Never mind the pollution, you have practice! - C.U.E. #4

Never Mind the Pollution, You Have Practice -- C.U.E. #4

What's a C.U.E. post? In the Consciously Unskilled Episodes series, I share incidents where I know in my gut that things are going wrong, choose another tack to make amends and, afterwards, reflect on the experience to glean nuggets of learning.

Just a few days ago, I dropped my P.E.T. roadmap (aka the Behavior Window) and ventured into the land of Roadblocks. Even though the trip lasted just a few minutes, it's never fun losing your way like that. 

The Behavior Window is the handy visual that Dr. Thomas Gordon created to help parents get to where we want to go. (Not sure where that is? Hint: All roads lead to the No Problem zone.) 

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Once we understand who owns the problem, then we know what skills to use. So what happened to me last Friday?

Jake called after school to tell me he had gone to the nurse's office that day with some difficulty breathing. (The pollution index was a "very high" 10 for the Eastern District where school is.) He was on his way to the school basketball team tryouts; he would sit them out if necessary but he wanted to show spirit. He had decided, however, to forgo his second extracurricular activity -- training with the Hong Kong Basketball Academy (HKBA). Instead, he would wait at the American Club and go home with his father and sister.

Here's the rub: Jake is an HKBA grant recipient.

In order to maintain the benefit of 50% reduced fees, he is required to attend two practices a week and, so far this academic year, he has not done so. Once he was sick, but one time it was because our home is so comfortable and so far (40 minutes) from Stanley.

As he was telling me the plan, Jake was neither upset nor physically distressed, only a little "unwell." He probably thought we were in the No Problem zone. I disagreed. 

The Missteps


Jake not going to HKBA was below my Line of Acceptance. Leaving behind P.E.T. analysis and mindful application of skills, however, I quickly (over)reacted with Roadblocks and their unspoken You-Messages:

Interrogation (Line 1) -- "Why were you at the nurse's? What are your symptoms? If you are sick, we should go to the doctor right now." (C'mon, you're not asthmatic - that's Harrison's domain!)

Interrogation (Line 2) -- "Who are you going to hang out with at the club? What will you do while you are waiting for Claudia to finish Cotillion?" (Do you really think I've fallen for your story?)

Solutioning + Moralizing -- "Jake, you should come home if you are really sick. Or, since you're not hanging out with anyone at the American Club (which you shouldn't be doing anyway if you are actually ill), just go to HKBA and do the non-running strength training, whatever you are up to doing. You know yourself, you do NOT like to leave the comfort of our home on Saturday." (Just do what I say for once, will you?)

The Repair


Ever the child of a P.E.T. instructor, my upset 14 year old son pinpointed what was wrong. "Mom, just stop, would you?! Could you just, like, Active Listen me or something? You're not doing any of that and it feels really bad!"

I pulled up and took a deep breath, stepping out of my battle stance and into his shoes. This is way easier now -- what they say about intention, practice and mindfulness is true!

"I'm sorry, Jake." I spoke slowly and from the heart. "Wow, what is going on in me? I need to connect with myself and do some exploring and it feels really horrible for YOU that all I'm doing right now is judging you and not trusting you!"

He graciously accepted my apology and then asked for help crafting a message to HKBA:

Consulting Jake like this was one way I got to make things better.

Consulting Jake like this was one way I got to make things better.

The Take-Away


I got off the phone and immediately started to write, wanting insight into my mysterious reaction and a vision for a different way next time.

Commit to Zero Roadblocks & Find a P.E.T. Skill to Use!

I'm going to endeavor to keep quiet next time and just consider where I am in the Behavior Window.

This time, I was in the Parent Owns Problem area so I could have used Dr. Gordon's assertive confrontation skills:

Me: "I am concerned that, after you skip practice today, you will NOT want to go both days of the weekend and you will lose your grant status, thus costing us money."  [Confrontive I-Message]

Jake: "Mom, don't you think I know that!? I'm not feeling well! Geez! Didn't you hear me say I was at the nurse's?" Jake's emotional temperature likely would rise since I hadn't offered him compassion yet.

Me: "You understand fully what skipping today means and the pressure to go is very much in your consciousness. You feel annoyed and disconnected from me when that's all I am focusing on instead of the fact that you are sick!" [Shifting Gears to Active Listen]

Jake: "Yes!" and maybe there would be an energy shift.

And then I could Re-confront -- once he has felt heard, Jake is more likely to be able to listen to my feelings and needs.

Pay More Attention to My Line of Acceptance & Take Proactive Action

The fact of the matter was that I had grounds for feeling nervous. If I had checked in with myself, I would have noticed my Line of Acceptance rising with each missed session.

Next time, I will try to give a Preventive I-Message before the week starts: "I am concerned about the schedule and that you may not make it twice to HKBA." 

This kind of message allows the child to come up with the solution --"I'll look at the schedule right now for the best days." We might do an impromptu Problem-Solve, weighing the days and times that met both his needs (ease & understanding - he really dislikes taking the MTR subway) and mine (acknowledgment that his father and I take the savings seriously).  

Recognize When Something is a Values Collision & Use a Light Touch!

Reflection revealed that another factor was playing into my relatively closed window for Jake.


My older son Harrison is preparing to take the SAT next month and, a couple of weeks ago, I came across a packet of 1000 of the most common exam words.

Wanting to use it as a Consulting tool, I suggested to Jake that we sample some of them; we found there were many he did not know.

I suggested that, rather than memorizing and cramming when his time came, he steadily read quality books where he could pick up new vocabulary in context. “Yeah,” came the response with no follow-through. 

There were the tell-tale "should" thoughts that were inching up my Line of Acceptance:

He should read 30 minutes a day, or at least 20 or even 10! I'll take 10!

He should mix up Facebook and the League of Legends world championships with some reading - he should have balance!

I shouldn't have to remind him; he should stop being lazy and do it on his own. 

As my certification instructor Kathryn Tonges has stressed: “Sometimes the expectations we have for our kids get in the way of seeing their needs.” Uh, I think I’m busted. My pent-up frustration over Jake's vocabulary expansion colored my response to him on a very polluted day in our city! 

Jake is, after all, only in the 8th grade. Yet there is the anxious me that still peeks out, desperately wanting to impart values because I care for him so much. Those "should" thoughts are reminders to slow down and Active Listen myself so that, the next time I find myself in the Values Collision area, I can parent like Dr. Gordon's effective consultant who:

shares rather than preaches, offers rather than imposes, suggests rather than demands . . . offers her clients the benefit of her knowledge and experience, yes, but does not hassle them week after week, does not shame them if they don't buy her ideas, does not keep pushing her point of view when she detects resistance on the part of her client . . . then leaves responsibility with the client for buying or rejecting them.

-- Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 304, italics in original

At bedtime, I offered Jake an explanation. "I'm sorry I reacted that way about HKBA. What fed into my response was that I've been feeling stressed and judgmental of you overall because I see you not reading. I am just really nervous and worried about you later taking the SAT."

"Mom, I know, don't you think I'm nervous too? I'm stressed about school!" came Jake's reply.

We lay there in his bed talking some more. It was a moment of connection that could have come earlier. Hopefully next time it will.

The SAT is not as important as my relationship with this cutie who recently may have sat on my lap for the last time!

The SAT is not as important as my relationship with this cutie who recently may have sat on my lap for the last time!

Credits: Air Quality Health Index (; Banana (; Tools (; Take-out box ( visual (