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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony graphic

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony:
A New School Approach to Relationship Skills for Parents

A downloadable ebook by
Chuck Adam, MSW

In this book, I present a comprehensive approach to parenting from the perspective of empathy, dialogue, agreements, and accountability as a radical departure from the Old School perspective of power, control, punishments, and more punishments that often don’t work.

Based on my 40-plus years of work with parents, children, and families, first as therapist then as educator and coach, this volume breaks new ground in the area of strengthening families through enhanced relationship skills for parents.

As one of my colleagues told me, I’m “turning parenting on its head.”

Incidentally, everything presented in this book is applicable not just to parents, but also to teachers and other adults who work with children, as well as to adults in their relationships with each other.

Here’s what the book is about.

The three steps, or strategies, that parents can take in developing more harmonious relationships with their children are:

  1. Listening. This is the foundation of any relationship, and the single most important action a parent (or anyone else) can take in relation to another person. I am convinced  that listening constitutes 90% of conmunication, and is the single best thing one can do to build trust, provide support, and resolve tension and conflict. I find  that effective listening is also the single hardest activity for parents to master in relation to their children. But learning to “listen first and talk second” will do wonders for securing a child’s cooperation, and it’s by far the best way to teach a child to listen to you.
  2. Illustrating. Of course, as a parent you also speak, and have much to say and much to teach your children. You do this both verbally and non-verbally, and in this way you pass along your values, attitudes, and skills to your children, for better or worse. An attitude of respect is essential to good communication, as is the ability to use effective, methods of self-expression. The techniques I present here require a little self-awareness and self-discipline on your part. But they will put an end to yelling, threats, and many other forms of talk (“invitations to trouble”) that can cause hurt feelings and invite a child’s stubbornness and “payback.”
  3. Disciplining. If you can effectively practice the first two steps or strategies (listening and illustrating), then you can engage in effective dialogue as the primary means of helping your child to change unacceptable behaviors. Dialogue is the heart of my New School approach to disciplining. And here I present a radical departure from the use of ineffective punishments, which can often make things worse. Rather than punishment, “discipline” means teaching. The techniques I present are intended to teach children cooperation, accountability, integrity, respect, and empathy. One technique is the Behavior Dialogue, aimed at securing the child’s commitment to acceptable behaviors. Another is the Accountability Dialogue, which replaces punishment with emotional learning experiences. This is discipline at its best.

In each of the three steps, or strategies (listening, illustrating, and disciplining), I present three specific techniques that can be used spontaneously everyday. With practice, anyone can become quite skilled at using them. They are actually relationship skills that can literally transform conflict and tension into harmony and cooperation in any relationship, including one between adults. The tenth technique or skill, the family meeting, gives parents a chance to periodically put them all together in a more structured setting.

As noted author and teacher Marianne Williamson has said, There is no single effort more radical in its potential for changing the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children. This book, I hope, is a step in that direction.


eBOOK, PRICE:   $9.95
192 pages
Downloadable as pdf file
Read the book from your computer screen or print all of it or specific pages on your printer.


Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of my New School approach to how to be a parent. The love a parent has for a child is expressed and embodied in how the parent communicates with the child, even when the child is a newborn. Obviously, dialogue entails listening as well as talking, and it includes all non-verbal communication as well. There are many skills involved in having a good dialogue, and as parents we are illustrating and teaching them to our children in everything we say and do.

In the New School approach to parenting, we recognize and accept the fact that control of children’s behavior is a delusion. We cannot control our children’s behavior. (See my “Volcano Theory.”) They have free will. We do not have a remote control to their brain. They are not robots or slaves. They talk to us when they want to talk, not necessarily when we want them to talk.

Consequently we are convinced that we are better off not even trying to control their behavior through the Old School use of power and control tactics, like our parents used (yelling, ordering, bossing, threatening, punishing, spanking, hitting, grounding, etc). We recognize these as invitations to trouble. We acknowledge that the best we can get from our children, and what we really want from them, is their cooperation, based on dialogue and agreements, rather than their obedience to rules that we impose. If they don’t want to talk, we realize we cannot force them to.

Influence Does Not Equal Control

In the New School approach to parenting, we acknowledge that while we have absolutely no control over our children’s behavior, but only over our own, we also acknowledge that we have tremendous influence on our children’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We acknowledge that influence does not equal control. Continue reading

The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements — The “How To”

The Behavior Dialogue (Discipline Skill #1)
Negotiating Agreements: The “How To”

In this process (the Behavior Dialogue) you use all the listening skills (acknowledging, questions,and reflecting) and the illustrating skills (i.e., speaking skills, especially modeling and I-messages). While arriving at an agreement on something here and now is important to you, what’s even more important in the long run is that the child learning to respectfully negotiate a solution to a problem and reach an agreement that you can both live with.

The following steps might seem pretty complicated at first. But they’re very logical, and if you make this your standard M.O. (method of operation), you’ll get pretty good at it, and you’ll be able to do the whole process without even trying to concentrate on whether all the steps have been used. What’s even better, the child will also become capable, through practice, of intuitively using a very important life skill: negotiating an agreed-upon solution to relationship problems.

Step 1: Set the table–get her attention by inviting cooperation. Here you invite the child to enter into a dialogue with you about something you consider important. These should be stated as “I-messages.” In other words, they start with the word “I.” As the parent, I am conveying to my child that I am the one who has a problem, and not that the child is the problem, has a problem, or is doing something wrong. For example:

  • “Johnny, I’d like to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me.”
  • “I’d like to get your help on solving a problem we’ve got around here.”
  • “I was wondering what made you so upset with me yesterday when…….”
  • “Honey, I’m having a problem with something and I’m hoping you can help me with it.”

Step 2: In an I-message, state YOUR problem as clearly as you can. In other words, give your reason(s) as to why you think it’s a problem for you. You can refer to what the child does behaviorally. This is a legitimate part of an “I-message.” Give them your reason, too. Examples:

  • “I get irritated when you whine, because you’re not a baby and I expect you to act your age.”
  • “I got upset when you hit your sister earlier, because I don’t like you kids hurting each other.”
  • “I get worried when I don’t know where you are when you’re out at night, because it can be very dangerous and I’m afraid you might get hurt (or in serious trouble, etc.).”

Don’t pass negative judgments on the child, like “When you act like such a little baby,” or “When you bully your sister,” or “When you go gallavanting the streests all night.”

Don’t propose the solution. Don’t start out by saying something like, “Would you be willing to take out the trash?” Or, “From now on it’s your job to take the trash out whenever the bag is full.” It’s too early to start imposing solutions. You might say something like:

  • “I have a problem with the garbage bag getting full, and starting to smell, I really don’t like smelly garbage in the kitchen.”
  • “When you and I are at the store, and you start whining and crying and reaching for things, I get upset with you, I get distracted from what I’m trying to do there.”
  • “When you hit your sister earlier, I got angry with you because I was afraid you might hurt her.

Step 3: Ask for their ideas.. Build a list of possibilities. Here’s a great way to invite their cooperation. Simply ask, “What do you think we can do about this?” Or, “What should we do about this?” Or, “How can we handle this?” There are lots of ways this can be put out there–the point is you’re inviting their ideas before giving your own. Other examples:

  • “What ideas do you have about how we could handle this?” Or,
  • “How do you think this could be handled?”
  • “What do you think should be done?”
  • “How do you think you could do better in that situation?”

You’re asking him to brainstorm possibilities here. Accept and acknowledge everything he says as a possible solution, even if it’s unacceptable to you. Then ask for more ideas. Let’s say he says, “Make Sue do it.” Or, “Let mom do it.” Or, “Do it yourself!” You can respond with, “Okay, those are some possibilities. What other possibilities are there?” He might not suggest that he could do it, so you can put that one on the table: “Well, another possibility is that you could do it.” When he objects, listen to the objections (“Sue never has to do anything!”). Don’t get into an argument about what s/he says, but use I-messages to let him know how you see it: “I see you as part of the family team, and I expect you contribute your fair share.” Listen to his objections (“I always have to do everything!”). Again, don’t take the bait and get into an argument, but let him know what you think, using I-messages (“I expect you to do a little more to help out around here.”), not you-messages (“You never do anything around here!” Or, “You’re nothing but a lazy oaf!”).

Step 4: Share your ideas. You have ideas too. They count as much as the kid’s ideas! You might say:

  • “Okay, I have some ideas too. Would you like to hear what they are?” (Seek permission first!)
  • “Well, I have some ideas that I’d like you to consider.”
  • “I’m going to share my ideas with you.”
  • “I’d like you to hear my ideas now.”

Share those ideas on what you would like to see happen, or what you expect from your child as a member of the family team. Eliminate possibilities that are completely unacceptable to either of you.

Step 5: Pop the question: “Okay, so, what can we agree on here?” As this discussion continues, remember what your main objective is: reaching an agreement. Don’t force your solution, even if it means you don’t get an agreement this time around. Be willing to let the subject drop (for the time being) if he digs in his heels and refuses to play ball with you. “Okay, Johnny, we’ve eliminated all the possibilities. I was hoping you’d agree to take on that responsibility. Why don’t you think about it, and we’ll talk about it again later.” This is all about parenting smarter (New School), not power and control (Old School). You are trying to teach cooperation, not force compliance, submission, or obedience. This is part of why New School parenting methods work better than Old School methods.

You could, of course, try to ram it down his throat. (“That’s enough! It’s your job from now on, and that’s that! Got it?”). Life happens that way sometimes, and Johnny has to learn how to cope with it, right? Well, he will (hopefully) at some point, but right now you’re trying to help him to learn to negotiate solutions to problems and reach agreements. Try not to view this as a zero-sum, win-lose type of ball game. If you drop the discussion for the time being, and let Johnny think about it, he just might surprise you. He might come up with something “out of the box.” (“I talked to Sue and she’s willing to take the garbage out if I load the dishwasher for her twice a week.”) Or, he might even agree to do it himself–perhaps with a condition attached. (“Okay, I’ll take the garbage out if I can stay out till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.”) If it’s an outlandish proposal, you might want to make a counter-proposal. (“Well, I think that’s too late, Johnny, but I’d be willing to say ten o’clock on one of those nights if we know where you are and how you’re getting home.”) You want more than what he might be willing to do. You want a commitment. Have a little more discussion here, and be willing to bargain, till you’re clear that he’s proposing an adequate solution in your eyes (that is, an agreement you can live with). If you incorporate his/her ideas into your agreement, you greatly increase the chance of cooperation and commitment to follow through.


The big value I see in negotiating agreements with children is that, besides teaching them how to do it, agreements constitute the basis for an effective discipline system. When the child doesn’t follow through on agreements, the parent has two options, at least: 1) administering the punishment (Old School approach), and 2) holding them accountable for breaking their agreement via the “You-and-Me Dialogue” (my New School approach). I prefer the latter, particularly with children who are willing to “play ball,” talk things through with you, and reach the agreement in the first place.



3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

Learn More          Buy Now         Table of Contents & Intro


The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements — The Rationale

The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements:
 The Rationale  

The first New School discipline skill is the ability to negotiate agreements with a child about right behavior. I call this the Behavior Dialogue. This forms the basis for holding the child accountable for their actions, which is discipline skill #2 (the Accountability Dialogue, or the “You-and-Me-Dialogue“).

But first of all, what the rationale for why a parent should negotiate “acceptable behavior” with a child?. As the parent, shouldn’t you just define the rules, and tell the child what’s acceptable, expected, and demanded? No! The New School way substitutes agreements for rules. Why?

Agreements Are Better Than Rules Continue reading

Old School to New School Shift, b

Old School to New School Shift, b

Parents wishing to change some of their Old School parenting habits to New School practices can get an overview of some of the main practices that characterize each of the two approaches to parenting by studying this one-page chart.

It shows the main day-to-day things that parents in each school do, and how they think, in each approach to how they parent. While it does not show all aspects of how to parent differently in the New School approach, it gives a clear idea of what the parent needs to do  in making the shift from Old School to New School ways of parenting, as well as some of “mid-level” techniques an Old School parent might use in order to make the chonscious shift away from Old School methods and toward New School methodsl..

Please click on the following link to view the chart.

                       Old School to New School Shift b

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro   

The Family Meeting

The Family Meeting

Here’s an obvious no-brainer: quality family time together is good for all family members– and fun, too. For example, parents spending individual time with a child, talking with them, reading with them, without a TV interfering, weave bonds of caring, understanding, familiarity, respect, and appreciation. Parents playing games with children weave bonds of relaxed togetherness, and positive attitudes about fairness, respect, rules, agreements, winning, and losing. Parents carting kids around town to soccer games or practice, or to a friend’s house or to the mall, weave bonds of caring and closeness, and provide their kids with informal times of sharing and confiding, listening, and building trust.

These little informal and fun times together could be considered “family time,” a time together when the family–or part of it–comes together in a joyful spirit of unity. These are special and precious moments, the kind we dreamed of when we first dreamed of starting a family. These times have marvelous benefits for all involved. They are often quite informal, unplanned, and spontaneous. And sometimes they are planned and more elaborate, like a trip to the zoo or a movie, or to grandma’s house, or to a park or to another city or state. All of these, and many more times of togetherness, provide the family with an opportunity for a loving “meeting of the minds and hearts,” where real communication occurs, and people listen to each other, and enjoy each other, strengthening their emotional bonds and weaving loving relationships.

Parents can also introduce these special little experiences into their families through what might be called “family meetings,” or “round tables,” where they intentionally invite the other family members to share with everyone what is on their mind. Such meetings are more “formal” than the spontaneous heart-to-heart talks I referred to above, and they have been shown to have marvelous benefits, such as:

  • Building bonds of closeness and respect with each other;
  • Teaching listening skills and simple demonstrations of respect;
  • Strengthening family communication, understanding, and mutual acceptance;
  • Improving self-discipline and cooperation in the children;
  • Teaching problem-solving skills to the children;
  • Teaching goal setting to the children;
  • Resolving family conflicts;
  • Encouraging self-expression;
  • Giving everyone recognition and support;
  • Planning family activities;
  • Making decisions together;
  • Teaching time and money management to the children.

If you’d like to institute a more “formal” family meeting in your family, I suggest that you arrange to have it on a regular basis with a set time and place once a week or once every two weeks, whether you are a single parent or a couple. Here are some ideas to get you started. With the children’s input, determine:

  • Who will facilitate the meeting? (Taking turns might be a good idea after you’ve done it a few times yourself).
  • How/when is the agenda set? You might post a sheet on the refrigerator, or hang up a small chalk board. Allow everyone to contribute agenda items.
  • When will the meeting be held? (If possible, when everyone can attend.)
  • How often will it be held? Once a week at a certain day and time is common, but not necessary.
  • How long will it be? It’s best to start with shorter meetings, and lengthen if necessary.
  • What are the ground “rules” (agreements)? Some examples might include:
    • No arguing, fighting, name-calling.
    • Everyone speaks only for self.
    • Each speaker uses a “talking stick” (for example the salt shaker) which is distributed by the meeting facilitator; that person then has the floor and should not be interrupted.
    • Everyone is free to contribute, but no one is forced to talk.
    • If necessary, the facilitator decides whose turn it is to talk.
    • Everyone listens to the speaker respectfully, with no side conversations or goofing around.
    • Confidentiality: what is said here stays here.
    • End the meeting on time, unless everyone agrees to go longer.

Here are some ideas that you might want to include in your design of an agenda for a more formal family meeting. Modify and change to suit your family’s preferences.

  • Establish the ground “rules” (agreements) and review them at each meeting.
  • Use a round-robin to open the meeting. For example::
    • Everyone tells one nice thing that the person to his or her right did since the last meeting.
    • Each person identifies one fun thing the family could do together.
  • Finalize the agenda (“Here’s what we have… Who has something else to add?”)
  • How has it gone for each person since the last meeting–positives and negatives?
  • Things that need to be decided. Give each person’s complaint about five minutes of attention, and try to resolve the problem. Afterwards, post any decisions made.
  • A fun thing we will do together before the next meeting (optional)
  • Establish the date and time of the next meeting.
  • End with playing a game (optional).



3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

A New School Approach to Family Rules

A New School Approach to Family Rules

What is discipline? In Latin, it means “teaching” and also “learning.” In the “Old School” style of parenting, it was commonplace for parents to teach by making up the rules of the house, and “laying down the law.” Kids were expected to obey, to conform, to learn by doing what they were told. And when they disobeyed, children were “disciplined”–they were punished. Discipline meant punishment. By and large, that discipline system worked pretty well in our families, didn’t it?

New School Approach to “How to Be a Parent”

What I call my “New School” approach to discipline in the family might at first sound too lenient, but it is not. That is the idea of “agreements” replacing the idea of “rules.” Agreements are bilateral–that is, both or all the parties involved make it understood to each other that they are knowingly accepting an expectation, an action, or a limit. Rules, on the other hand, are more like laws that are handed down by a governing body for the common good of the community, and there’s usually a law enforcement system in operation to make it all work. It’s not founded on love, but the power of law and order and obedience.

However, in my “New School” approach to discipline, where we replace “rules” with “agreements,” parents still hold the authority, power, and responsibility of having the last word regarding values, standards, and acceptable child behavior. Paradoxically, parents earn children’s respect and go a long way toward getting their cooperation by listening to them, and sharing decision-making power with them whenever that makes sense. Another paradox: when parents do this consistently, they tend to start learning early on how truly responsible, cooperative, and respectful their children can be. When children are listened to and have a voice in the decisions that affect them, they are more likely to enter agreements with parents about expectations, limits, and consequences. When they agree with parents on these things, they are more likely to cooperate, follow through on what they agreed to.

When people reach an agreement about expected behavior, limits, consequences, etc., they then have a basis for discipline–cooperation, accountability, integrity, and responsibility. If the child breaks an agreement, the parent holds them accountable–not for disobeying a rule, but for breaking an agreement they have made.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

Holding the Child Accountable: The You-and-Me Dialogue

Holding the Child Accountable:
The You-and-Me Dialogue

I refer to the “Accountability Dialogue” also as the “You-and-Me Dialogue” because this is where I (parent) talk to you (child) about how we are treating each other — especially after you break an agreement you have made with me.

Unacceptable child behaviors (UCBs), such as temper tantrums, arguments, angry and disrespectful insults, lying, stealing, physical or verbal attacks on others, etc., can be distressing events for parents. How to handle them can often be a confusing disciplinary challenge.

In my New School approach to “how to be a parent,” I advocate reaching an agreement with the child (even as young as two years old) about how they will handle any particular UCB in the future. The best the parent can expect to get at that point is

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