Finally, the group agrees to accept and carry out that decision. The Gordon Model of parental effectiveness training proved to be so effective that he was asked to modify it for teachers, and in 1974 he co-authored the Teacher Effectiveness Training book.
In addition to serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago for five years after completing his Ph.D, he was also a member of the American Psychological Association. More specifically, he was a member of its Division of Peace Psychology. He also served for a time as the President of the California Psychological Association. Because of his significant contributions to parental effectiveness training, he was the first to receive a Career Achievement Award from the National Parenting Instructors Association and be invited to speak at the White House Conference on Children.
In further recognition of the lasting value of his work in improving the quality of communication skills within families and society, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. While he did not win that prize, he did receive the much longer titled prize of the Gold Medal Award for Enduring Contribution to Society in the Public Interest by the American Psychological Foundation in 1999. The following year, he was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
His death in 2002 left a lasting legacy of a parenting model still respected and utilized today, with few modifications from the original.