DEARMAN skill to get what you want
DBT, Parent Coaching, Teenagers

A Tween’s Thoughts about the DEARMAN DBT Skill

It’s hard to have a therapist for a mom.”

My son, Shane, recently said that to me during a drive. Cue the sigh

I am open with my children about my employment. And they each have their own perspective on how my world affects their world. I don’t recall what we were discussing in that moment when he said that. And I feel certain that I offered a validating response in the moment. I also feel certain that the follow up conversation about the positives of having a therapist Mom was not a surprise to him. 

They’re also aware that I take time each month to reflect and share ideas in this blog. And that at times, I may include a story or interaction with them as a teaching moment. So during that follow up conversation, I asked Shane if there was something he identified as a positive that he’d want to include for my next blog. 

I’m mindful that online school, Fortnite, Rocket League and travel soccer are parts of his life! They take up enough energy that an extra writing assignment on ‘therapy stuff’ might not rank highly on his list. Honestly, I expected a skillful response in the negative — maybe even a less skillful response. You can imagine my delight to receive his input about an hour later (shared via Google Drive – thanks online school!). It was not a surprise to me that he wrote about DEAR MAN. 

For those not familiar with the DEARMAN DBT skill, it lives in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module.

It is used to ask skillfully for what you want or need in such a way that increases the likelihood that the want or need is met.

DEARMAN skills and what the acronym stands for

There’s a formula: DESCRIBE (the facts of the situation), EXPRESS (your feelings), ASSERT (a specific ask related to the facts and your feelings), REINFORCE (why they should say yes), MINDFULLY (ask only for what can be given and only one thing at a time), ASSERTIVELY (use eye contact and stay on topic), NEGOTIATE (hold this for if the initial response by not be a “yes”). 

DEARMAN is one of the first skills I taught Shane when I first began my DBT skills training journey. As you might expect, 7-yr-old Shane struggled to remember which letter meant what and the order to use them in. But 11-yr-old Shane uses the skill enough that he’s proved the adage “practice makes perfect.”

So here are some thoughts from 11-year old Shane: Please know that very minimal editing was done to his words in order to fully capture what he shared with me!  

Negotiation For kids: 

One thing you have to know is that there is always a possibility that your parents can say no. You have to negotiate skillfully so there is a better chance of getting what you want. You can’t just yell [at your] mom or dad “Give me ________.” You have to use a skill.

I use DEAR MAN.  

At that point if it is a no by my mom (who wrote all of the other stuff you’re reading), then I have to accept that I can’t do anything but say please. After that I can try to see what I did wrong and try again later at some point. You have to remember that you can always improve your DEARMAN or try a different skill that can help sway your parents.

Negotiation for Parents:

You can always say no. Think back to if your child described what they wanted skillfully. Did they tell you why they wanted the thing? Did they express how they feel about the situation? And finally did they tell what’s good about the request for you (the what’s in it for you)? 

Think back and now decide if they did this well. You can still say no but when doing this skill well, they may sway you to their side. Remember the steps before you decide. There is always negotiation too. Meaning you can try to make it better for you in some way (my mom does that). 

As I (Beth) grab the blog back from him and write some “other stuff,” I’m tickled to share that Shane’s recent DEARMAN successes include skillful asks for treats, extra Fornite bucks, a later weekend bedtime, and Candy Crush app for his iPhone. I, being a savvy therapist Mom, met his DEARMAN with terms of my own and negotiated to get a reorganized garage, weeded front flower beds and vacuuming. 

Most importantly, I emphasize that chores and tangibles are not the only things we might need or want! DEARMAN is very effective to ask someone to meet our emotional and relational needs. We can ask to engage in difficult conversation, for additional quality time, for thoughtful reflection, to be heard, or for problem-solving unresolved issues.

The DEARMAN skill works best and most effectively when both parties use it. 

If you want to learn more about how to use DEARMAN or other DBT skills, consider DBT Skills coaching. We offer a parent skills group as well as individualized dbt skills coaching for adults, adolescents and parents. Just contact us to find out more!

Until next month… Skills matter! Practicing skills works! 

About The Author

Beth Lawler, LMSW is a Licensed Masters Social Worker Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Management as part of the Public Safety Leadership Program at Johns Hopkins University. In 2014, she got her Masters in Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She has extensive experience with a few populations: adolescents and young people transitioning into adulthood, parents with children who are experiencing difficult transitions, teens and adults with mood and substance use issues and adults transitioning into retirement and beyond. At MCCC, Beth provides both individual and family therapy and is the facilitator of our Online Parenting Class for Parents of Struggling Teens and Young Adults.

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