P.E.T on a Page: a Summary of the Skills and Principles of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.).

Larissa Dann

Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) is a gentle, peaceful parenting approach that helps develop a relationship of warmth and respect, between children and their parents or carers. Importantly, P.E.T does not use punishment and reward to change a child’s behaviour. In my opinion, the skills and philosophy of P.E.T underpin many modern parenting practices, including gentle, peaceful or attachment parenting.

The positive outcomes for children, parents and families who adopt the skills taught in P.E.T. are now, I believe, strongly backed by research and evidence. You can read more in ‘How the Evidence of Today Supports the Wisdom of Yesterday’, and read real stories from parents putting P.E.T into practice here.

What is P.E.T.?

Essentially, P.E.T. is a set of communication skills, embedded in a philosophy of valuing, and respect for, children. Parents learn how to:

  • recognise ‘who owns the problem’
  • listen so the other feels understood
  • assert their needs without blaming or putting down others
  • deal with resistance
  • handle conflict, so that both parties (parent and child) can live with the outcome – “no-lose conflict resolution”
  • avoid the use of punishments or rewards
  • influence children, and skills for resolving values collisions

Summary of Skills and Principles

The article Origins of the Gordon Model, neatly describes the main communication skills taught in the P.E.T. course. Hot Tips for Happy Parenting provides a précis of the skills, as does this glossary from the parenting blog, theacornwithin.com.

Here is a brief summary of the main skills and principles of PET, along with links to examples of the skills in practice.


Children do not ‘misbehave’.

The concept that children do not ‘misbehave’, but instead behave simply to meet a need, is a revelation to many parents. Rather than labelling children as ‘selfish’, or making assumptions about their intent, P.E.T. asks that we try to understand our young person, and not take behaviour personally. P.E.T. turns misbehaviour around to being a problem of competing needs – parent and child’s.

Avoid the use of rewards and punishment.

P.E.T. examines, in detail, the detrimental effects of using rewards and punishments on children, and the parent-child relationship. The skills taught within the course offer an alternative to the external discipline of rewards and punishment.


Behaviour Window (incorporating the concept of Problem Ownership).

A simple but effective visual and conceptual model, the Behaviour Window helps parents objectively observe a situation and develop self-awareness. The Problem Ownership model then helps people determine the best skill (or combination of skills) to use with their children.

How do I put this into practice?

The scaffold for the P.E.T. communication skills relies on an understanding of ‘who owns the problem’. I need to ask myself:

  • Is my child upset? Then my child ‘owns the problem’.
    • I will know this because I will be aware of their ‘cues and clues’. They are telling me that, in some way, their needs are not being met. For example, they may cry, withdraw, yell, or hit or kick someone (such as their sibling).
    • My first response will be to Active Listen.
  • Is it me (the parent), who is upset? Then I ‘own the problem’.
    • I will know this because, somehow, my needs are not being met. I may feel frustrated, annoyed, helpless, afraid – a myriad of different emotions.
    • This is when I will employ my skills of assertiveness (‘confrontive I-Message’), or modify the environment, or ‘shift gears’.
  • Are we both upset? Then we ‘both own the problem’ – we share the problem with our child.
    • I will know this because my best I-Message, and Active Listening, has not resulted in a change in my child’s behaviour. This is when I need to engage in no-lose conflict resolution, or employ the skills to reduce values collisions.

Active Listening.

Active Listening is a method of truly hearing and trying to understand what the other person is saying and experiencing (the basis of empathising). P.E.T. emphasises the inclusion of feelings in Active Listening. First conceived by the eminent psychologist Dr Carl Rogers (for client-centred counselling), Dr Gordon recognised that these counselling skills would also be useful for parents to improve family relationships.

How do I put this into practice?

My role, when my child ‘owns the problem’ is to try and help them through Active Listening

  • You feel . . . because . . .”
    • You look really annoyed and frustrated when those blocks just keep falling down!”
    • You seem hurt and sad that your friend did not play with you today.”

I will need to avoid the twelve Roadblocks, as these will stop me effectively supporting my child.

Examples of Active Listening.


Dr Gordon devised the concept and structure of I-Messages. This non-blameful communication skill helps you let another person know that, in some way, your needs are not being met. I-Messages (or I-statements) are taught in relationship courses, assertiveness courses, and management courses around the world. There are three parts to an I-message: a non-judgemental description of the child’s behaviour; the feelings of the parent; and a concrete, tangible effect on, (or cost to) the parent.

How do I put this into practice?

When I am distressed, I ‘own the problem’. I need to be respectfully assertive, using an ‘I-Message’ “When I see/hear/ that behaviour . . . I feel . . . because . . .”

Ideally, an I-Message is comprised of 3 parts:

  • A non-blameful description of their behaviour
    • “When I see the toys on the floor  . . .”
  • How I felt about the behaviour
    • “ . . . I feel concerned . . .”
  • The impact or cost to me (or another person, such as a sibling, grandparent etc).  This is the ‘because’ – where you give your child a reason.
    • “. . . that I might step on a Lego block and hurt my foot”

Importantly, I have to avoid the trap of ‘you messages’ (which tend to blame the other person, such as “You’re just being lazy”). P.E.T. shows us, in detail, how roadblocks such as ‘you messages’ stop our children communicating with us, and can leave them feeling put down, unimportant, powerless, or rebellious.

If my child resists my I-Message, then I need to ‘shift gears’.

  • I try to understand their point of view by listening, before going back to another I-Message.

Examples of I-Messages

No-lose (or win-win) Conflict Resolution.

The six steps of problem solving (Method III), encourages the inclusion of all family members in a solution with which everyone can live. No-lose conflict resolution is the main skill for parents opting for an alternative to using rewards and punishment.

Examples of no-lose conflict resolution.


Part of the suite of options in resolving values conflicts, modelling refers to parents ‘living what they believe’ – demonstrating their values through their behaviour and actions.

The Big Picture

The big picture? P.E.T. aims to help both parents and children meet their needs, and maintain a relationship of warmth and respect. For life.

First published: 4th September, 2016

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved


Thank you Larissa for this succinct overview with all its links. I am sharing now with graduates as a refresher read.


Thank you, Catherine. I am very pleased that you found it useful, and I hope your graduates also find the article helpful now, and in the future.

really helpful

I'm pleased this article was helpful.

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