Using P.E.T. with Infants

One of the most often asked questions regarding the use of the Gordon Model is “How young is too young?” In other words, parents want to know if the P.E.T. skills can be used effectively with infants. The answer is, quite simply, yes.

You might be thinking how is that possible? Doesn’t P.E.T. require active listening and verbal communication? With older children and toddlers, the answer is certainly. But infants aren’t capable of verbal communication just yet (unless you consider crying a form of verbal communication!)

The key to using P.E.T. skills with infants is understanding and decoding non-verbal clues sent to you by the infant and then responding to these clues with potential solutions.

For instance, an infant crying in a crib might first cause the parent to come over and pick the infant up–perhaps the child just needs some affection. The infant continues to cry. So the parent next tries a bottle thinking perhaps now the infant is hungry. The child pushes the bottle to the floor. The parent, instead of becoming frustrated and scolding the infant for pushing the bottle to the floor, realizes that the infant has sent a non-verbal communication that she is not hungry. The infant still has an unrealized need that is unfulfilled. The parent notices a rattle that has fallen outside of the crib. The parent retrieves the rattle and hands it to the infant who stops crying and starts to laugh and gurgle.

Dr. Thomas Gordon summed it up this way in his book, Parent Effectiveness Training:

“…the principal responsibilty for developing accurate communication in this relationship rests with the parent. He (or she) must learn to decode accurately the nonverbal behavior of the infant before making a determination of what is bothering him. He (or she) must also utilize the same feedback process for the purpose of checking the accuracy of his (her) decoding.”

You might be saying to yourself, “That’s common sense. I knew that already.” But the next time you are in public and you see a crying child, try and observe how that parent reacts to the crying child. Does the parent try to address the needs of the child and discover the root source of that need? Or does the parent try a quick fix or punish the child for expressing a need at an inconvenient time or place?

What is common sense to some is unknown knowledge to others.


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