Tips for Quickly Engaging and Influencing Parents: The One-Page Handout

Over the past several weeks I’ve provided a flurry of short professional talks. In an effort to keep up, I’m posting a one-page handout from my presentation at the Pediatric Mental Health conference in Fairmont on April 29, 2022. If you’re into parenting and/or working with parents, this handout and content may be of interest.

The handout is pasted below:

Tips for Quickly Engaging and Influencing Parents

With John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D., john.sf@mso.umt.edu

  1. Remember: Parents are Facing Immense Challenges: Many parents are isolated and reluctant to reach out for support they need. Many parents feel super self-conscious and judged by American society, not to mention grocery story onlookers. Some children can access porn on the internet before they can tie their shoes. Children have more mental health problems than ever before in the history of time. No wonder parents are just a bit hypersensitive to criticism.
  2. Use Your Common Wisdom and Take Time to Make Empathic Statements: Never say, “I know how you feel” or imply that parents are being silly or dumb (even if you think they are), or react to parents out of irritation. Instead, make empathic statements like, “You’re managing a lot” or “The challenges parents face today are bigger than ever.” As time permits, listen to a story the parent tells you and follow that with an empathic summary before offering ideas.
  3. Know Your Buttons – Cultivate Self-Awareness: Be aware of things parents say that push your buttons and be aware of how you react. Make a personal plan to deal with these a little better every day. Replace your judgments with compassion for parents. Stay calm.
  4. Teach Parents to Use Child-Directed Play AND to Set Limits: Nondirective play with young children is like a developmental vitamin pill, especially in situations involving sibling rivalry and separation/divorce. Just 15-20 minutes of child-directed play twice a week can help build parent-child connection and address children’s needs for control (see “Special Time” tipsheet:  https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/). Limit setting (along with love😊) is essential to development. Using techniques like “Grandma’s Rule” (When you . . . then you. . .;  https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/10/12/grandmas-rule-an-example-of-using-direct-parenting-power-and-influence/ and clear limits (up-front) and small consequences will help with consistency in limit-setting.
  5. Teach Parents a Brief Problem-Solving Model They Can Use with Their Children: Join with parents to discuss problems and solutions. Hope and believe along with parents for positive outcomes: “I know you can do this.” Remember the five steps: (1) identify the problem, (2) generate alternatives, (3) review and rank the alternatives, (4) select one or more, and (5) evaluate what you tried. Consider giving a mutual problem-solving tip sheet: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/

*Free content related to parenting is on John’s blog at  https://johnsommersflanagan.com/

**Content of this presentation is mostly taken from the book, How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen. You can find it on online.                                     

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