P.E.T Stories

Stories of P.E.T. parenting shared by parents who have completed the P.E.T. course.

Some stories relate to specific communication skills taught in Parent Effectiveness Training. These include Active Listening (a skill that helps children and parents empathise and gain emotional intelligence); I-messages (an assertiveness skill that helps parents get their message across without putting down or blaming their children); and no-lose problem solving (which we call Method III).  Problem solving gets everyone involved, and the solutions are more likely to be adhered to if children have had input into, and agreed with, the final outcome. Underlying all interactions is the importance of the relationship, and these skills enhance parent/child relationships, as well as helping children become creative and considerate, while parents get their needs met.  The stories below illustrate many of these principles.

A brief description of the effects of P.E.T. skills on a family, after an introductory course.

I'm happy to report that we are applying the PET principles in the best way we can in our household, and it has made some wonderful differences. I saw immediate affects in my boys. The way they calmed right down as soon as I listened and fed back their feelings to them. My eldest son has already displayed problem solving ability. The hardest challenge for me is to throw out all of my bad habits, from years of behaviourist principles. Even though it's been 10 years since I worked in the industry, I did 12 years teaching and training children and adults with disabilities, and behaviourism was so entrenched in my psyche. At times I still have to resort to some of the 'action consequence' talk, but it's not very often.

What my husband and I quickly realized is that we just hadn't been listening properly. Also, our kids hadn't heard us talking enough about emotions and how we FELT about things that happened, and so they hadn't really learnt to talk about THEIR emotions and how THEY feel about things that happen. Now, when they get cross with each other, I sometimes act as 'interpreter' of feelings, rather than problem solver, in order to establish a communication link between them. I do not see this as my role in an on-going sense, but for now, they need a bit of guidance about how to communicate effectively with each other, so if they're receptive, I guide them.

My 4 year old is finding it hard to break his habit of yelling at someone as soon as he's the SLIGHTEST bit irritated. This one will take a while to work through, but we'll get there. Anyhow, thank you. I didn't realize . . . just how much these skills would change my household.

The Implementing of a newly learnt skill – I-messages, shifting gears, a 4 year old, and creative problem solving!

Below are two stories from a Mum after just four sessions of learning Parent Effectiveness Training skills.   We had covered active listening, and we had begun learning about I-messages. 

The day after learning about I-messages, the excited mother of a 4 year old emailed me with two amazing stories (I have changed the name of the child).  She acknowledged that after the I-message session, she was a bit skeptical.

Story One:

This morning my daughter Laura (just turned 4) left her shoes in the middle of the room. I explained to her that I felt scared when shoes were left in the middle of the room in case I tripped over them and hurt myself. Well, said Laura, "don't worry Mum, I will keep my eye on you and make sure you don't trip over them. I will follow you everywhere you go and warn you if you get close to the shoes."

I put that down as a learning lesson for me in practicing my I-message and the shoes are still in the middle of the room. 

In a follow up, I mentioned the next morning that I was still worried about the shoes in the middle of the floor as last night after Laura went to bed I had no one to 'keep an eye on me'. That was all I said and wandered away. Laura was on her computer at the time. She got down, picked up her shoes, tucked them away on a shelf under the computer and said to me “You don't have to worry anymore Mum, I've found a good spot for them so you won't trip.”  That afternoon, Laura checked with me “Mum, are you still scared about the shoes in the living room?”

Problem solved. I don't mind them there and she worked it out herself.  I really loved Laura's problem solving - I think that is the most enjoyable thing to watch as part of this technique.

Story 2

We just had the usual battle of the naps where Laura declares herself too old for a lunch time nap. Today I really wanted it to happen as she has a party to go this afternoon and I didn't want a tired child at a party. I was about to 'put my foot down' but thought I'd give this I-message thing a go. So I explained that when I take tired children to parties I get really cross and grumpy because they need to be carried a lot and it hurts my back to do that. Well, we had lots of back and forth with I-Messages and Active Listening (Me: You really don't want to have a nap in your room and miss out on things, Laura: what about we get a pram for you to push whoever is tired etc etc). Finally Laura said to me "I know Mum, I could have a sleep out here on the couch because I know that's what Brad (big brother) does sometimes and I will sleep with my blanket. And if I don't fall asleep on the couch and get rested I will take myself back to my bedroom and sleep there properly". She is currently asleep on the couch. Win. Definite win.

Problem Solving with 3 children under 6

This is the story of a P.E.T. graduate, who had three boys - aged 6, 4 and 1.   Before attending the course, bath times at her place were a real issue, causing tension and arguments.  This is her story.

“During the weeks of the P.E.T. course, I used the Method III approach to solve my ‘bath time’ problem with the boys.

I sat down with my older boys (while the little one was playing around us) and explained the Method III (no-lose problem solving) approach to solving problems.  The boys were quite enthusiastic to try this approach.

We used the Method III template in the P.E.T. workbook and followed it step-by-step. Defining the problem was easy, and so was coming up with solutions. 

My needs were 'getting the boys clean, in a reasonable amount of time, which then allowed mummy to get dinner ready'.  My children’s needs were to play and relax after school.

Brainstormed solutions from my boys included:

  • Take a toy into the bath (acceptable by all)
  • Play for half an hour before bath time (not acceptable by mum)
  • Have a bath, then a shower, then a bath (suggested by Mr 4)
  • Have a shower one day, then a bath the next day

The final solutions agreed were:

  • Boys get to take a toy into the bath (not a wooden toy)
  • Timer would be set for bath time, so that bath time would last for 11 minutes (yes this was negotiated back and forth a few times)

This worked very well for a few weeks, but then stopped working - the novelty must have worn off.  So we revisited the problem (Step 6), and sat down again to do Method III.  I must admit that Mr 4 was delighted to watch his suggestions being written down.

This time, the new agreed solutions were:

  • Play for 11 minutes after afternoon tea, and before bath. Timer is set for 11 minutes, then boys go straight to the bathroom
  • All boys to have a shower in mummy's rather large shower, together.
  • Plug up drain with face-washers and fill up base of shower until full.
  • Face-washers get pulled from drain when alarm goes off at 11 minutes.

This is currently working very well.  Mr 1 gets taken out first (he usually doesn't last 11 minutes) and the older boys come out fairly happy at the 11 minute mark.

Bath (shower) time is a now largely a happy time in our household rather than being filled with stress and shouting.  I am confident that when these solutions stop working, I can revisit it again using Method III, and the boys will be happy to be involved in solving our problem together.”

"It's OK to assert my needs" - an insight from a participant

"I keep having insights on the bus or in bed or in the shower and then forgetting them by [the course]. But interestingly on the bus this morning I thought I MUST email you about the following insight I had in the last few days. Many people, especially women, and especially those brought up to be "good girls" frequently put their own interests last. In fact, they (and I) view(ed) people who don't as selfish. This course, although aimed at parent/child interactions, has had a very strange and positive influence on ME and my interactions with EVERYONE.
Because the I-message forces you to not only find the emotion, but also the IMPACT ON YOURSELF, for the first time I am realising how others' behaviour affects me. This has made me realise that I don't actually like this, and even that I have a right to have needs as well! Strangely this has meant that I am a lot CALMER about stating my needs, because I no longer use passive-aggressive mechanisms of displaying my unhappiness - I can just say it! I can now calmly take into account my own needs when talking to and working with others. This is a major revelation for me!"

A problem solving example around those difficult issues of values (not wanting to attend ballet lessons).  From a P.E.T. graduate father.

'The parent effectiveness course has changed the way I interact with my 9 yearold daughter.  I know now that she can come up with terrific solutions!  When she wanted to stop doing ballet, I first thought that I should be firm and insist that she continues going, against her will. I learnt through the course to listen to her and talk to see if we could find a solution that we were both happy with. We started what we call a 'solutions book' and over a few days wrote down every idea that came to us for another activity to replace ballet. Then we sat down and looked at each idea.  We all agreed that the idea of her taking our family dog to the nursing home once a week was one we all liked. She's got a lot out of going to the nursing home and so have I. Thanks Larissa!'  M.Johnstone

Parenting panel radio Interview, and feedback from a listener. 2015

"I heard you on local radio this morning and just wanted to say thanks for speaking up for a peaceful, respectful parenting approach. 

I had just got back into the car after dropping my children at daycare. That's usually the first quiet moment I have to reflect on the morning's goings on. Mostly that's about my own parenting. But sometimes I find myself sitting there grappling with how I feel about the way other parents have just responded to their kids in front of me. The cheerful chatty girl who's corrected about a word, and told 'concentrate! You're hopeless, you never get that right!'. The boisterous kid whose dad replies to my observation that his son is feeling very bouncy today, with 'well you can have him'. The crying boy whose departing mother tells me 'he's faking it'.

Usually I sit there and feel worried for the kids (and the parents too), and a bit alone that I'm trying to respond to my two gently, like they were people, when it seems (at least in those moments) not everyone else is. 

But today I got in, turned on the radio, and someone was actually saying things like 'I don't use punishments or rewards' or 'children don't misbehave, they're still learning how to communicate their feelings and needs'. I felt like cheering!

It was encouraging to hear that talked about, and to know that you were in this city, teaching and advocating for those ways of thinking about parenting. I'm glad you're doing that, so thank you, and all the best with your really important work."


The Many Ways PET, And No Punishment Or Rewards, Affects Our Everyday Life.

"PET effects my life daily and sometimes in the most unexpected ways.  An example of this is when I see my two boys using it on each other.

I have witnessed it when they have started to argue with  each other one of them will use active listening or change gears.

Interestingly, they also use the skills with us and my youngest particularly pulls me up when I am not being very "PET" like.

Having a household where there is no punishment means that our children are very comfortable is sharing different issues and problems that they are experiencing at school with us, as they know that there is no judgement.  This is even if they have made a poor decision. Instead it is treated as a learning opportunity where we discuss how they could handle the situation better next time.

My children will always tell me when they have "gotten in trouble" at school.  PET has given our the relationship between ourselves and our children the most beautiful honesty.

My 13 yr old just said to me yesterday that he can proudly say that he has never lied to me in his life because he knows that he can talk to me about anything.

I also use many of the skills from PET when working with children in the support work that I do.  I often use the active listening skills with them and also changing gears.  I find when I use my PET skills the child that I am working with immediately senses that I see them as my equal. They see that I do not have that authoritarian attitude that many adults they encounter do.  Therefore, a sense of trust between the child and I is very quickly established. "

Patricia, Mother of two boys, aged 13 and 15

Last updated, December 2017.