Why Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) Works: How Today’s Evidence Supports the P.E.T. Approach to Parenting.

by Larissa Dann. April, 2015
More and more parents are educating themselves on the best way to bring up their children. We search the Internet, we read books, and we attend parenting classes. We all want to do the best by our children, to raise children that are loved and loving, confident, compassionate, considerate, and with a good sense of self-worth. In this quest for information, many parents look for evidence of effectiveness.

My experience, over 20 years of parenting using P.E.T. skills (and as a parent educator), is that the principles of Parent Effectiveness Training work. The longevity of Dr Gordon’s book and course, and its continued uptake by parents around the world, attribute to the positive outcomes of P.E.T. on family relationships.

The question I sought to answer in this article was: Why? What is it about the P.E.T. skills that lead to favourable life results for children and parents? The P.E.T. course has been taught since 1962. How does current evidence support P.E.T. in terms of good parenting practice? There is a now a plethora of research that unpacks various traits and conditions necessary for good outcomes for our children. How does P.E.T. fit into this evidence landscape?

Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.):

Brief History

The parenting course, Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), was initially devised and run by Dr Thomas Gordon in 1962. His course was widely regarded as the first-ever course to teach parents skills to enhance their parenting experience. Dr Gordon’s program teaches respectful communication skills to improve the relationship between parent and child. P.E.T. is taught worldwide (36 countries), with the book translated into approximately 20 languages. An award-winning study by Dr Christine Wood (2003) examined the effectiveness of P.E.T., providing evidence of the improvement in parenting skills after parents have attended a P.E.T. class.

Differences in approaches to parenting

Basically, there are two approaches to parenting (Kohn, 2005; Porter, 2008). Perhaps the best known is the ‘behavioural’ model, where parents rely on rewards and punishment to obtain compliance from their children. The alternative approach, known as a relationship, or humanist, approach, does not use reward or punishment, but instead depends on the relationship to develop an inner discipline. Parent Effectiveness Training takes a relationship-based approach to parenting.
Table 1 summarises some of the differences between the two approaches.
Table 1: Differences Between Parenting Approaches

Differences between approaches:


* Child and parent centred
* Communication skills
* Emphasis on listening to; understanding child
* Unconditional
* Enhances relationship over life
* General population
* Suitable for all ages – babes to adults
* Does not use reward and punishment
* Parent as a partner, or guide
* Solve problems within the relationship – win/win or no-lose
* Mutual respect
* Parents are people – can’t be consistent
* Looks behind the behaviour to the need
* Does things ‘with’ children
* Democratic


* Parent centred
* Behavioural management skills
* Emphasis on getting child to conform
* Conditional (to be earned)
* Targets behaviour in present time
* Initially developed for clinical intervention
* To age 12, then often different approach for teenagers
* Relies on reward and punishment
* Parent in ‘supportive control’
* Aim for compliance from child – win/lose
* Conditional respect – when child ‘deserves’ it
* Parents must be consistent
* Reacts to the behaviour rather than the need
* Does things ‘to’ children
* Autocratic

Differences in outcomes between models:


* Emotional intelligence skills taught
* Resilience enhanced
* Internal, intrinsic motivation and ethical
* Child acts out of consideration for others
* Life long relationship developed
* Skills transferable across all relationships:


* Emotional intelligence not addressed (child and parent)
* Resilience skills not addressed
* External behavioural motivation moral development
* Child acts out of consideration for self – “how will I be punished or rewarded for my behaviour?”
* Relationship improved, but not life long
* Skills specific for one age group; only for parents partner, school friends, work relationships etc

An article by Linda Adams is a useful resource in terms of comparing parenting programs.

How P.E.T. Skills and Principles Achieve Evidence-based Outcomes

This paper describes a selection of evidence-based attributes that lead to good life outcomes. These include: attachment (including attunement, reflective parental functioning and mentalizing); resilience; self-regulation and self-discipline; strong relationship with parents or carers; attribution of intent; and dealing with, or preventing, trauma.

Please follow this link to read the full article on how P.E.T. helps parents and carers attain these qualities – for both their children, and themselves.

[1] Wood, C, 2003. Helping Families Cope. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Family Matters, 65, 28-33.[1] Wood, C, 2003. Helping Families Cope. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Family Matters, 65, 28-33.

Why do Children Bully – Seminar 13 Feb – Turramurra Pre-School

This is a question that baffles every parent.  Why is my child being given a hard time at school, at the hands of a relative stranger or worst still, by a supposedly BEST friend?  Bullying occurs in all schools, in every grade, and into the adult workplace.  Bullying happens in the most expensive city schools to the most isolated of schools in outback Australia.  No country is exempt, this is a universal problem.

So what can parents do?

Come and listen to Robert Pereira, our senior Parent Effectiveness Trainer, specialist Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and author of “What Children say about Why We Bully”.

Seminar Details

Pymble/Turramurra Pre-School

21 Handley Ave, Turramurra

Saturday 13 February – 9am – 4pm

Cost: $15 per person or $25 per couple

Pre-registration required via email to: leokeegan@bigpond.com.

Payment is made at the door and Tea and Coffee will be provided.  Bring your lunch and notepad.

The Trouble with Time Out

timeoutDiscipline – the perennial parenting problem. Discipline (the verb) can mean either ‘to teach’, or ‘to control’ (Gordon, T. 1989). In our quest to parent effectively, to do the best by our children, ourselves and our family, we think carefully about the best way to discipline our child.

If we use discipline to control, then we rely on reward and punishment to change our children’s behaviour.

This article questions the use of one of the most commonly used punishments – time out. The majority of the parenting books we read, parenting websites, parenting courses, or parents we know, suggest time-out as a benign punishment. Most schools and childcare centres rely on time-out to discipline children.

However, is time-out really the best way to deal with unacceptable behaviour? Or can this form of punishment have damaging effects on our child – and our relationship with our child? [click to continue…]

Practical Parenting Myths Busted!

Practical parenting myths


Over many years, some beliefs around parenting have developed and been passed from one generation to another. So we take these as the basis for our practical parenting style and practices. But are these beliefs actually true? Do they serve us well? Are they still appropriate in today’s families?

Let’s have a look at some parenting “myths” –

That great parenting is natural. You’ll instinctively know what to do with your child and how to parent well.

Sadly, many parenting practices around the world show that this is not true – children are not always nurtured; in fact some parents actually harm their children, while others cause damage through neglect. For many parents, their experience with babies and children has been limited before becoming parents, so they don’t know how to relate to this new family member, or what behaviour is normal for a child. And of course, babies don’t come with an instruction manual!

So this myth is busted.

 That permissive parenting is the cause of all the problems with children. That allowing children to do what they want is wrong and leads to unruly families.

In all my work and experiences with parents, most of them say that they tend towards authoritarian parenting, where they are the “boss” of the family. Very few parents admit using the permissive style. So this parenting style can’t be the reason so many parents complain about their children’s behaviour.

Permissiveness from practical parenting is not the root cause of children’s behavioural problems.

Myth busted! [click to continue…]

Children Playing – What’s the Big Deal?

children playing

Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Play is the highest form of research.”

Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that  “All children have the right to play and rest”.


Children playing is really important … But why?

Play is one of the most important needs your child has. Children need time and space to play – to create, to imagine, to wonder, to marvel at nature, to enjoy company or be alone, and to grow.  As parents, it is up to us to make sure that our children have the freedom and time to play.

What does play do for children?

Allowing time for unstructured, uninterrupted children playing time gives them the opportunity to:

  • Relax, have fun and be stress-free
  • Develop healthy bodies and minds
  • Think creatively and be creative with their hands
  • Satisfy their natural curiosity
  • Imagine all manner of wondrous things
  • Improvise and make believe
  • Experience roles other than their own

  [click to continue…]

Honouring Lola Mavor Green

23rd Jan 1938 – 2nd Sept 2014

In creating an ETIA Ltd tribute to Lola, we in ETIA Ltd wish to remember Lola, Celebrate her years in ETIA and give thanks for all she did and the difference she made in our lives.

We seek to describe the essence of the ‘ETIA Lola’ we knew. How and who were influenced by her. How she impacted on our ETIA world and through some personal tributes sent at the time of her death, the footprint she left on our hearts.

This tribute, for those of us who knew Lola personally, will not remove the grief of our loss, rather it is an opportunity to remember the good things, celebrate the good times, appreciate the gifts Lola had and shared so freely, generously and conscientiously.

The tribute is written so we can be inspired and seek to emulate her example. [click to continue…]

We all suffer from the bullying of the tiger parent when it comes to homework

360_wmoms_0131At this time when parents are taking their 5 year olds to their ‘big school orientation’ some media reports indicate just how active the ‘tiger mothers’ (and fathers) are at influencing and, dare I say it, bullying childcare and preschool staff.

An article by Jordan Baker in the Telegraph on 19th October reported that ‘childcare centres and preschools are giving homework to four-year-olds’.  When your child starts at primary school, you as a parent have an opportunity to stop this nonsense. The excuse often used by tiger parents to bully childcare and preschool staff is that homework for four year olds is getting them ready for the ‘real world of big school’.

In fact, there are thousands of educators in our primary schools who know that research clearly indicates that home work in primary schools damages children psychologically and educationally. Psychologists such as Michael Carr-Gregg have for years patiently and persistently pointed out to parents the well documented damage done to primary school children by homework. What is equally important, is that the research shows that young kids who do more homework are more educationally damaged than those who do less homework. The link below to an article entitled ‘Homework overload gets an ‘F’ from experts’, quotes Associate Professor Richard Walker from Sydney University as saying: “Kids who do more homework actually perform worse on standardized tests”.

[click to continue…]

Getting Fathers to Parenting Groups (without really trying) – P.E.T. in the news!


Parent Effectiveness Training in the News.

Summarised findings of a research project on men attending P.E.T. courses have recently been published in the Fatherhood Research Bulletin. This is an occasional publication of the ARACY Fatherhood Research Network, produced by Dr Richard Fletcher of the University of Newcastle.

The published article is below.  To see the poster from which this research was summarised, please follow the link: http://parentskills.com.au/sites/default/files/Poster%20-%20QEC%2010-2a.pdf

Getting Fathers to Parenting Groups (without really trying) – my experience with Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.)

Larissa Dann

I have been teaching Parent Effectiveness Training  (P.E.T.) in Canberra for the past 16 years. During that time I have noted a high attendance rate (35%) of men (fathers, step-fathers and foster parents).  Intrigued, I sought to examine possible reasons for the interest of men attending P.E.T. courses in Canberra, and to look at some outcomes for participants over time.

P.E.T. takes a Rogerian, relationship-based, democratic approach to parenting (in contrast to a behavioural approach).  The 24-hour course (over 8 weeks) teaches relationship skills in the form of respectful communication.   P.E.T. helps parents empathise with their children, to look beyond the child’s behaviour to their need, thus aiding a change in attribution of intent.

I designed a10-question survey designed using the on-line tool “Surveymonkey”, and sent it to 61 men who had participated in P.E.T. courses from 2008 to 2010.  The survey was anonymous, and responses could not be linked with participants.  Thirty-two (53%) of the men surveyed responded.  90% of the respondents had attended the course more than six months previously.  Active listening was the skill most commonly retained and utilised by the participants (90%).

Participants reported they:

  • had better communication with their children, through utilising the skills of active listening and conflict resolution (taught in P.E.T).
  • had better insight into the other’s perspective/behaviour, and greater empathy.
  • were “less authoritarian”

Participants found:

  • they had calmer, more peaceful, cooperative and harmonious households
  • there was a benefit of a consistent P.E.T. approach to parenting with their partner.
  • They had a better relationship with their children,

It was clear that these fathers wanted an alternative to being, or being seen as, authoritarian or the ‘disciplinarian’.  Survey participants valued the P.E.T. approach, with its emphasis on relationship skills and listening skills.  Interestingly, respondents retained many of the communication skills taught in P.E.T. – well beyond six months.  Fathers emphasised the significance of relationships with their children (and partners).  These survey results support the importance of a course such as P.E.T. being available to fathers.  For contact: www.parentskills.com.au

Cleaning up our mistakes with our children

One of the elements of the BYB program that I bring into PET is the concept of “Cleaning up with your children.” From time to time all parents make mistakes, say things they regret in the heat of the moment – this is very normal. Even after you have mastered the PET skills you will always have times when you act or speak in reaction. However what matters more to your children than the fact that you have spoken in anger or acted inappropriately is the fact that you take responsibility for your actions and apologise.

Some parents when first encountering the notion of apologising to their children have concerns. They imagine that their children will in some way take advantage of them or have some ‘power’ over them and start to “rule the roost”. However in truth quite the opposite happens. Children tend to respect their parents more and feel taken care of and respected in turn. They have the sense of really mattering and they seem to mature through the process. This kind of modelling and interaction contributes to building the emotional intelligence of our children.

Children who are treated in this way are much more likely to apologise when they too act in a way that causes others distress. They learn it is safe to apologise. Cleaning up our communication with our children clearly demonstrates to children that we all react in ways that do not help us get our needs met and that in cleaning up and apologising we can repair this lapse in relationship and remove any “residue” of ill feeling left with our children. In fact research has shown that relationships where this happens are strengthened not weakened by the apology and a relationship of deeper trust is built.

And it is more than just saying a ‘sorry’. It must be heartfelt and authentic and what better way to disclose your feelings than in the form of and I-message. For example, “I want you to know I am sorry that I spoke loudly to you in that tone. I was upset about something else and I overreacted. I do not want to do this with you because I love/respect/care for you.” You can see that it is more powerful to explain to your child why you are sorry and that you are saying sorry because you value the relationship and that you value communication that is ‘clean’. We also have an opportunity to get more in touch with our own inner self to see what the cause of our reaction and upset.

There is much learning for the receiver in this I-message as you can see, and of course being ready to shift gears and active listen any response from our child that shows they need to be heard is critical.

Whenever we do not clean up in this way we leave a residue between you and the other person that is carried forward to the next interaction. This is counterproductive to the ongoing health of the relationship and has a flow on effect. When we do clean up however the relationship is much warmer and stronger.

The other benefit from this is that your children will be more likely to apologise for their communication that is “off” with you. My children are very quick to apologise for their moods and I have in my keepsakes box some lovely “sorry notes” from over the years, some even elaborately decorated. What a wonderful life skill to have passed on to them.

And yes, cleaning up does take courage and yes it is worth it! Try it and you will see.



Two potential Role plays for the Younger Age Group

Thanks to some International Schools in Beijing, I visited Beijing twice in the short period of three months and inhaled more of its pollution, which happened to be more dense the second time round.  My three week visit also provided another occasion to meet with the ex-pat PET instructors, who attended some of my bullying seminars as well.   It seems that many of the parents who attend PET there are those with young children rather than teens, hence their courses are more heavily skewed towards the younger end of the spectrum, and requested more role plays for this age group.

Upon return, one of our Australian instructors shared a problem she was having with a mother in her present PET class.  This mother is Chinese and has enormous difficulties with active listening, and despite the seven weeks of PET, is still fighting the habit of ‘telling’ the child ‘whatever’ and expecting compliance.   ‘Old habits die hard’ as they say.

One of her issues is that her 7 year old refuses to practice the piano.  She does not know what the ‘bottom of his/her cone’ is… as yet.  Even with good active listening, there is still no guarantee that the child will voice his/her cone-issue, however we know that AL (active listening) will provide the best conditions for its revelation.

This mother seemed intense in getting the child to play the piano, and would probably provide a list of benefits for excelling in this skill.  All logical road blocking stuff !   This would be difficult to role play as we may not be able to guess what the core reason for this resistance really is.   So this instructor and myself brainstormed some possible cores that could belong to a 7 year old.

Here is my list:

  • I don’t like the piano
  • I don’t like the music I have to play
  • I don’t like the teacher
  • the teacher sits too close to me while I play
  • the piano lessons at school are during my lunch time break…so I miss out on soccer / friends
  • my friends say that piano is for girls
  • my fingers can’t reach all the keys…I don’t like to stretch ..
  •  the piano is too big…I prefer a small musical instrument I can walk around with…
  • (your additions here)

In this real case, the mother does not play the piano herself…and perhaps there is some vicarious living going on here….some need she has for him or her.   In Beijing, a similar piano issue was shared. _____________________________________________________________________________________________

The second issue that was shared, was the problem of brushing teeth before bedtime.  (Session 2 or 3 or 8)This group are at Session 8 of their course and the brushing of teeth prior to bed is a major concern for a few parents.   This is where the skills of consultancy need to be employed.

Consultant: – a) know the facts

                                b) present facts clearly  * *

Imagine the Shifting gears diagram….(which I won’t draw here.)

Mum:  time to brush your teeth before bed.

Child: Noooo!… I don’t want to.

Mum: …..AL (active listening)…

followed immediately with an I-M.

“I would like you to brush your teeth like you always do…because we and you have done a lot of eating at tea and some of the small bits of food could be stuck between our teeth.

Child: No…there is no food stuck between my teeth

Mum: …..AL:  . . . .

“Yes, there are no chunky bit of food….because if there were chunky bits, you would feel it.   The food that I am talking about are small bits that might be stuck in the narrow gaps between each tooth…bits so small that our tongue can’t feel it”.

You see….(parent gets a piece of paper and draws the mouth and teeth)

  • using a different colour, say red or green, show food lodged between the teeth.
  • Because these pieces are so small (particles) we can’t feel them with our tongue
  • If we go to sleep from now to 7.00am, that will be ___ hours
  • During that time, the food particles will decay…go rotten…and can affect the gums around the tooth.
  • at night, our mouth does not make saliva…..during the day our mouth is always making   saliva so the food particles at recess and lunch time are dissolved…but at night, there is no saliva to dissolve these particles.
  • …and also, our breath can end up smelling a smell that others will notice…

There could be resistance to any bits of advice….so the parent needs to be alert to this, and AL that  resistance at least once, before supplying more advice/more information.

Another tack to take / an additional tack:

a) What is the taste that you have in your mouth at the moment? (it will probably be the taste of the evening meal)

b) After you brush your teeth, what is the feeling you have in your mouth?  ( I am processing for ‘freshness’ here)                                                 Exactly !…that is a sign that the mouth is clean…freshness – clean

Turn such events into educational moments.

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