Parent Effectiveness Training: How the Evidence of Today Supports The Wisdom of Yesterday

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. In my view, P.E.T. provided the template for what is now variously known as gentle, peaceful or respectful parenting.

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[i] 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.

Please follow this link for a table summarising the differences in approach to parenting. In addition, an article by Linda Adams is a useful resource in terms of comparing parenting programs.

For an extensive review on how the P.E.T. skills fit with the evidence on qualities such as:

  • attachment (including attunement, reflective parental functioning and mentalizing);
  • resilience;
  • self-regulation
  • self-discipline;
  • strong relationship with parents or carers;
  • attribution of intent;
  • and dealing with, or preventing, trauma.

go to: How The Evidence Of Today Supports The Wisdom Of Yesterday. Gordon Training Institute Here you will find the full article on how P.E.T. helps parents and carers attain these qualities – for both their children, and themselves.

Related articles:
Is it fear or regard - why do our children respect us?

Putting peaceful parenting into practice with very young children.

Parenting without reward or punishment: Podcast

How to help your child behave out of consideration, rather than compliance.

PET on a page: a summary of the skills and principles of Parent Effectiveness Training (PET)

Why doesn't my child like me: why our children might resist our new parenting skills.


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

First Posted 12 May, 2015. Updated 2017.

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