The most appreciated and widely applied parenting programme in the world today is the Parental Effectiveness Training (P.E.T), which was devised by Thomas Gordon, an internationally reputed psychologist. Gordon developed the PET programme while intensively researching on humanist psychology at the University of Chicago, with assistance from Carl Rogers. This programme attained popularity when Gordon published a comprehensive book by the same name in the year 1970, which has been reviewed as under. The book revolves around the idea that every group interaction involves conflicts and differences of perspective that must be resolved in order to sustain the functional and emotional health of the members. The present thesis is examines the fact that families are particularly susceptible to the dangers of group incompatibilities, on account of highly sensitive inter-personal relationships involved, of which the parent-child relationship is the most crucial one.
Parental Effectiveness Training by Gordon gave birth to the PET school of thought on effective parenting. This approach advocates the development of a mutually respectful relationship between the parent and the child by eliminating the use of traditional disciplining techniques of reward or punishment. Instead, the PET approach aims to ingrain in the parents a deep understanding and empathy for the child psyche, so that the problems presented by him/her or child misbehavior can be dealt with in a considerate manner, without allowing punitive actions to hurt his/her feelings and distort the relationship (Eyberg et al, 1998). Essentially, the book presented a humanist, compassionate, non-authoritative, non-permissive and responsible parenting style that could result in emotionally fulfilling relationships with the child inculcating in him or her essential values and responsibilities. This book devised and discussed several important concepts that are now used in every contemporary parent training programme – active or empathic listening, the use of i-messages, the appropriate degree of parental assertiveness to be used, etc. These skills encourage the development of mutually supportive and democratic relationships, wherein needs of both the parent and the child are met through a humanist style of parenting. These concepts have been reviewed analyzed critically in the following section.
Thomas Gordon pioneered and encouraged the use of ‘active’ or ‘empathetic’ listening in Parental Effectiveness Training, 1970. He described it lucidly as a method of listening that not only shows the other person involved in the conversation that he/she is being heard carefully, but also ensures that any possibility of misunderstanding is eliminated. Actively listening to the child involves restating the comprehensive communication rendered by the child – the literal messages spoken as well as the associated feelings with which they were said. The skill of active listening is especially crucial for parents when their children attempt to disclose problems in their life to them. Listening to a child with a sense of empathy, understanding and avid interest brings forth numerous benefits that can strengthen the parent-child relationship. When parents actively listen to their child and attempt to enquire if the latter’s messages have been correctly interpreted by them, the child experiences a sense of closeness and comfort because such an enquiry demonstrates the parent’s deep consideration for the child’s problem.
This feeling allows the child to open up further and explore the problem in detail with his or her parents. Continuous active listening makes the child feel secure, loved and supported while also mitigating any misunderstandings due to communication deficiencies. Active listening also ensures that the child’s emotional state at that point of time is not further damaged due to inappropriate responses or incomplete understanding being exhibited by the parent (Eyberg et al, 1998). Gordon’s Active Listening concept has gained unanimous acceptance in every parent training environment because sizeable research and personal testimonials exist to validate its successfulness (Schultz et al, 1980).
The book reveals and discusses the concept of i-messages in detail. This idea has been resonated in numerous subsequent parenting classes, books, programs and trainings. It is the most innovative and the most useful parenting technique described in the book. I-messages are communications that convey information about oneself (Barlow & Parsons, 2004). Gordon examines several possible parent-child scenarios where the relevant type of i-message can be used by the parent to deliver the right message to the child.
I-messages act as a substitute for punitive or rewarding action on wrong or right behavior, respectively. Instead of a logical or instinctive reaction to what the child says, the parent can frame an i-message that carries information in a succinct, complete, coherent and compassionate manner. The use of i-messages ensures that the child psyche is not indented in the process of coaching the child towards ethical and responsible behavior. The i-message should typically state the behavior that is causing the problem, the effect that such behavior has on the parent as well as the parent’s feelings on account of the behavior (Gordon, 1970). Gordon advises parents to not pass defining or harsh judgments on the child on the basis of the behavioral instance in question. As such, the i-message should not have describe the child judgmentally, rather, it should simply convey the parent’s stand and emotions on the issue. The book discusses the example of a child who has displayed talks loudly while the parent is engaged in an important activity (Gordon, 1970). Instead of saying ‘You are being rude and inconsiderate’ to the child in an accusatory tone, the parent can use an i-message and say ‘I do not like it when you talk this loud during the news because then I cannot hear it.’
No-lose Conflict Resolution
According to Gordon, the authoritative approach to parenting regards the parent above question and thus creates a parent-win situation in the case of a conflict. Similarly, the permissive approach to parenting is inclined towards the child and creates a child-win situation in a conflict. One party always loses and ends up nurturing negative emotions when these parenting formats are followed. Thus, Gordon proposed the use of a no-lose, no-win strategy to overcome parent-child arguments. He devised this strategy using John Dewey’s Six Steps to Creative Solutions for Conflicts as a basis.
In this approach, the parent communicates freely, kindly and collaboratively with the child to understand the specific needs of the child, the reasons why the needs are misaligned with those of the parent itself and eventually to arrive at a reciprocally agreeable and suitable conclusion (Long et al, 1994). It involves a process of emotional negotiation with the child that encourages care and consideration for the other party even in the pursuit of self-goals. According to the book, it is an ideal replacement for the traditional parent-superior or child-pampering systems. However, researchers debate on the validity of this approach due to the major roadblock posed by children who are stubborn and refuse to accommodate. Nevertheless, the approach is a part of many parental training curriculum across the world (Long et al, 1994).
One of the most important takeaways from the book is the Behavior Window. This is a graphic representation created by Gordon to understand who ‘owns’ any problem that may occur in the course of parent-child interactions. The window consists of four categories – Child Owns the Problem, No Problem Area, Parents Own the Problem, Both Own the Problem. Using this scheme, parents can identify the people that will be affected most centrally by the problem. Once the ‘owner’ of the problem is identified, adequate conflict resolution skills as described in the book can be employed to minimize the impact on the owner and ensure the challenge is overcome (Barlow & Parsons, 2004). The concept has found wide acceptance amongst parental effectiveness trainers as well as parents.
Despite the extensive acceptance Gordon’s book as well as model have garnered, critics often claim that the lucidly written book is uses marketing gimmicks in a few places to explain loopholes, selling the already-existing parenting styles in a more convincing packaging. The book suggests that parents eliminate the use of logic-based punitive actions to instil correct behavior in their children. Gordon advocates the use of ‘natural consequences’ to ensure parents react suitably enough to not hurt the child and still ingrain discipline. For instance, when a child acts up and behaves offensively, authorative parenting advises them to render negative reinforcement – for instance, not talking to the child, scolding him articulately, disallowing something of his interest temporarily, etc. However, Gordon in his book suggests that parents ‘change the environment’ of such a child and create an implied though not express distance with him, for instance, by placing him in a play-pen. This is a point of contention, where it can be argued that Gordon’s ‘changing the environment’ strategy is no less a punishment than traditional ones. Although it is a subtle punitive action, it can possibly cause the same damages as express punishments do, or it can even be neglected by the child and thus not result in any favorable outcomes arising out of the environment change action. Conclusively, it can be established that despite the discrepancies and contradictions as discussed above, Parental Effectiveness Training is an exemplary work that offers pertinent insights into a humanist-oriented parenting style that helps raise children in a morally upright, emotionally strong and responsibility-conscious manner.
Barlow J & Parsons J. Group-based parent-training programmes for improving emotional and behavioural adjustment in 0-3 year old children (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2004. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Eyberg SM, Schuhmann EM & Rey J. Child and adolescent psychotherapy research: Developmental issues. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, (1998), 26(1): 71-83
Gordon, Thomas. Parent Effectiveness Training. New York; Peter H. Uyden, 1970. Print.
Long P, Forehand R, Wierson M & Morgan A. Does parent training with young non-compliant children have long term effects? Behaviour Research & Therapy, (1994), 32(1): 101-107
Schultz,C. L., Nystul, M. S., & Law, H. G. Attitudinal outcomes of theoretical models of parent group education. Journal of Individual Psychology, (1980), 36, 1, 16-28.