Can Parents Change Their Attitudes?

By Dr. Thomas Gordon, Founder of GTI

Can Dr. Gordon’s P.E.T. book or a P.E.T. course bring about change in such parental attitudes?  Can parents learn to become more accepting of their children?  Most practitioners in the helping professions were taught that people don’t change much unless they go through intensive psychotherapy under the guidance of a professional therapist, usually lasting from six months to a year or even longer.

In recent years, however, there has been a radical shift in the thinking of professional “change agents”.  Most of us have watched people make significant changes in attitudes and behaviors as a result of having an experience with individual and family counseling or therapy, self-help seminars, books, video tapes, and audio tapes.  Most professionals (and many parents) now accept the idea that people can change significantly when they get the opportunity to learn and practice communication and conflict resolution skills.

Almost all the parents who have participated in the P.E.T. program (both in the classroom and through self-study) realize that their present attitudes and methods as parents leave much to be desired.  Many know they already have been ineffective with one or more of their children; others are scared about what their present methods might ultimately do to the children; all are acutely aware of how many parent-child relationships deteriorate when the children move into adolescence.

Consequently, most parents in P.E.T. have a readiness and willingness to change – to learn new, more effective methods, to avoid mistakes of other parents (or their own), and to discover any technique that might make their job easier.  We have yet to meet a parent who does not want to do a better job of raising his children.

With all these things going for us in P.E.T., it is not surprising that the training experience brings about significant changes in parents’ attitudes and behavior.  Here is one sample of a statement taken from an evaluation form that we have received from a parent:

“It made me realize how much I had underestimated my children and weakened them through my overprotectiveness and overconscientiousness.  I had been a member of a really fine child study group, but it had only reinforced my guilt feelings and kept me trying to be a ‘perfect Mommy’.”

But, not all parents are able to make the changes in attitudes required to become more accepting of their children.  Some come to realize that their marriage is not mutually fulfilling, so that one or both cannot be effective with the children.  Either they seldom find the time and energy because so much of it goes into their own marital conflicts, or they find that they cannot be accepting of their children because they are not feeling accepting of themselves as husband and wife.

Other parents find it difficult to throw off the oppressive value system, acquired from their own parents and now causing them to be excessively judgmental and unaccepting of their children.  Still others have trouble modifying their attitude of “owning” their children or their deep commitment to a goal of making their children fit a preconceived mold:  this attitude is found mostly in parents who have been strongly influenced by the dogmas of a few religious sects that teach parents to have a moral obligation to make converts out of their children, even though it may mean using the power and authority of the parent or using methods of influence not too dissimilar from brainwashing and thought control.

For some parents whose own basic attitudes they find hard to modify, the P.E.T. experience, for whatever reason, opens the door to seek other kinds of help – group therapy, marital counseling, family therapy, or even individual therapy.  Quite a few of these parents have said that before P.E.T. they never would have consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist for help.  Apparently, P.E.T. creates greater self-awareness and the motivation and desire for people to change, even when P.E.T. itself may not be enough to bring about significant change.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon’s P.E.T. book