What is Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T)?

P.E.T is an approach to parenting that helps parents and carers develop a warm, positive relationship with their children . . . for life.

Generally taught in a group setting over eight weeks, parents learn practical communication skills and principles to help develop a mutually respectful relationship with children. The concepts form the basis of 'gentle', 'peaceful', and 'respectful' parenting.

The P.E.T. course is based on Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T), a world-wide best selling book by Dr Thomas Gordon. For an outline of the skills and background of the approach, you might like: P.E.T on a Page: a Summary of the Skills and Principles of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.).


Is this a permissive style of parenting, or caring for, children?

How can I get children to change their behaviour if I don’t reward or punish?

Will the course help with sibling rivalry?

Is this course suitable for children with autism or with learning/behavioural needs?

Does this course compliment other parenting courses such as Circle of Security or RIE?

Are the skills helpful in divorce/separation/blended family situations?

Are the principles helpful with military families and deployment?

Have I missed the boat if my child is [any age] from five to a teenager. Is it too late?

Can people other than parents attend the course?

What age group does the course target?

Should I tell people, including my children, that I’m taking a parenting course?

What will I learn?

Are there role-plays?

How many parents in the group?

Committing to eight weeks is a long time.

What is the cost?

Who am I?

Frequently Asked Questions . . . Answered!

Is this a permissive style of parenting, or caring for, children?


A common misperception of gentle/peaceful parenting is that this is a permissive approach to parenting – that because there are no rewards or punishments, then children can get away with ‘bad behaviour’, that they will become 'spoiled' or 'entitled'.

In fact, I believe the opposite happens. Children raised with this approach are likely to be considerate, compassionate, caring, and with good social and emotional skills (now acknowledged as '21st Century' skills for the workplace). You might be interested to read young people's reflections on the impact of being raised with P.E.T skills.

One way of thinking about parenting styles is around the dynamic of winning or losing. With a permissive approach, children will demand their solution to a conflict – that is, the child wins (and their parent can feel quite resentful). On the other hand, when there is a conflict in an authoritarian style household, the parent will insist on the child doing what they say. In this case, the parent wins, and the child can feel resentful towards their parent. Neither approach promotes a mutually respectful relationship.

The aim in P.E.T. is to resolve conflict in a manner where both parent and child feel OK with the solution – that the outcome suits them both, even if it was not their initial solution.

The P.E.T approach to problem solving helps:

  • Children develop problem solving skills
  • Children develop empathy, because problem solving involves caring about another person’s needs as well as their own
  • Children become creative in finding solutions
  • Develop a harmonious household because the relationship between parents and children is improved
  • Find solutions that both parents and children are likely to keep to, because they both had buy-in and agency in determining the solution.

The skills in P.E.T. help you parent for the long-term, building a mutually respectful relationship between you and your children.

How can I get children to change their behaviour if I don’t reward or punish?

Rewards and punishment are ‘external motivators’ for action. That is, a child will stop, or start, doing what adults want only because they’re afraid of being punished, or wanting a reward. When parents choose not to reward or punish, but instead communicate respectfully with their children, and involve them in finding solutions for problems – then children can develop a more mature ‘internal motivation’, or ‘inner discipline’.

With inner discipline, some problems may never eventuate, because children are encouraged to think about the effect of their behaviour on others – before they do whatever they were about to do. This is called self-regulation, and is an important life skill.

I think an outcome of the P.E.T. approach to parenting is that children change their behaviour out of consideration, rather than compliance. Children care about their parents, and they know that their parents care about them.

There are numerous books, articles, authors and research articles on why we need to avoid rewards and punishment. Initially, I would recommend ‘Parent Effectiveness Training’ by Thomas Gordon, and ‘Unconditional Parenting’, by Alfie Kohn, which address this topic in detail, and reference research.

You may be interested in reading this article on being parented without rewards or punishment from the perspective of a teenager and young adult.

Will the course help with sibling rivalry?

Yes, I think the relationship approach taken by P.E.T helps siblings hear each other, problem solve with each other, and own their relationship with each other. A relief for parents is they can then step back (unless someone is being harmed, of course!), and don’t have to be judge and jury.

This article details a step-by-step approach to helping children solve their conflicts with each other, peacefully.

Is this course suitable for children with autism or with learning/behavioural needs?

Feedback from numerous parents whose children are differently wired, has been that the P.E.T approach has helped. In my view, attending the course will have a ‘do no harm’ outcome for your family.

This testimonial from one parent talks about how the skills helped her with her children, and you can find further stories like this on my website.

"I really wasn’t sure what to expect from PET. In all honesty, I was finding being a parent incredibly hard work, and I spent most of my day frazzled, frustrated and shouting. Friends had shared some amazing results from PET with me, but having two young children (aged 4 and 5) with autism and ADHD I wasn’t convinced it was for us. Our children are impulsive, often run away, and are physical, and I didn’t think they had the emotional capacity to respond to the gentle way of parenting in a way that I could still maintain their safety (and the safety of others). Something had to change, though, and so we enrolled in Larissa's course thinking that even a slight improvement was better than no change at all.

The course used simple effective strategies to make incremental change. The biggest change of all, though, was in me. Through reflecting on my own life, experiences, and behaviour, I faced some hard truths. I tried the strategies Larissa suggested - I felt awkward at first, but slowly it felt more natural. Gradually there were more and more pockets of time where there was ‘no problem’, and this allowed me to pause and connect with the kids. In response, the kids wanted to connect, and they started talking about their feelings. They started telling me what they liked and didn’t like, they started thinking of other people, and they showed me that they were enjoying the ‘no problem’ time just as much as I was.

From a house that was once pure chaos, we’ve gradually progressed to a home where we all WANT to spend time together. We have two children who are (and always have been) amazing. We’ve rebuilt trust, and with that has come respect and open communication. The kids share, they get up to mischief, they laugh, they connect, and they express themselves. I still have those days where I’m frustrated and frazzled, but "shouty mum” has all-but disappeared and I’m finally enjoying parenting again.

I’m not sure I can find the right words to show my gratitude for the changes that have come, but PET has most certainly changed our lives for the better. I can see my kids for the amazing little individuals they are, and life has changed very much for the better!"

Mother of two, aged 4 and 5

Does this course compliment other parenting courses such as Circle of Security or RIE? How does it differ from courses such as Triple P?

My understanding is that the skills taught in P.E.T are complementary to the principles of Circle of Security (COS). COS helps parents understand the importance of a secure attachment. In my view, P.E.T can provide the ‘how to’ of COS. A number of parents have attended my P.E.T course after completing a COS course, and they’ve found that the practical P.E.T skills expanded upon the concepts in COS.

To the best of my knowledge, P.E.T complements much of the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) approach - with some important exceptions. RIE can be described as a respectful approach to parenting babies and very young children. My understanding is that P.E.T is the natural fit for parents seeking to parent older children after implementing the RIE approach.

Again, a number of parents have attended my P.E.T courses after finding RIE for their younger children. Some P.E.T instructors became P.E.T. instructors after being involved with RIE.

P.E.T takes a relationship, democratic approach to parenting. Parenting courses such as Triple P, and 1,2,3 Magic, are based on behaviourism. This infographic outlines the difference between the parenting approaches, as does this article: How The Evidence Of Today Supports The Wisdom Of Yesterdy.

Are the skills helpful in divorce/separation/blended family situations?

In my view, and experience, the P.E.T model and skills are helpful in situations of separation, and blended families. Feedback from parents is that P.E.T. helps with children’s distress and confusion, and aids parents to be present, emotionally, for their children.

One stepfather told me he was grateful for skills, saying that he had gone from being ‘the disciplinarian’ to having a warm and respectful relationship with his young stepchild.

Importantly, P.E.T gives alternatives to punishment and reward, including not using time-out. I believe that avoiding time-out is particularly important for children moving between households, who may have found the separation of their parents traumatic. For further information: The Trouble With Time-Out.

Are the principles helpful with military families and deployment?

The feedback I’ve received from Defence parents is that yes, the skills from P.E.T are helpful.

This is what one Defence Force Dad said in regard to his experience with P.E.T:

“From my perspective P.E.T. assists significantly in dealing with some of the difficulties associated with service life. As a parent, after extended absences it is difficult re-integrating into family life and re-adapting to the role of a parent. This re-integration can be frustrating and lead to conflict both amongst parents and with the children.

P.E.T provides a systematic and consistent approach to parenting to 'fall back on' when returning after an extended absence. Thus I would envisage with an understanding of the P.E.T system, adaptation to family life after an extended period would be far less stressful that otherwise might be the case.

From the children's perspective, the absence of one or both parents for extended periods and the readjustment to new schools and friends at posting time can be very difficult to cope with.

P.E.T provides for an environment of open communication amongst family members that will encourage children to discuss the difficulties they encounter, minimising the stress of absence and relocation.

On occasion where the stress gets 'too much,' children may resort to anger and aggression to deal with their problems. P.E.T assists by providing children with alternate, constructive mechanisms to resolve difficult situations.”

Have I missed the boat if my child is [any age] from five to a teenager. Is it too late?

No, I don’t think so. As this Mum wrote to me:

"Almost on a daily basis am I SO GRATEFUL to have done the P.E.T course. I can talk to my teenager about everything, where I see so many of his friends struggling with their relationships with their parents. It's never too late to do the course!"

I was moved by testimony from grandparents who have attended P.E.T courses. They reported that after implementing the respectful communication skills they’d learned, their relationship with even their adult children improved.

My take-away from the grandparents I’ve worked with is “It’s never too late!”

Can people other than parents attend the course?

Absolutely. The communication skills and principles are helpful for anyone caring for children, including parents (fathers seem to particularly find value in this course), teachers, early childhood educators, grandparents and practitioners.

Children do not attend the group.

What age group of child does the course target?

Originally the P.E.T course was designed for parents of teenagers. However, the P.E.T communication skills and principles are applicable for babies through to adults.

Having taught P.E.T to over a thousand parents, I’ve found the bulk of participants attending the groups have been parents with children aged between 3 and 6 years (most with children aged around 5). Generally, groups contain parents of children of a range of ages – from very young, to teens or adults.

Should I tell people, including my children, that I’m taking a parenting course?

Parents attending the course find their own answer for this question. Some parents share what they learn with others, such as their mother’s group, or their workplace, or with their parents (the children’s grandparents). Others find that there may still be a stigma to attending a parenting course – perhaps from friends, or their own parents.

When I first attended the P.E.T course, I was the first-time mother of an eight month old. I was just interested in learning to be the best parent I could be. I wasn’t having any problems with my child – my interest was in learning parenting skills. Everyone has their own reasons for attending, including specific issues they’d like to address with a child.

I think every parent comes because they want to have a positive, warm and respectful relationship with their child. For life.

Personally, I’ve found it helpful to discuss with my children what I do, and the skills I use (and teach).

What will I learn?

The course provides a unique foundation model, which helps parents decide what skills to use, and when to use them, in particular situations. The skills taught within P.E.T. include: how to listen, how to be respectively assertive, and how to problem solve for a no-lose solution that is acceptable to both you and your child.

I cannot guarantee what skills you will walk away with, or the outcome for your family. I ask parents to be responsible for their own learning, in implementing the skills, and to making the most of being part of the group.

Are there role-plays involved?

Yes – but they are friendly, small role-plays, and relevant to being a parent. The groups are set up to be non-judgemental and safe, and this includes role-plays.

How many parents in the group?

I hold the course for groups from six to fifteen people.

Committing to eight weeks is a long time.

A number of parents have misgivings about attending an eight-week parenting course. Time is so tight for families, that finding one evening a week sometimes just seems impossible.

For me, it helps to think of the length of the course as just one day (24 hours) in my life. I balance that time commitment with the outcome – that my one-day investment in a better relationship could have a massive impact on the quality of my life, and my family’s life - for the rest of our lives.

At the end of each course, parents often say that they wish the course went longer – even though they had reservations when they first signed up.

Here's one mother's reflections on the length of the course:
"I was initially worried about the time committment but found it actually quite simple to fit it into our family life/schedule. Each class passed by so quickly and I often felt lik we could carry on discussing P.E.T topics all night"

What is the cost?

Please contact me for details.

Who are you?

I am a parent with a passion for bringing up children to be valued in a non-violent world. I am an accredited P.E.T. instructor, and have taught well over a thousand parents in the skills of respectful communication. In the interests of researching my passion, I have trained in other parenting approaches, but choose only to teach P.E.T.

I also write and blog for both my website, and for international and national publications. My background is science communication, with a diploma in counselling, and extensive experience in the non-government and government sector.

Articles I've referenced in this post include:

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

Secrets to sorting sibling squabbles.

First published 26 June, 2018

© Larissa Dann 2018