Parenting with many styles

Educator, author espouses the whole-brain approach

Virginia De Leon
January 26, 2009

Some families seem to get along with ease.

Many, however, long for harmony – personalities clash, siblings argue, stressed-out parents can't agree on how to discipline and raise their kids.

Susie Leonard Weller, a longtime parenting and families management instructor at the Community Colleges of Spokane, provides insight into this often confusing and turbulent world of family dynamics.

It all comes down to how you think and process information, Weller says.

In her just-released book, "Why Don't You Understand? Improve Family Communications with the 4 Thinking Styles" (Parenting Press, 144 pages, $13.95 paperback), the Liberty Lake author and educator teaches parents how to better relate to their spouses and children by using "Whole Brain Thinking."

Each individual is hard-wired to think in a particular way, according to Weller. Problems arise when we become annoyed or frustrated with people who have a different perspective and approach to thinking.

Understanding, respecting and knowing when and how to use the whole brain – all four thinking styles – can mitigate conflict and promote healthy relationships, Weller says.

"There's a time and place for each thinking style," she explains. "When parents begin to respect their differences rather than being threatened by them, children get the best of both worlds."

Weller, a mother of two and also a life and spiritual coach, will share her research and experiences during a book reading next week at Auntie's Bookstore. In the coming months, she also will facilitate discussions and lead workshops at various parenting conferences throughout the region.

At these events, Weller hopes to show parents and others how brain research and the four thinking styles can reduce arguments and help solve communication problems.

"Within the same biological family, children and parents often have distinct thinking style preferences, just as they have unique temperaments," Weller writes in the preface of her book. "Those differences will continue to evolve and grow throughout life.

"Style differences can affect the ability of parents to easily bond with their children and vice versa. A 'one size fits all' approach might work with pantyhose and tube socks, but doesn't apply to families."

Developed by the research and consulting firm Herrmann International, the concept of Whole Brain Thinking involves four thinking styles: logical, creative, practical and relational.

Those who think in a logical fashion tend to focus on the facts, enjoy tasks that involve numbers and money management, and have an affinity for precision.

Relational thinkers, on the other hand, pay attention to their feelings and tend to devote their energies toward maintaining relationships and supporting others.

Practical thinkers are reliable, organized and are the ones who get things done, while the creative types rely on their imagination and spontaneity, are drawn to innovation and aren't afraid of taking risks.

Most parents use only two of the styles and are sometimes oblivious to the others, Weller says. And lack of knowledge or a disdain for the other styles can turn strengths into weaknesses.

Practical people who excel at organization and creating order sometimes become overbearing and inflexible. Relational individuals who value discussion, friendship and negotiation occasionally discover they've lost their sense of boundaries.

And creative types, who are often flexible when making plans, sometimes find themselves unable to make decisions or take a stand.

When experiencing stress and encountering conflict, people become more polarized because the tendency is to stick to their preferred style and become louder instead of stopping to consider another person's point of view, Weller says.

Mothers and fathers who are able to use a "whole brain" approach to parenting experience more satisfaction and success as they discipline and impart life skills to their children, she says. They also don't argue as much with their spouses and kids.

"Rather than seeing (the styles) in competition with each other, parents need to realize that opposites create balance," Weller says. But learning how to approach challenges from different perspectives isn't necessarily easy. In her book, Weller points to research that shows how "thinking in your non-dominant style requires 100 percent more energy to function."

The effort, however, is worth it, many parents say. Using all four styles not only lessens conflict, it also helps parents discern how their children learn and enables them to teach in various ways to foster understanding.

In Chapter Four of her book, Weller shows how a father had trouble explaining a concept to his daughter simply because of his inability to use a different thinking style.

"Dad, my math is too hard. … I'm supposed to do these fractions," the daughter says.

"Oh, that's easy. You just find the common denominator and then solve the problem," the dad replies.

"I don't understand a word you just said," she says.

"Just listen and I'll explain it again," dad insists.

The daughter gives up and looks to her mom for help.

To be an effective teacher, parents need to adapt their style and practice how to explain concepts in various ways, Weller stresses.

Learning about thinking styles also has enabled her to view family conflicts from a different perspective, she adds."Now, instead of taking style preferences personally, I accept them as biological variations in how our brains are wired," she writes in Chapter One.

"Respecting thinking styles has helped me to get along better with family members, as well as friends and co-workers. I appreciate our diversity in a deeper way."

Weller, 54, has been married to her husband, Mark, for 25 years. They have two children, ages 21 and 19.

Her mother, who also worked as a community college instructor, was the one who sparked her interest in temperaments and how people are hard-wired to think and behave in certain ways.

While working as a family services coordinator and social services specialist about 15 years ago, Weller began attending training sessions and delving into brain research and thinking styles.

Much of the focus at the time was on how these styles affect people's performance in the business world, but Weller concluded that they also had implications on parenting and relationships in general.

In her work as a parenting instructor at the Community Colleges of Spokane, Weller uses portions of her book to help mothers and fathers assess their strengths and find solutions to the challenges of parenting.

As a result of Weller's work, "students feel enlightened and empowered," says Dawn Chavez, the family service coordinator for the Hillyard Extended Learning Center.

"People realize that it's OK to approach parenting from different ways," says Chavez, who has been observing Weller teach for the past decade.

"She helps them gain confidence. She respects the dignity of each individual and has helped them become better parents."

Susie Leonard Weller will read from her new book on family communication, "Why Don't You Understand? Improve Family Communications with the 4 Thinking Styles"

Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Auntie's Bookstore - 402 W. Main Ave, Spokane, WA

It's free!