Parents, educators and students flocked to Weber State University Thursday, Friday and Saturday to learn creative and loving techniques to enhance their family and professional lives at the Families Alive Conference 2011.

The conference, sponsored in part by WSU’s department of child and family studies and the Jerry and Vickie Moyes College of Education, originated in 1980 with the original and continuing goal to “dispel the pervasive myth that all families are dysfunctional and instead champion the successes of everyday families.” The conference shares positive information about the modern American family by inviting nationally and locally recognized family experts to present.

Jim Fay, one of the founders of the Love and Logic Institute, with more than 31 years of experience as a teacher, administrator, professional consultant and father, opened the conference Thursday night with a free lecture titled “How to Discipline Kids Without Losing Their Love and Respect.”

The humorous and heartfelt speech led the audience through a variety of examples of children breaking rules and how parents typically react — with frustration, anger and debate.

“How many of you would like a simple way to put a stop to the arguing and back-talk?” Fay asked the audience in the Austad Auditorium. “When things go south with kids, cut words down to the bare minimum.”

Fay’s advice was to respond to children and teens with empathy, which he called “the most powerful technique known to modern psychology.”

“People are starved for empathy,” Fay said, “and they will connect more to the feeling than words.”

According to Fay, expressing empathy with a child can be as simple as a calm, slow “I know,” “I bet if feels that way,” or even a sound that illustrates understanding of the child’s feelings. He said it is important to be consistent and deliver the message without anger, no matter what manipulations the child responds with. The consequences for the misbehavior come later, when both the parent and child are calm and the parent has had a chance to carefully plan a corrective course of action.

“I learned, basically, everything I’ve been doing wrong,” said Arthur Chapman, a father who attended Fay’s speech. “I’m always reasoning with my 3-year-old, and I never thought of what I expected him to get out of it. Now he’s leaned to say ‘OK’ to me, but it means nothing to him. (Fay’s) ideas were very logical, and I’ll definitely use some of them.”

The conference continued Friday and Saturday with workshops led by more than 25 guest speakers. The variety of family issues ranged from general challenges of talking to children about sexuality and obesity, to economic strains of unemployment and how to save money on groceries, to more specific issues in strengthening Latino families, tips for success in fostering and adopting, and maintaining resiliency in military families.

For more information and educational materials available from the conference, students can contact the child and family studies department at 801-626-7151.

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