P.E.T. Philosophy


gordon model relationshipsA good way of thinking about the Gordon Model is that it’s a blueprint for following the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. The essence of the model can be more easily grasped by Dr. Gordon’s Credo for My Relationships.

A Credo for My Relationships with Others

You and I are in a relationship which I value and want to keep. We are also two separate persons with our own individual values and needs.

So that we will better know and understand what each of us values and needs, let us always be open and honest in our communication.

When you are experiencing a problem in your life, I will try to listen with genuine acceptance and understanding in order to help you find your own solutions rather than imposing mine. And I want you to be a listener for me when I need to find solutions to my problems.

At those times when your behavior interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me. Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can try to change my behavior.

And when we experience conflicts in our relationship, let us agree to resolve each conflict without either of us resorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other’s losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met, and so will mine–neither will lose, both will win.

In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.

At the very root of Dr. Gordon’s parenting philosophy is a belief that children aren’t bad or mischievous; they simply behave in ways that satisfy their particular needs at the moment. A baby cries because he is hungry; a four-year-old sticks her hands into a can of paint and spills it on the carpet because she wants to play with the paint, to explore; a sixteen-year-old comes home later than you feel is safe because he feels a need to be with his friends.

Children have the right to meet their needs, but parents do too. It is in meeting these conflicting needs that most parent/child relationships get into trouble. Some parents insist on obedience from their children, so they get their needs met at the expense of the children meeting theirs’. Other parents, wishing to spare their children any hurt and aggravation, give in and let their children get their way, but then the parents suffer. Either way someone is left feeling resentful of the other. It is this constant cycle of power struggles and the subsequent pent-up resentments that result that slowly begin to erode the parent/child relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a third option: Both parents and children can get their needs met.

The Gordon Model is made up of a very specific set of communication skills that enable parents to positively influence their children’s behavior. One key to the model is a skill called Active Listening.

Active Listening

A method of listening where you reflect back your understanding of what a person says to you. This is meant to confirm to them that you understood their message, and to give them a chance to correct you if you don’t. More importantly, however, this communicates your acceptance of the person’s thoughts and emotions.

When the child has a problem, this skill allows parents to really understand what the child is feeling at the moment, and allows him to delve deeper into whatever is bothering him, often a leading cause of “misbehavior.”

When parents have a problem, they need an entirely different skill: I-Messages.


An I-Message is a tool for influencing others to change behavior that somehow interferes with your ability to meet your needs.
It’s a non-blameful, non-judgmental description of the unacceptable behavior, how it affects you and how it makes you feel. They are so effective because you are confronting someone else’s behavior and not attacking the person. As a result, other people will be much more likely to change their unacceptable behavior.

This is a tool parents use to explain to the child that her behavior is causing the parent a problem. Because it does so in a non-blameful manner that reduces her resistance to the message. The idea here is to influence the child to want to change her behavior in consideration of parents’ needs. A well thought out I-Message makes children want to cooperate, and it leaves their self-esteem intact. But more than that, it teaches them a valuable lesson in self-discipline: They change their behavior not because they fear their parents (or because they’ll get some sort of reward) but because they care about their needs. This is how children are taught empathy, and empathy is the root of emotional intelligence, maturity and self-discipline.

Active Listening and I-Messages work as a team. Once parents and children have established open two-way communication using Active Listening and I-Messages, problems and conflicts can be solved using the No-Lose Conflict Resolution method.

No-Lose Conflict Resolution

A six-step method for resolving conflicts so that all parties are satisfied with the solutions. When all parties are invited to participate in problem solving, higher quality solutions are usually arrived at. Also, solutions that all parties find and agree to are more likely to be implemented. The effectiveness of this can be more easily explained by the common sense Principle of Participation: People are more motivated to comply with decisions which they had a part in reaching.

When parents want to influence children to stop some unwanted behavior, they can propose to the child a problem-solving session. Say three-year-old Nicky is jumping on the couch and his mom is afraid it’ll get dirty and ruined. Mom can explain that she doesn’t want him to jump, but that she understands that he is enjoying himself and needs to play. Is there a solution that will please both of them? Mom can invite Nicky to help find a solution. Maybe he can go jump on an old mattress that’s in the garage? Maybe he can go finger-paint instead? Maybe both of them can go read a book together? The possibilities are endless when both put their minds together and seek mutually acceptable solutions.

Equally as important as learning these skills is learning when and how to use them. Dr. Gordon’s Behavior Window provides a framework to help parents determine which skill to use to solve any family problem.

Behavior Window

All relationships experience problems at one time or another. Dr. Gordon devised a graphic tool to help people recognize how to define these problems accurately, who “owns” them, and how to solve them: The Behavior Window. Understanding and using this Behavior Window can help you determine which communication skill to use and when and how to use it. This understanding will help you prevent the need to use disciplinary action and eliminate the need to understand other people’s personality type.

For more information, or if you’d like to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter “The P.E.T. Connection”, please contact us at:

Tel: 800.628.1197

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