PNDC for Parents

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the training; (2) short biographies for Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, who are the primary master teachers of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™ process developed by Sharon; (3) a partial client list; and (4) comments from parents and professionals serving children and families, including teachers, program directors, and therapists.

The overview starts with the introduction from the landing page and then continues with more information. Each section is marked clearly, so you can start with "More . . ." if you've already read the introduction. You can use the links below to go to directly to each section.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Participant Comments

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: As parents, the love and responsibility we feel can make us afraid about how to make the best decisions for our children—and how much to expect of them. Many parents currently are making a huge effort to communicate effectively and create a family life where children and teens are motivated to be cooperative, rather than coerced. Sadly, in far too many cases, parents try to get cooperation without setting clear boundaries. Then when they don't get the response they want, they either give up or express frustration with the child, sometimes indirectly, other times directly, with periodic anger, blame and/or orders.

Using traditional communication methods, parents tend to chose, sometimes moment by moment, between being supportive and exerting some kind of control over the child’s behavior and attitude. Despite best efforts, parents can end up being defensive and in power struggle with their children at almost any age. To create an environment where children are responsive, competent, respectful, appreciative, and above all, genuinely happy, requires a delicate balance.

More . . . A major part of the problem is that we’ve used the “rules of war” as the basis for verbal interactions. Beliefs deeply rooted in the War Model for communication not only result in some parents choosing to be authoritarian, they also motivate others—in an effort to be democratic and more cooperative—to go to the other extreme and become too permissive. Probably the majority of parents fluctuate between the two. All of these uses of authority can impact the child’s character by inhibiting the development of emotional, intellectual, and ethical maturity, and/or behavioral competence. 

Parents, foster parents, kinship providers, and others who work with children can learn Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, a new system that offers tools for simultaneously and consistently expressing love within the context of clear boundaries. Participants will learn four specific, detailed skill sets:

—Limit Setting: How to shift form with not setting clear limits and/or setting limits that make children and teens feel punished—to setting limits that prompt children to take accountability and develop the ability to become reciprocal.

—Questions: How to shift from asking questions that make young people feel interrogated—to asking disarming questions that get at the heart of an issue quickly.

—Statements - Giving Feedback: How to shift from giving feedback in ways that are indirect or judgmental—to a three-part process that prompts children and teens to be more likely to listen, even perhaps seek advice.

—Statements - Self-Expression: How to shift from expressing your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs in ways that make young people feel lectured—to ways that create bonds of understanding.

These skills are invaluable. Without them, it’s harder than you might think to tell when a child or teen is manipulating and when the feelings they express are real. Using the skills learned, parents are often moved to tears by the genuine heartfelt responses they get from not only young children, but teens as well. Parents and and other caregivers will learn how to create the boundaries that give children the limits they need to internalize security and love in balance with the freedom they need to grow as individuals.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Executive Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (IPNDC), is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Sharon with her daughter, Ami Atkinson produced the award-winning audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. Sharon is a pioneer in developing methods for eliminating defensiveness so people can communicate with constructive power. She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute.

Sharon began her career working with families in extreme crisis. Later, she started a private practice and has since been providing coaching and counseling parents for more than 40 years. Her approach has always been to give direct honest feedback to each person in a relationship and to do on-the-spot coaching to help each person learn ways to respond without getting defensive. Sharon also provides an overview or map for the couple with regard to how the relationship functions as a “system” of interactions, which includes what she calls VERB elements: values, emotions, reasonings, and behaviors. Due to her commitment to teaching Powerful Non-Defensive Communication in group settings in order to offer more people access to the skills, Sharon no longer coaches individual couples. However, she offers workshops for couples and speaks at many conferences.  

Sharon also speaks at conferences and provides training programs for professionals in more than a dozen fields. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente; Nordstom, Regional Diversity Managers; Wells Fargo; the United States Department of Justice, Stanford University, The smithsonian, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution, London, England.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College and co-author of the audiobook Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. As Sharon’s daughter, she has been an active participant in the years of discussion as Sharon envisoned and refined the PNDC Communication model. Ami has done psychosocial research at Stanford Medical School, been on the Newborn and Parent Advisory Board at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children.

Ami is gifted in the art of identifying relationship systems. She is also highly skilled in modeling the interruption of any process that involves defensiveness and power struggle and offers coaching and workshops for parents. Her husband, Jesse Combs also does training with parents, couples and groups of men. The mother of 16-year-old twin boys. Ami uses a hands-on approach when providing workshops and coaching for parents. She also speaks at conferences and provides training for early childhood education programs.

Ami’s innate understanding of systemic patterns in communication is alsp a cornerstone of her work with organizations, helping individual teams as well as the organization as a whole to strengthen their communication internally and with their client base. She offers coaching and trainings for educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. Her clients include: General Dynamics, CA; Lockheed-Martin, CA; Habitat for Humanity, CA; the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Toronto, Canada; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference, and CCG Systems, VA.

Partial Client List

Clients who serve children and families include:

  • San Francisco Parents’ Coalition
  • Oregon Multicultural Education Association
  • Vista Youth Program (San Francisco, CA)
  • California Statewide Student Leadership Conference
  • Montessori Schools
  • Head Start
  • University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Pediatric Intern Annual Conference
  • Mental Health Resources and Education Network
  • Stanford University, Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital
  • Berkeley PTA

Sharon and Ami's clients also include private and public schools, such as Park Day School, (Oakland, CA) and Milwaukee Schools (WI). Sharon is licensed to provide continuing education for Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and school psychologists.

We have also provided keynotes and and workshops for organizations such as:

  • Therapists In Educational Settings (TIES), Oregon Statewide Conference
  • Matrix Parent Network and Information Center, Regional Conference, San Francisco, CA
  • Oregon, Pendleton ESD, Jackson County ESD, and Douglas County ESD
  • Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative
  • San Mateo School District, San Mateo, CA
  • San Francisco Parent Coalition
  • Contra Costa Jewish Day School
  • Pearl Buck School, Eugene, OR
  • The Association for Early Childhood Education
  • Safe Schools Program, Delta Junction, AK
  • Merced Foster Care Program (CA)
  • The Child Center, Eugene, OR

Participant Comments

(1) Parents, (2) Teachers, (3) Program Directors for Organizations Serving Youth &/or Families, and (4) Therapists


I met Sharon Ellison when I attended one of her workshops as a member of the press. I was a skeptic when I entered the room.  At that time, and for the previous six years, I'd really been struggling as a parent.  I was a good parent and I loved my sons (ages 7 and 6), but I didn't really enjoy being a mom, and I faced my time with them with some anxiety and trepidation. (I have them half the time, and at that time they definitely preferred their father, and always had.) I began utilizing Sharon’s suggestions the day after the workshop. What I found was that I had been getting the words right, but my tone and body language had been defensive.

Six months later, my relationship with them has transformed.  Being with them is now my favorite thing, and I look forward to our time together. Now they enjoy spending time with me as much as with their father. They are more not only cooperative, but more loving and affectionate. Sharon’s parenting workshop changed the entire course of my relationship with my sons.

—Carolyn Crane, Journalist, Grass Valley, CA

Sharon spoke, role-played examples and invited audience participation. She showed us, in real time, how her methods worked—and they worked flawlessly. Everything Sharon did  appeared effortless and graceful, yet effective. The process Sharon teaches does work.

—Derick Miller, President, Berkeley PTA Council

I have really learned a lot about using PNDC and I can’t wait to delve whole heartedly into the material!  I used it yesterday with my 16-year-old while she was in an extreme place with me.  I stayed centered in myself and refused to continue a dialogue unless she would not escalate or be able to give me her full attention.  I held my boundaries really well, and it's like I have my child again.  Other communication models did not offer me the clarity and permission I needed to set boundaries with my children as well as PNDC.  I look forward to learning more!”

—Aida Baker

I was amazed by the results when I used PNDC methods.  I had a conversation with my son which was enriching, productive and gratifying in a way that no prior conversation had been within memory. We both
emerged from our formerly unshakeable patterns. 

—Thomas Harmon, parent of a child with special needs.

My nine-year-old daughter told me that she had an assignment at school last week to write about one thing that has changed in her life since she was born and she wrote that our family gets along so much better now with more respectful communication.  I attribute that to my learnings from you.

 —Ruth McGuffey, Dallas TX

Thank you for your dedication. We have been able to interact with our son in entirely new ways, and his hyperactivity has diminished, he is more respectful, and we are all relieved! The skills you teach are a gift.

—Parent Participant (Name withheld)

The Powerful Non-Defensive Communication Parenting Class that my husband and I attended really saved our family. The eye-rolling, "dissing," blaming, general negativity, and confrontational style that was all pervasive before the weekend, has been replaced with tools for creating honest, open communication.  Even my husband, a combat veteran who was trained by the military to be reactive, was able to shift into a non-defensive style—something he had been trying to do, but was unable to accomplish for 30 years. Although our two teenagers did not attend your class, they have reaped immediate benefits—something years of family and individual therapy has not been able to accomplish. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for dedicating your life to this work, which has the power to make this world a much better place.

—Jan Fishler, Tin Cat Media — Producers of Educational DVDs

I have a teenage daughter and after attending one of Sharon’s lectures I purchased her CD set with hopes it might strengthen our communication. I was discouraged, however, when I discovered that the CD set was geared for children 6-11. Disappointed as I was, I decided to give them a listen anyway. And much to my surprise and delight, not only was it for children 6-11, it was totally applicable to my teenager, my husband and anyone else I chose to communicate with!

So enlightening were her insights that I felt as though I needed a total lobotomy to undo years of misguidance and miscommunication. And then I listened to them again and even began to try out some of her suggestions and have had positive results with them already. I realized that above all, the real gift in Sharon’s work is that of hope, the idea that it is never too late to change. She has given us a way out of our power struggles with our children to a way into a healthy struggle-free life with them.

—Yvonne O’Hare, San Francisco Parent Coalition


Sharon worked with a wide age range of children, including pre-school, third-, and sixth-grade classrooms, as well as our peer conflict managers. Through providing role-plays, many children were able to take what they learned and use it at home and/or with other students in school immediately. By the next week they reported many examples of success in getting out of power struggles with other kids, including setting effective limits with much older siblings who were engaging in behaviors such as teasing and/or hitting them. Sharon took each student's response seriously and genuinely engaged the children at their own level in a way that was spontaneous and sensitive to their questions and concerns. I would highly recommend Sharon's training and further believe that learning non-defensive communication should be a part of every school's curriculum.

—Mary Lynn Cummings, Counselor, O’Hara Grade School, Eugene, OR

I am struck by how this process is such a clear way of communicating without constant power struggles. Two groups of teachers at Thurston Middle School have asked Sharon to provide workshops for them. If, as teachers, we can communicate non-defensively, we can understand quickly what is going on with a student. Most of the time we never get to the heart of what is going on. I see a huge difference now in the response I get from kids and how calm I feel when I use non-defensive communication. If we could use it on a broad scale the number of problems we face with our children would be dramatically decreased.

I also think that having kids learn non-defensive communication in elementary school would make an incredible difference in their lives, as well as our lives as teachers by the time they got to middle school and high school. In fact, we arranged for Sharon to teach these skills to all of the seventh graders at Thurston Middle School. Literally, by the next day, we saw students successfully using the skills to resolve conflicts. I believe that if all children could learn non-defensive communication at an early age, we would have a different world.

—Joanne Dunnck, Thurston Middle School, Springfield, OR

Sharon Ellison's presentation was extremely valuable for our school. An excellent teacher and presenter, Sharon helped us uncover our unconscious communication patterns when conflicts arise and examine how counterproductive, even harmful, they can be. Through her direct modeling and expertly woven anecdotes, we learned and practiced a new way to handle difficulties and conflicts.   Not only did her work give our staff tools to help strengthen our own colleagueship, but it also gave us valuable guidance in communicating effectively with parents and students.   As a Jewish Day School, we consciously teach the values of peace and loving kindness and Sharon's work in non-defensive communication supports us to model these values in our day-to-day interactions. 

—Lisa Friedman, Director of General Studies, Contra Costa Jewish Day School    

Sharon was our Keynote Speaker for our first Teen Summit at Delta Junior and Senior High School. She was received with quiet respect as she role-modeled, told stories and dialogued with the students. I think the kids thought Sharon was pretty cool. They really got a kick out of role playing with her. It was fun to watch which students volunteered as they were often the students who do have issues in regards to anger, teamwork, etc. There was a lot of laughter and fun in this learning. We were able to break up into workshops, both for the student council and other students, which added even more benefit as the students were able to practice how to handle real conflicts. Sharon met with the upper elementary students where she herself was inspired by the importance of reaching the youth early. Sharon also provided training for teachers and parents in our school district.

The Safe Schools Healthy Students Prevention Team were given the time to talk to Sharon and discuss the immediate concerns and direction of the small school in the interior of Alaska. Sharon was able to meet with the SS/HS Coordinator, Mental Health Clinician, Wellness Educator, Youth Court Director, Mental Health Coordinator, Juvenile Probation Officer, Counselor, Activity Coordinator and Secretary. They are a hands-on group of individuals who put "kids first." They appreciated Sharon Ellison's method of asking questions to get to the meat of the challenge and to establish a better working relationship with the other partners involved with kids in our town.

—Ruby Hollembaek, Safe Schools Coordinator, Delta Junction, AK

I had the privilege of introducing Sharon Ellison when she spoke at the San Mateo County Special Education in-service on "Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication." Therapists, teachers, and classroom assistants commented on how struck they were by her cogent, thoughtful concepts and their practical application. Sharon's style of presentation was easy to relate to and authentic. Her compassionate, clear, and relevant presentation, along with her use of humor, created a sense of intimacy with audience members, and they became extremely engaged, personally involved. She was very available for audience comments and questions and her responses were particularly useful. Weeks after the presentation, people are still talking about Sharon's work.

—Emily DeNola Chandler, M.A., Speech Therapist, past Program Specialist, San Mateo County, Office of Education

I have come to regard non-defensive communication as a powerful tool in my teaching and personal life. I learned how to actually gain power by not engaging in defensive tactics. Still, I was not totally convinced of the efficacy of this strategy until I used it at my middle school where I deal with kids seasoned in power struggles. It worked! Students were able to walk away from disagreements, both sides feeling okay about the results, not the usual fight/lose model. I think my students are now willing to consider a different way of solving their problems. The seeds of peace have been planted.

—Linda Bennet, Block 6 Teacher, Thurston Middle School, Springfield, OR

Program Directors for Youth and Families

Sharon Ellison presented a full-day workshop on Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication for a group of 220 occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language clinicians and educators from all over the State of Oregon.

The response to the training Sharon provided was remarkable. I have offered this conference with a variety of keynote speakers for 12 years and have never had such a positive response to a keynote speaker.
I began receiving calls the morning after the conference from individual educators who had already been able to successfully use Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills. Everyone who called asked if I could bring Sharon back to next year's conference for a follow-up presentation.

—Gayl Bowser, Oregon State Coordinator, Regional Services for Students with Severe Orthopedic Impairments, Douglas County ESD, Roseburg, OR

I visited your workshop so that I might consider offering it to educators and I was so deeply affected by the information and the role plays and my own insights that I stayed for the whole weekend. Your specific concepts and skills make so much sense to me, and they are very organized, easy to understand and easy to practice. The workshop was outstanding. I appreciated your warmth and excellent modeling of non-defensive communication. Thank you for a wonderful experience.

—Brooke Belcher, Program Director, Education 2000 , University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Sharon Ellison did a great presentation, as our keynote speaker for our recent conference for Parent Training and Information Centers in the western states.  Multiple layers of good communication skills are crucial for the staff of our Parent Training and information Centers, first, because they are parents of children with special needs, themselves, who must navigate the complex systems of services in order for their children to benefit. In addition, the parent center staff must model good communication techniques for the families and professionals they are working with.  Sharon’s strategies embedded in the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication presentation provide techniques the conference attendees can use to defuse some potentially contentious or tense situations, allowing all parties to feel heard and respected.  Even though we only had Sharon for a limited time, we all left with practical nuggets.  We all wished we had the opportunity for the full series!

—Nora Thompson, Executive Director, Matrix Parent Network & Resource Center

I believe Sharon has the remarkable ability to convey her message about the power of non-defensive communication to absolutely any audience—regardless of their primary language, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or educational experience.  When Sharon conducted a workshop for the mostly Latino immigrant parents and guardians of "I Have a Dream"- San Francisco, she presented the components of non-defensive communication, using PNDC role plays and personal examples to get her point across.  As I translated the presentation into Spanish, I could see that our families were really enjoying and learning the PNDC process, and that Sharon's natural graciousness, humility and humor helped make the material accessible, helpful and relevant to their lives as busy, working, immigrant parents of rapidly americanizing adolescent youth. They left smiling and equipped with realistic, practical new tools and strategies for talking and listening, setting boundaries, communicating their values and perspectives, and building strong, healthy, reciprocal and respectul relationships with their sons and daughers.

Abby Rovner, Project Director, "I Have a Dream" Foundation - San Francisco, CA

The non-defensive communication techniques that Sharon Ellison teaches are truly an innovative contribution to the world. Lecturing in an Independent Living Program, an educational program for foster parents, foster youth, and social workers, she opened up the possibility for accurate and non-defensive communication to take place.  She related exceptionally well to all participants: gay foster parents, traditional foster parents, family care providers, grandparents, single parents, social workers, foster youth and probation youth.  In turn, they responded exceptionally well to her as an individual and to the supportive environment she established. By directing participants through intrinsic challenges, scenarios and questions, the groundbreaking workshops left those that attended with a wealth of experience in communication.

—Jean Barry, Director, Foster Care Program, Merced College, Merced, CA


I believe this is the most powerful structure I've learned in my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist. It has tremendous implications for most human interactions.

—Bette Acuff, Ph.D., M.A., San Francisco, CA

Sharon Ellison is a remarkable teacher in the field of communications. Her innovative approach has given teachers and school-based therapists powerful tools to communicate more effectively with parents, school administrators, students, and fellow colleagues. The effectiveness of her Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process has been readily apparent and utilized immediately by a majority of our therapists.

—Michael Friedl, PT, PCS, Recipient: Judy Roe Therapist of the Year Award, State of Oregon, 1998, Pediatric Clinical Specialist, Supervisor of Therapy Services, Jackson Education Service District, Medford, OR

Ms. Ellison is a skilled therapist who is able to combine interpretive feedback with skill training, role-playing, and limit-setting. She is intuitive, insightful, and supportive and is well liked by children and staff. Besides being a highly competent therapist, she is also an excellent staff trainer and teacher … and has a unique way of combining theory with practice.

—Susan Richter, Ph.D., The Child Center, Eugene, OR

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"Your Powerful Non-Defensive Communication Parenting Class that my husband and I attended really saved our family. The eye-rolling, 'dissing,' blaming, general negativity, and confrontational style that was all pervasive before the weekend, has been replaced with tools for creating honest, open communication…something years of family and individual therapy has not been able to accomplish."

—Jan Fishler, Tin Cat Media - Producers of Educational DVDs





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