The central goal of P.E.T. is to present skills that can help parents have happy, healthy and satisfying relationships with their children.

The P.E.T. model of Parent Effectiveness and the course activities that are designed to meet those goals:

A. The Effective Parent Listens with Understanding

P.E.T. SKILLS: Helping skills that assist children and others in dealing with their own problems and needs.

B. The Effective Parent Communicates Honestly To disclose feelings and needs to prevent conflicts.

P.E.T. SKILLS: Disclosing to your child positive feelings about him/her. Disclosing or declaring to your child what you need and want; what you value and believe. Preventing a possible future problem by letting your child know your needs. Effective Confrontation when your child’s behavior has interfered with your life.

C. The Effective Parent Problem Solves Fairly To resolve conflicts between parent and child

P.E.T. SKILLS: No Lose Method of conflict resolution when what you need or want conflicts with what your child needs or wants.

D. The Effective Parent Shares Values Respectfully

P.E.T. SKILLS: Values Collision Skills for dealing with values differences.


A) Can Parents Change Their Attitudes?

Dr, Thomas Gordon, Author of P.E.T.

Can Dr. Gordon’s P.E.T. book or a P.E.T. course bring about change in such parental attitudes?  Can parents learn to become more accepting of their children?  Most practitioners in the helping professions were taught that people don’t change much unless they go through intensive psychotherapy under the guidance of a professional therapist, usually lasting from six months to a year or even longer.

In recent years, however, there has been a radical shift in the thinking of professional “change agents”.  Most of us have watched people make significant changes in attitudes and behaviors as a result of having an experience with individual and family counseling or therapy, self-help seminars, books, video tapes, and audio tapes.  Most professionals (and many parents) now accept the idea that people can change significantly when they get the opportunity to learn and practice communication and conflict resolution skills.

Almost all the parents who have participated in the P.E.T. program (both in the classroom and through self-study) realize that their present attitudes and methods as parents leave much to be desired.  Many know they already have been ineffective with one or more of their children; others are scared about what their present methods might ultimately do to the children; all are acutely aware of how many parent-child relationships deteriorate when the children move into adolescence.

Consequently, most parents in P.E.T. have a readiness and willingness to change – to learn new, more effective methods, to avoid mistakes of other parents (or their own), and to discover any technique that might make their job easier.  We have yet to meet a parent who does not want to do a better job of raising his children.

With all these things going for us in P.E.T., it is not surprising that the training experience brings about significant changes in parents’ attitudes and behavior.  Here is one sample of a statement taken from an evaluation form that we have received from a parent:

“It made me realize how much I had underestimated my children and weakened them through my overprotectiveness and overconscientiousness.  I had been a member of a really fine child study group, but it had only reinforced my guilt feelings and kept me trying to be a ‘perfect Mommy’.”

But, not all parents are able to make the changes in attitudes required to become more accepting of their children.  Some come to realize that their marriage is not mutually fulfilling, so that one or both cannot be effective with the children.  Either they seldom find the time and energy because so much of it goes into their own marital conflicts, or they find that they cannot be accepting of their children because they are not feeling accepting of themselves as husband and wife.

Other parents find it difficult to throw off the oppressive value system, acquired from their own parents and now causing them to be excessively judgmental and unaccepting of their children.  Still others have trouble modifying their attitude of “owning” their children or their deep commitment to a goal of making their children fit a preconceived mold:  this attitude is found mostly in parents who have been strongly influenced by the dogmas of a few religious sects that teach parents to have a moral obligation to make converts out of their children, even though it may mean using the power and authority of the parent or using methods of influence not too dissimilar from brainwashing and thought control.

For some parents whose own basic attitudes they find hard to modify, the P.E.T. experience, for whatever reason, opens the door to seek other kinds of help – group therapy, marital counseling, family therapy, or even individual therapy.  Quite a few of these parents have said that before P.E.T. they never would have consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist for help.  Apparently, P.E.T. creates greater self-awareness and the motivation and desire for people to change, even when P.E.T. itself may not be enough to bring about significant change.*


B) Behind the Scenes of Control

We have looked at punishment and rewards and studied how both are supposed to work and the one word we came across again and again is the word control. In several Family Connection issues we touched upon control but never really looked at it “behind the scenes” of punishment and rewards. Let’s do this now.

There are two types of control in the adult-child relationship, external control (adult discipline) and inner control (self discipline). Parents (and teachers) who manage and dispense rewards and punishments can be said to use extrinsic rewards and punishments for the external control of children. Those who do not use rewards and punishments but instead strive to increase the children’s capability to find their own pleasant (or realize unpleasant) consequences can be said to use intrinsic rewards and punishments. Those parents and teachers are helping the youngsters to develop inner control. In spite of substantial research showing that rewards and punishments do not yield the long term results desired, we are still mostly a society heavily committed to external control and sadly deficient in promoting inner control.

The concept of adults arranging for (or engineering) aversive consequences is still at the heart of most parent-training programs, may they be called Positive Parenting, Love and Logic or STEP… Many of these programs heavily borrow from P.E.T., in particular the conflict-resolution skills, but still due to their advocacy of punishment remain fundamentally different from what P.E.T. has to offer. Most of these contemporary parenting programs advise to use punishment but warn against making it too severe, against doing it frequently and against doing it in anger. However, as research has shown, punishment will only work for a limited time, that is, if in fact it is applied frequently and severe enough to be aversive and applied at the moment immediately after the unacceptable behavior has occurred (the moment parents are dealing with their anger). This is simply bad advice, to first insist to use punitive discipline, but then literally insure that it won’t work by suggesting making it weak, infrequent and non-aversive. So, what is the answer to this dilemma? What can be done with our children to inspire functional self-discipline that works?


C) Children Don’t Misbehave

By Thomas Gordon (author of P.E.T.)

If parents only knew how much trouble this word “misbehavior” causes in families! Thinking in terms of children misbehaving not only spells trouble for the kids, obviously, but it brings on unnecessary problems for their parents.

Why is this so? What is wrong with thinking and saying that your child misbehaved? Every parent does. Yes, and their parents before them did. In fact, the origin of the concept of child misbehavior goes back so far in history it is doubtful if anyone actually knows when it started or why. It’s so common nobody thinks to question it.

Strangely enough, the term misbehavior is almost exclusively applied to children–seldom to adults, friends, spouses. Have you ever overheard someone say, “My husband misbehaved yesterday,” “I took my friend to lunch and got so angry at her misbehavior,” “My team members have been misbehaving,” or “Our guests misbehaved at our party last night”? Apparently, then, only children are seen as misbehaving–no one else misbehaves.

Misbehavior then is “parent language”, tied up somehow with the way parents traditionally have viewed their offspring. Parents say children misbehave whenever their actions (or their behaviors) are contrary to how parents think their children ought to act or behave. More accurately, misbehavior is behavior that produces some sort of bad consequences for the parent.

Misbehaving = Child is doing something that is bad for the parent

On the other hand, when a child engages in behavior that does not bring bad consequences for the parent, that child is described as “behaving.”

“Jack was well-behaved at the store”; “We try to teach our children to behave”; “Behave yourself!”

Now we have:

Behaving = Child is doing something that is acceptable to the parent.

All Behaviors are Solutions to Human Needs

Family life would be infinitely less exasperating for parents and more enjoyable for children as well if parents accepted these basic principles about children:

Principle 1:

Like adults, children have basic needs that are important to them, and they continually strive to meet their needs by doing something.

Principle 2:

Children don’t misbehave. Their behaviors are simply actions they have chosen to meet these important needs.

These principles suggest that all children’s actions are behaviors. Viewed in this way, all day long a child is behaving, and for the very same reason all other creatures engage in behaviors–they are trying to get their needs met.

This does not mean, however, that parents will like all the behaviors their children engage in. Nor should they be expected to, for the children are bound to do things that sometimes produce unacceptable consequences for their parents. Kids can be loud and destructive, delay you when you’re in a hurry, pester you when you need quiet, cause you extra work, clutter up the home, interrupt your conversation, and break your valuables.

Think about such behaviors this way: they are behaviors children are engaging in to meet their needs. If at the same time they happen to interfere with your pursuit of pleasure, that doesn’t mean children are misbehaving. Rather, their particular way of behaving is unacceptable to you. Don’t interpret that children are trying to do something to you–they are only trying to do something for themselves. And this does not make them bad children or misbehaving children. But it may cause you a problem.

An infant cries because she is hungry or cold, or in pain. Something is wrong; her organism needs something. Crying behavior is the baby’s way of saying, “Help.” Such behavior, in fact, should be viewed as quite appropriate (“good”), for the crying is apt to bring the child the help that is needed. When you view the child as a creature that is doing something appropriate to get its needs met, you can’t really call it misbehaving.

If parents would strike the word “misbehaving” from their vocabulary, they would rarely feel judgmental and angry. Consequently, then they would not feel like retaliating with punishment. However, all parents do need to learn some effective methods of modifying behaviors that interfere with their needs and causes them a problem, but labeling the child as misbehaving is not one of them.


D) Reward and Punish your Child – Really?

The next few editions of the Family Connection will examine step-by-step and then scrutinize something that has been the “status quo” of parenting and teaching for ages, the idea that children will benefit from being rewarded and the idea that children will learn to change by being punished. We’ll start by clarifying something about control.

Remember the long list of synonyms we looked at a few editions back (for past editions of the Family Connection go here) for the verb “to discipline”: govern, hold in line, constrain, restrict, prohibit, direct, restrain, etc. Each identifies some form of control. Each implies the use of power. In the minds of many adults, “disciplining” children is but a euphemism for employing power to control them. Let’s see exactly how this power-based control is supposed to work.

The aim of controllers is to place themselves in charge of their controllees, in a position to dominate or coerce them. The controller’s wish, of course, is that the controllee will respond by being compliant, submissive, tractable, willing, nonresistant, yielding–euphemisms for obedient. Controllers hope that their controllees will always be obedient.

Let’s also keep in mind that this sort of discipline is employed to bring about specific behaviors judged desirable by the controller. The goals or ends are always decided for the controllee by the controller. It is important to be aware of the fact that controllers may very well choose ends that are seen as beneficial to the child. Their intentions may be good indeed. How many of us have heard when we grew up: “You’ll thank me when you’re older,” or “I’m only doing it for your own good”? It’s not hard to spot how many controllers – whether they be parents, teachers, bosses, religious figures, politicians or dictators – try to justify their use of control by this logic. Certainly many controllers feel that they know what’s best because they are older, wiser, more experienced, better trained – whatever.

There is also the possibility that controllers sometimes choose ends beneficial primarily to themselves rather than to the controllee, as when a teacher decides to expel a student who is making her miserable by interfering with her need to teach her students.

It’s a tricky thing to feel “in control” and controllers often deceive themselves into thinking they exercise control to help the controllee when actually they do it to meet their own needs. Can you think of a situation when you used your Authority P (power) to control others? And can you think of a situation when someone used power to control you? Do you remember how the controllee reacted? And do you remember, when you were the controllee how you felt?

Parent Effectiveness Training and Teacher Effectiveness Training are based on the observation that only extremely rarely any youngster would view coercive power as being for his or her “own good”, even if they “obey” the controller’s directions.

Next month we’ll go one step further and look at where controllers get their power and how exactly it is applied to the controllee.


E) Just Because You’re Hearing Doesn’t Mean You’re Listening

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

Use this short test to assess yourself, responding “Yes” or “No” to each one:

  • I use humor to help team members or co-workers who are upset get their minds off of what’s troubling them.
  • When my children share problems with me, I reassure them that things will be okay.
  • When team members tell me about problems they’re having with someone, I offer advice from my own experience.
  • I ask pertinent questions to get more information so I can determine what solutions are likely to work best for co-workers who tell me about their problems.
  • When people share problems with me, I try to analyze what’s wrong and give them some suggestions.

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, I urge you to read on to learn how to improve your listening skills.

Barriers to Communication

Most people are surprised to learn that reassuring, asking questions, giving advice and the like are not helpful responses when someone else–team member, co-worker, manager, spouse, or child–has a problem. In fact, they are major barriers–they block the other person from talking further about what’s bothering them and getting clarity or resolution to it.

Let’s say a co-worker sighs, looks dejected and says to you: “I’ll never make it! These new quotas are ridiculous!” This is a clear signal that this person is upset, distressed, has a problem and needs to be listened to and understood.

Most of us probably would react by reassuring our co-worker, “You’re a pro. I wouldn’t worry about it” or by suggesting, “I think it would be a good idea to talk to your supervisor about this” or by asking “How high are they?” Responses such as these, well intentioned as they may be, generally do more harm than good. None of them does anything to help the other person get relief from distress; none communicates understanding. Instead, they cause him/her to feel frustrated, misunderstood, patronized, and unaccepted. In effect, these responses communicate: “It’s not okay for you to feel this way” or “I’m not comfortable hearing that you’re upset so here’s how to get over it.”

Listening, Not Just Hearing

Active Listening, on the other hand, communicates to your co-worker that you understand and accept his/her feelings. (This process was first called “reflection of feelings” by the eminent psychologist, Dr. Carl Rogers who espoused it as the best way for psychotherapists to respond to their clients. In the early 60′s, Rogers’ student, Dr. Thomas Gordon, brought this skill into the mainstream by teaching parents how to Active Listen to their children in his Parent Effectiveness Training {PET} program.)

You Active Listen by consciously suspending your own agenda, ideas and judgments and putting yourself in the other’s shoes.You pay complete attention to the other person, focusing on understanding their feelings. You then reflect or mirror back to them what you hear, leaving your own feelings and opinions out of the listening process. Let me say that again: leave your own feelings and opinions out. Yes, I know easier said than done. But read on.

For example your Active Listening response to “I’ll never make it! These new quotas are ridiculous!” would be something like: “You sound pretty upset” or “You’re concerned that they’re way too high,” or “The new quotas are making you really nervous.” Empathic responses such as these communicate to the other person that you understand and accept their feeling as they do. Further, reflecting back what you hear encourages the flow of communication. Now your co-worker can confirm that you heard accurately (or not) and move deeper into the problem. With continued on-target Active Listening, often s/he will experience relief, even catharsis. If you have experienced being deeply understood by another person, you know the sense of relief and well-being that results.

It’s a Learnable Skill

While listening with empathy sounds simple, it isn’t. Doing it well requires conscious awareness, strong intention and practice. Four different steps are involved:

  1. First, become aware of the cues people with whom you live and work give to signal that they have a problem.
  2. When you see or hear those signals and decide to listen, it’s hugely important to avoid responding with one of the Roadblocks to Communication, i.e., interrupting, suggesting, questioning, advising, reassuring (there are 12 categories of these barriers to avoid).
  3. Then give full attention to the other person and reflect back to them what you hear them saying and feeling; if the Active Listening is off target, they’ll say so. and you can try again.
  4. If they feel understood, usually they will keep talking and often find relief from or resolution to the concern or problem.

You might be thinking, “But I don’t have time to listen to someone’s problems.” The reality is that people are faced with adversity and problems every day; that’s an inevitable part of life. In order for us to be as productive and creative as we can be, we need to have the opportunity to vent, to talk through and solve problems that crop up and keep us from functioning at our full capacity.

Given an opportunity to be heard, people will often get clarity and ultimately resolution to what is bothering them and then can move forward–often with renewed energy and focus.


F) Things I Never Told My Parents

By Selena Cruz George, P.E.T. Program

As tradition calls for in the second week of July, I visited the ranch and spent a blazing hot weekend kicking back by the pool while the dogs chased chickens, the horses grazed and my dad manned the grill. The more family members who come, the more we start story-telling, laughing and reminiscing. We may have broken a record for our family this year!

Likely being the most opposite of the rest of the bunch, the conversation usually ends up coming round to me a few times. What am I doing with my life, am I still dating that strange character from last year and oh, remember when Selena almost did that ONE STUPID THING?!

When it came time for that last subject, I responded differently than I normally would. Instead of shrugging and laughing with them, I admitted a few things that they never really knew the truth about.

Yes, it was me who toilet-papered the neighbor’s house when I was 14.

And yep, I was the one who had the epic party of junior year in high school.

Oh and also, I know I said that my best friend made me sneak out of the house with her that one night to see the concert…but it was really my idea!

I’m old enough now where (thankfully), everyone got a pretty good laugh out of it (phew!) even though I still was a bit nervous to fess up to my parents, strangely enough.

I couldn’t help but wonder why I did the things I did, and why was I so afraid to tell them when I was young? Was I a bad kid? Did I lead my life down the wrong path, destined for failure? Of course not! In fact, I think I’m pretty uhh…”normal.”

Like most teenagers, I simply got to realize that I didn’t need my parents as much as I used to. As Dr. Gordon says: “Teenagers don’t rebel against their parents; they rebel against their parents’ power.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And along with my “bad behavior” came punishment of all sorts. Restriction, time-outs, you name it. Did these punishments stop me from doing the things that my parents didn’t want me to do? Of course not! I simply became more clever. (Sorry mom and dad.)

It’s not that I didn’t love and respect my parents – I did, and do! I suppose it was just that my need for freedom became much too strong because of the severe limits, punishments and fears that were created in my relationship with them.

If only they knew about P.E.T….sigh….

My final thought here is this (as previously posted on our P.E.T. Fan page): “What punishment teaches is how to avoid punishment.” Think about it!

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