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

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

Written by Larissa Dann

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.

Larissa Dann

Larissa Dann


I am an experienced P.E.T. instructor, having taught P.E.T. since 1996 to over 1000 parents. Importantly, I use the P.E.T. skills while raising my children - I endeavour to 'practice what I preach'. I have an Honours degree in Science, a Diploma in Counselling, and am an accredited mediator. In 2007 I was awarded the ACT Adult Learning Outstanding Teacher/Tutor award. Professionally, I worked as a counsellor, then manager, in a community organisation that specialised in counselling parents, children and young people. As manager and worker, I found the P.E.T. skills to be transferable across the workplace. I am a passionate advocate of P.E.T., and have presented posters on the topic at several international parenting conferences, as well as writing several articles on various aspects of P.E.T. I am a past member of the board of ETIA, and was the voluntary CEO in 2009/10. I am a blogger and writer, writing for my own website, and as both a paid and unpaid blogger on local and international websites.

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Loving Family | About ETIA

About ETIA

The Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia (ETIA) Ltd is a not-for-profit, community based organisation that is dedicated to making courses in communication and conflict resolution skills available and accessible to all people in Australia.

ETIA’s mission is to provide individuals with effective communication and conflict resolution skills to build connected, harmonious relationships.

Our inspiration and programs come from the late Dr Thomas Gordon who is the author and founder of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) program and Gordon Training International (GTI).

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