Parenting: Positive Parenting with John Gray

Positive Parenting with John Gray

By John Gray
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Dr. John Gray, author of 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,' discusses positive techniques for parenting.

Event Date: 05/30/2000.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Family Wellness Auditorium. Today we are discussing Positive Parenting with John Gray, PhD.

John Gray has been a family counselor for more than 30 years. He became one of the best-selling authors of the decade with his publication of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, which enlivened communication between the sexes. In the past ten years, Gray has continued to supply the public with other bestsellers including, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, Mars and Venus in Love, Mars and Venus on a Date, Mars and Venus Starting Over, and Children Are From Heaven. A highly sought after speaker, Gray is a popular guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and a national columnist.

The opinions given by Dr. Gray are his and his alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, please consult your personal physician. This event is for informational purposes only.

Dr. Gray, welcome to WebMD Live. How can you learn to manage your feelings?

Dr. Gray: Much of our frustration as parents comes from not knowing what to do to manage our children. We're at a crisis point in history. All of the old parenting skills we learned by watching our parents parent are not as effective as they used to be. Children today are different, and do not respond to guilt trips, yelling, and the threat of punishment. These are the kinds of control techniques our parents used as a last resort. In previous generations, they worked, but today they don't. This book, Children Are From Heaven, provides a training for parents with new communication skills to make the job of parenting much easier and, at least, much less frustrating. Frustration always arises when what we're doing is not working. If we don't have a knowledge of new skills, then unfortunately, we have no choice but to continue doing what doesn't work. Fortunately, that choice is now available through learning new parenting skills.

Moderator: What parenting skills have become outdated?

Dr. Gray: The whole necessity of using guilt and fear to control children is not only unnecessary now, but, when you learn to address your children's needs and communicate in a way that invites participation, and maintain the authority that you're the parent who's in control, then your children will cooperate without having to threaten them with punishment or make comments that make them feel bad or guilty. There's no longer any need to withdraw love and support in order to motivate your children to cooperate. Instead, this very love and support that was pulled away can be directly applied to creating more cooperation. In the past, parents who spanked their kids or used threats of punishment to control were coming from a loving place, but what child feels love when you do that? In my book, I teach parents five messages to communicate to their children, and five practical techniques to do that.

The five positive messages are:

One: It's okay to be different. To communicate this message, parents need to understand the four different temperaments of children, the three different learning curves children go through, and the eight different types of intelligence that children have in different degrees. They need to understand three different body types children have. With an understanding of these natural differences, parents are able to adjust their parenting skills, as well as expectations, to appropriately meet this child's needs. When a child is different from the parent, without an understanding of the appropriateness, a parent mistakenly judges and puts down the child.

Two: It's okay to make mistakes. If children are punished for their mistakes, quite automatically they develop a fear about making mistakes. Children should first learn that it's safe to make mistakes, then they learn on their own to identify their mistakes and self-correct. Without the safety to make a mistake, a child has four different reactions. One, they tend to defend and justify their mistake rather than self-correct it. Two, they tend to blame others for the mistake, rather than looking at how they contributed to it. There are also other ways.

Three: It's okay to have and express negative emotions. However, parents must teach their children how to identify those emotions, and how to express them at the appropriate time and place. One group of parents makes negative emotions unacceptable, and children become afraid to reveal them and become suppressed. This makes the child difficult to manage. Another group of parents are permissive, and allow negative emotions, but these children learn to dominate and control situations through their feelings, and never learn healthy ways to release negative emotions and come back to positive feelings of cooperation and healthy motivation to please.

Four: It's okay to want more. Many children, particularly girls, are raised with the notion that it's not okay to ask or want for more. If your parents can't provide more, the child is made to feel guilty for wanting more. These notions are hopefully in the past. Children need encouragement and support for expressing their wants and needs, but also need a clear message that you don't get what you want but it's okay to want more. A child shouldn't be ridiculed for asking or wanting more. It's a very adult task to know what is appropriate when it comes to asking for more. Most adults haven't learned still how to negotiate for more.

Five: It's okay to say no. Mom and dad are the bosses. Children need and deserve the right to express resistance to their parents. They shouldn't be mindlessly obedient. Parental supervision was so severe that children were never allowed to resist authority, which gave them no sense of self. When they became adults, it became easy for them to fall into the hands of a maniacal authority figure who demanded obedience. In this book, I tell parents how to change the past idea that children should just be obedient, and create a practical way for children to become individuals, rather than mindlessly obedient or subservient to authority.

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Lice & Nits: How to Get Rid of Head Lice

These five positive messages take a lot of training and exploration to be able to and in order to successfully deliver them to children. When we realize as parents that we're responsible for our children's behavior, then we're motivated to find the right approach to create cooperation. When you drive the car, and let go of the car, it crashes... and that's not the car's fault. This is the difference between parents and children. Parents are driving, children are not. If you think the child is responsible, then you allow the child to run the household. This will not only wound a child's self esteem because it's too much responsibility, but the child will go out of control very quickly, and be very difficult to manage. Parents have to stay seated firmly in the driver's seat.

Moderator: Do these skills change in any way when dealing with adolescents? Is it too late by then to change anything?

Dr. Gray: These five positive messages and practical skills are applicable through adolescent and teenage years. They're also applicable in adult relationships, but in a different way. There's a shift, and I explore that shift through three different approaches. In the first nine years, children haven't developed reason and logic, so one kind of approach is necessary. In the next three years, reason and logic begin to develop. And in puberty through 18, there's another approach for that. As the mind develops, you have to adjust your approach and style. Children need guidance and rules before puberty. After puberty, children gain more and more independence based upon reasoning and logic. When parents learn to apply these guiding principles, with reason and logic rather than emotional threats, then children and teenagers will respond. Is it too late in teenage years? No. I help parents apply these in all stages of development for their children.

These techniques work right away in practically all situations. Their working doesn't mean you'll have perfect children, but cooperative children. Based upon deficient parenting styles in the past, a child's capacity to make mistakes is much higher. If you start young, then you have the possibility of children not making the big mistakes teenagers do now. Your children will still be teenagers and make mistakes, but will be within reasonable limits that any parent can expect. Perfect children do not exist just as perfect parents do not exist. These techniques help us create more love and cooperation, so we can learn from the mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable; that's the growing up process.

Moderator: What are the tell-tale signs that my child needs professional help with their behavior?

Dr. Gray: When you feel you are unable to create cooperation with your children, and you've taken many parenting classes (whether it be my approach or other approaches), and you've brought up your issues in the realm of parenting, and what they suggest still doesn't work, then it's time to go into counseling. Or, then it's time to seek medical assistance. Too many parents, I'm sorry to say, rush straight to psychiatrists to get a prescription of medication to subdue their child, when many times, what needs to occur first is for parents to adjust their parenting style, and the diet they give their children. Before medication, I would suggest first seek parenting classes, then have a doctor or nutritional expert understand and review your child's diet. Then, seek out help for medication if necessary -- medication or counseling.

Moderator: What are the different challenges of parenting boys and girls?

Dr. Gray: In my chapter on "It's okay to be different," I also explore the gender differences between boys and girls, and clearly, they exist quite commonly. Remember, there are always exceptions to every rule. If a mother doesn't understand that boys tend to be different from girls, she'll tend to treat a little boy the way she wanted to be treated as a child, and that will often have a counter-productive effect on the little boy. And vice versa; a father who doesn't understand the nature of little girls will treat the little girl the way he wanted to be treated, and that will create separation between father and daughter. When a father was young and bumped his knee and -- when his daughter falls down and bumps her knee, and starts to cry, she needs understanding and needs to talk about her boo-boo to someone who can say after listening, "let's get back up and play." Make feelings first, solutions second, when it comes to little girls. With boys, a mother unknowingly makes the mistake of offering too much help. Little boys grow in self-esteem through feeling they can do it themselves. If the mother is always offering advice to help the boy do it better or improve, the boy will not want to talk to his mother after awhile. This helps to explain why most mothers will say "my little boy just won't listen." When that's the case, reflect on what you've communicated to that little boy, and adjust your communication. Often, women tend to give unsolicited advice. Certainly as a mother, your role is to lead and teach your child, but with little boys, you have to make sure you don't do it too much. Be sensitive to his feelings and annoyance, and don't push. Most mothers have had the experience of lecturing their children, knowing their children are resisting. All this does is build more resistance in communication between parent and child. Learn how to communicate effectively, and you'll have much more communication in a mutually supportive relationship. These are two examples of how gender awareness helps mothers and fathers be better parents.

I believe that life is not perfect; life is not ideal. However, we need to have ideals so we can point our sail in the right direction and move towards that. These are not the ideals that we think are ideal -- mom and dad having a successful relationship, raising their children together. If mom and dad are incapable of that, then getting a divorce and raising their children separately but cooperatively. So the child spends some time with the mother, then the father. A single parent raising a child alone is capable of nurturing their emotional needs through relationships with other adults. This is different from the mother or father feeling guilty about being the only parent, and seeking to remedy the situation by over-parenting, thereby neglecting their own personal life. While this is a noble effort to sacrifice one's personal life to raise your children, it will often create too much bonding between parent and child, too much interdependence, and one undesirable side-effect is that the child feels burdened and too pressured to be good or responsible for their parent. Children ideally need to feel that they're not responsible for their parents' happiness, but their parents have their own lives and are happy and fulfilled, and with that happiness, overflow with unconditional love for their children. Children who receive this kind of love are free to worry about their own problems and work through their own issues with the support from the parent. A child who feels responsible for their parent's pain, and be a surrogate mate -- while this child is more cooperative in younger years, in later years, they tend to have problems, as is evidenced by so many adults today in therapy.

Moderator: What outside pressures and influences would you regard as the most negative and might prevent successful parenting?

Dr. Gray: The number one influence that prevents successful parenting, is accepting the notion that the status quo parenting skills should work. All of our parenting skills and styles go back to times when parents accepted dictators, or were ruled by royalty, instead of people. Our governments have changed, our businesses have changed, our society has changed, but still the old dictator-like model of parenting continues on. This is the number one factor that influences our children the most. While many people complain about TV-- too much TV of course is not healthy. However, TV itself and the programs themselves are not the main problem. It's how parents communicate with their children, and how parents manage their children, and then parents can mange how much time children spend watching TV. And it's inappropriate for a child under eight to watch the news. Most parents don't even know this. Children under eight do not have logical reasoning. If there was a murder in another country, that child has no way of knowing that the murder isn't next to their bedroom. Children need to be protected from certain things TV brings, but another issue is parenting styles.

The second is nutrition and diet. Children don't drink enough water. They're drinking soft drinks and juices, and drinks which are filled with refined sugar, which cause children to become hyperactive or moody and temperamental. There have been studies to refute what I've said, and I question the funding of those studies. It doesn't take a study to explain what goes on at a birthday party. As soon as you pull out the cake and ice cream, you have a bunch of wild and crazy kids. All wise parents know that you should have the cake and ice cream at the end of the party, otherwise they're unmanageable. I'm not against cake and ice cream, but it has to be in balance and moderation. Children are eating too much refined sugar. They need more fruits, or basic natural foods, and not the foods which are over-refined and over-processed. This just causes, as I mentioned, hyperactivity and moodiness.

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Lice & Nits: How to Get Rid of Head Lice

Then comes to three: In terms of outside influences is the opportunity for stimulation in nature. Children used to have exposure to animals, rivers, sunshine, climbing trees, playing in nature. This is one of the most balancing and stabilizing influences on children, and when they don't get enough of it, they will become unmanageable. The influence of TV is certainly negative, but I'd put it low on the list compared to other things our children are deprived of. Children who get the appropriate supervision, appropriate diet, and appropriate opportunities to have fun and nature, are much less drawn to the negative stimulation that can occur on TV or the Internet. That becomes less of a problem to monitor.

Moderator: How do you use these parenting skills when each child in a large family has various temperaments and personalities?

Dr. Gray: When you have a large family, your job certainly increases, and the thought of having to learn something new seems overwhelming. However, once you learn the four temperaments, it becomes so much easier to manage these children. It's just simply understanding what language your children speaks. If your children spoke different languages, but you were fluent in those languages, it's just a matter of addressing each in those languages. Every new language has a different learning curve. As you read the chapter on temperaments, it may seem overwhelming, but it's only 20 pages. After several attempts of reading and applying it, it becomes easy to apply. It seems like a lot because no one ever pointed out these simple truths before.

Moderator: How do I handle bad behavior if a child throws a tantrum in a public place?

Dr. Gray: Two answers to this question: First, how to prevent your child from throwing tantrums in a public place, and second, what to do when it happens. When a child throws a tantrum in a public place, it's a clear indication that your parenting style is too soft. At home you are too permissive. This means that to avoid your child's tantrums, you will cater too much to your child's whims and wishes. You accommodate and adjust yourself too much so that your child doesn't throw tantrums at home. As a result, when you are in public, you don't have the same opportunity to cater to your child's every wish and whim. If you set strong limits at home and allow your child to throw tantrums at home by putting them in a time-out, as a regular procedure-- simply pick them up and put them in a time-out, and stand there by the door, and hold it shut, and let them know you're there and it's okay to scream, but that it has to be in a confined space. By making sure your child is throwing the tantrums they need at home in an appropriate way, they will not feel the need to throw tantrums in public.

Second, what to do when your child throws tantrums in public. In some situations, one option is to pick your child up and take them out of the situation as quickly as possible. This is giving them a time-out. Don't give them threats; instead, use one of the other skills, and sometimes it works. Give them something they want. Distract them from what's bothering them, and give them something they want. This is one tool that works. One is time-out, one is command statement (tell them what you want over and over, without using emotional threats or lecturing), one is incentive (when your child demands something, give them incentive to do something else). When a child is resisting putting on their jacket in the morning, I say "we can sit here and argue about this, or you can put your jacket on, and if you put it on now, I'll have time to pick you up today and take you to the park." You were planning to take them to the park anyway. This is a different way of saying that if you don't put on the jacket now, it's a punishment. So make it a reward, and change your communication style. You just distract their attention from what they're demanding present time, and focus their direction on something they want in the future. These are just a few of the techniques of the hundreds I suggest in the book. I'm against slapping your children, yelling at them, shaming them, threatening them -- these things just create mindless obedience, or if your child has some spirit of resistance left, it will create a bigger tantrum. Find a way to minimize the tantrum, using various techniques.

Leezlake_WebMD: How can you compare your method of discipline with another like "1,2,3 Magic" for example?

Dr. Gray: I like "1,2,3 Magic" very much. I think a variety of approaches are healthy. The reason I don't suggest "1,2,3 Magic" is that for a child up to nine years, it becomes more like a punishment instead of a need. I think children need to have time-outs. For those of you who don't understand "1,2,3 Magic," a short explanation is that you train your children to recognize that when you say "1," they better make an adjustment, or they get a time-out. When you say "2," they've made a mistake. If they continue, they get "3." In my approach, the parent asks the child to cooperate again and again and again. At a certain point, say that they need a time-out and take them to the time-out. Up to nine, it's the parent who decides when they need a time-out, and not the child who seeks to accommodate the parent out of fear that they'll experience the dreaded time-out. After nine, I think "1,2,3 Magic" is wonderful, because after nine years, a child knows that a time-out is not a punishment, but a need that the child has. When a young child needs a time-out, I don't say they've been bad, but that I've tried to get them to cooperate, but they won't, and now they need a time-out. Because sometimes children need a time-out, time-outs are not seen as a punishment. When adults argue, instead of continuing to argue, just take a time-out and come back to a more centered communication.

wel59_MSN: Being divorced, I see my kids being raised with two different styles of parenting. Any advice?

Dr. Gray: It's a difficult situation, certainly not the ideal situation. It's confusing for children to get two different styles of parenting. However, from your side, make sure the approach you use doesn't condemn or judge harshly the other approach. If your approach is a more nurturing and firm approach as I suggest in my book, and your spouse's approach is more firm, threatening and punishing, give your child permission to talk about their feelings to that approach, but always come back to the conclusion that their parents have different approaches, and that's why the parent is treating them that way, "not because they don't love you, but that's the best they know." You're trying a different approach, and that may be confusing, but it's because they love you and that's why they're doing things different. When parents are married and using different parenting approaches, that's also difficult for a child to deal with.

When writing Children Are From Heaven, one of my goals was to help parents to find compromises to different approaches. It's soft and tender, and tough and strong. In this way, both parents often at odds because one is too permissive and the other is too strict will find a common middle ground for sharing techniques, for managing their children rather than disciplining them.

Moderator: Do you think parenting is more difficult today than 30 or 40 years ago? How do you keep your own parents out of the parenting process if most of their skills were not very constructive for you?

Dr. Gray: Parenting today is much more difficult than any time in history. The world has changed, children have changed, and we still use out-of-date parenting skills. We're faced with extremely stressful lifestyles, and we haven't learned to integrate that with a peaceful home life. Parents are more stressed, and their skills are outdated, which results in unhappy, lost children. Very quickly, we are adapting to this fast pace of change, and new parenting skills and techniques are now available. It's just a matter of taking time, often one day, to take a parenting class. My own organization teaches Mars Venus parenting classes around the globe. For information about our courses, you can reach us at These courses are available to parents. What parents can also do is to learn how to manage their own stress successfully by improving communication skills at work and home. These workshops are also available. With greater insight and by making constructive changes in our parenting approach, children are much easier to be managed, and our difficulty with parenting becomes much less.

Quick GuideLice & Nits: How to Get Rid of Head Lice

Lice & Nits: How to Get Rid of Head Lice

One of the reasons today we lived in such a splintered society, that is, children who have moved away from their parents, is because children don't like the way their parents parented them. Their values are very different. It's not that we don't love our parents, it's that we don't like the way they still treat us. This is responsible for children moving away from their parents. Add to this, having your own children, the last thing you want is your children to go through what you went through with your parents, so naturally there will be conflicts regarding grandparents and children. Grandparents can help us take care of our children. Particularly today when we're so busy, having grandparents to take care of our children is quite a blessing and boon. The last thing parents want is their children to be exposed to their parents (the parent's parents, or grandparents). In dealing with your own parents, and how they take care of your own children, it's best to be compassionate and understanding. Use the same skills I suggest in my own book; let them know in clear terms that you are now the parents of your children, and you want them parented the way you parent them. It's not good to make ultimatums. Be wise and patient, but let them know your ideas and how change can often occur. One easy thing is to give them audiocassettes of my book, or any other parenting techniques, and educate them.

Moderator: What is your advice for dealing with a child who appears to have violent tendencies?

Dr. Gray: In my book, I talk about four temperaments. Children with violent temperaments tend to temperament one. They need to be the center of attention, and define themselves by the results they create in life, and need lots of acknowledgement and appreciation. They need roles and responsibilities, and opportunities to make a difference, and that difference to be recognized. They need lots of forgiveness for their mistakes, without punishment. Children who are violent are often punished a lot. The parents will say that it's because they do such terrible things, and I will say that's why they continue to do such terrible things. Parents are never the cause, but they perpetuate the problem. An active child tends to act without thinking or compassion until their heart is nurtured and developed. Their sensitivity to others increases when they feel secure, acknowledged and appreciated. This child needs to have a lot more supervision than other types of children. They need someone, and to know that someone knows what they're doing and where they are. When they make mistakes, they need to be immediately forgiven with new opportunity to achieve and accomplish. More details are in my book.

Moderator: How long does it take to undo old skill sets and apply these new ones suggested in your book?

Dr. Gray: Everybody changes at different rates; I do know that we live in a time of accelerated change. So much has happened so quickly, but with the right change of skills and tools, change can happen miraculously fast. Our learning capacity to create change in ourselves and others.

Moderator: Dr. Gray, thank you for joining us today. WebMD members, please join us every Tuesday at 1 pm Eastern Time here in the Family Wellness Auditorium for our live weekly event.

The opinions given by Dr. Gray are his and his alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, please consult your personal physician. This event is for informational purposes only.

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Reviewed on 3/24/2004 1:50:59 AM

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