P.E.T. Research

We are frequently asked if the outcomes and benefits of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) have been proven by research.  Included here are a number of studies that validate its effectiveness.

P.E.T. Research Study with Autism

This Master of Science thesis was completed in April of 2018 by a student in Person-Centered Counseling and Psychotherapy, Eleni Maria Katsoura. The research presented in this paper is in regards to autism and its reflection on parenthood.

How Parents of High Functioning Autistic Children Experience Gordon’s PET: A Qualitative Analysis

P.E.T. and Personal Growth

The research reported in this thesis was completed in 2014 by GTI’s Greek Representative, Alexandros Papagos. This study suggests that P.E.T. not only leads to the attainment of communication skills but also to personal growth in line with the principles of the humanistic approach.

Research study on P.E.T. by Alexandros Papagos

Reviews of Research of the P.E.T. Course

There have been two extensive reviews of P.E.T. course evaluation studies. The first, by Ronald Levant of Boston University, reviewed 23 different studies. The author concluded that many of the studies had methodological discrepancies. Nevertheless, out of a total of 149 comparisons between P.E.T. and control groups or alternative programs, 32% favored P.E.T., 11% favored the alternative group, and 57% found no significant differences. Levant did find three studies that met the standards of methodological adequacy. In these studies, out of 35 comparisons, 69% favored P.E.T. over the control group, none (0%) favored the control group, and 31% showed no significant differences. Levant concluded that P.E.T. appears to result in positive changes in parent attitudes and behavior and changes in children’s self-concept and behavior.

Robert Cedar of Boston University later reviewed 26 of the best designed research studies of P.E.T., using the “meta-analytic technique” of integrating the statistical findings from all the studies.

His findings:

  • The overall positive effect of P.E.T. was significantly greater than the effect of alternative treatments,
  • The greatest measurable effect was on parent attitudes,
  • The effect of P.E.T. on parent behavior was significantly greater than the effect of alternative groups,
  • P.E.T.’s effect on children was greatest for the category of self-esteem,
  • Parents did learn the P.E.T. concepts,
  • P.E.T. parents improved their attitudes, showed greater understanding of children, increased their democratic ideals, showed increased positive regard, empathy, congruence, and respect for their children,
  • P.E.T. children rated their parents as more accepting of their children,
  • The positive effects of P.E.T. last longer than the eight weeks training. In fact, they lasted as long as a 26-week follow-up,
  • P.E.T.’s positive effect on children increased over time,
  • The magnitude of the positive effects of P.E.T. was greatest in those studies that had superior research methodology.

We have found a large number of studies that confirm the positive effects of the principles and skills we teach in P.E.T. Even though the studies did not evaluate directly the impact of our P.E.T. course, they did deal with parenting styles, punishment, confrontation, open communication, parent-child cooperation, and conflict resolution.

Other Relevant Research

The following research findings were quoted from either the Handbook of Child Psychology, 4th edition, P. Mussen, Ed., Wiley & Sons, 1983 or the Review of Child Development Research, F. Horowitz, Ed., University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Baldwin, A., Kalhoun, J., & Breese, F. Patterns of Parent Behavior. Psychological Monographs, 1945, 58(3).

The most surprising finding from this study had to do with changes in the IQs of the children. Over the years, the IQs of the children with autocratic parents decreased slightly, while those of permissive parents remained almost the same. However, the IQs of the children of the democratic parents increased significantly over the years. The mean increase was over eight IQ points. The investigators concluded, “It would appear that the democratic environment is the most conducive to mental development.” The democratic parents surrounded their children with an atmosphere of freedom, emotional rapport, and intellectual stimulation. The children in those families also were given higher ratings by their teachers in originality, playfulness, patience, curiosity, and fancifulness. They held more leadership positions in school and scored higher in emotional adjustment and maturity. In the words of the researchers:

“By the time the child from the democratic home has become of school age, his social development has progressed markedly; he is popular and a leader; he is friendly and good natured; he seems emotionally secure, serene, unexcitable; he has had close attachments to his parents and is able to adjust to his teachers.”

Children of autocratic parents were low in social interaction with peers and tended to be dominated by their peers during the interactions that did occur. These children also tended to be obedient, and neither quarrelsome nor resistive. They seemed to lack spontaneity, affection, curiosity, and originality.

When parents avoid making themselves the source of authority, but instead draw their children’s attention to the realistic constraints imposed on their behavior by the natural environment, we may assume that they are training their children to make internal rather than external attributions. The Baldwin group also found that this pattern of parenting was associated with children’s being spontaneous, exploratory, and creative.

Baumrind, D. Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 1967, 75, 43-88.

Children who rated high in self-control and self-discipline were found to have parents who refrained from punitive punishment, using instead a reasoning approach; that is, messages that told the children the negative effects of their behavior on others, as with the P.E.T. I-Messages.

Baumrind, D. Current Patterns of Parental Authority. Developmental Psychology Monograph, 1971, 4(1, pt. 2).

A pattern of family functioning in which children are required to be responsive to parental demands, and parents accept a reciprocal responsibility to be as responsive as possible to their children’s reasonable demands and points of view, has been labeled “authoritative” by Baumrind. P.E.T. uses this term and also the label “reciprocal.” In Baumrind’s samples, children of authoritative parents have proved to be more competent than the children of either authoritarian or permissive parents. At preschool age, daughters of authoritative parents were as socially responsible as other girls, and more independent. Sons were as independent as other boys, and more socially responsible. It is misleading to use the term “authoritative,” because many people have interpreted this as using authority (power).

Baumrind, D., & Black, A. Socialization Practices Associated with Dimensions of Competence in Preschool Boys and Girls. Child Development, 1967, 38, 291-327.

In an early study with a relatively small sample, it was found that a group of children were unhappy and socially withdrawn in nursery school tended to have parents who fit the authoritarian pattern.

Baumrind found that nursery-school children who were rated high on self-control had parents who made extensive use of reasoning in a generally nurturing and non-punitive atmosphere, rewarded self-controlling behavior, and firmly enforced rules. This pattern includes the cognitive structuring feature of love-oriented discipline but does not necessarily include use of the effective relationship to make the child feel badly. There is also considerable evidence that one form of deviation, antisocial aggression, is associated with power-assertive parental discipline, low warmth, and low use of cognitive structuring.

Bearlson, D., & Cassel, T. Cognitive Decentration and Social Codes: Communication Effectiveness in Young Children from Differing Family Contexts. Developmental Psychology, 1975, 11, 29-36.

Bearlson and Cassel carried out a study that is relevant to the development of moral judgment, though not directly focused on it. They investigated children’s ability to take the perspective of another person in a communication game, and related this ability to aspects of child rearing. The mothers were interviewed and asked how they would react to several common disciplinary situations. Their answers were scored according to whether they were person-oriented or position-oriented. Person-oriented appeals included regulatory statements that drew attention to the feelings, thought, needs or intentions of the mother, the child or a third person who may be affected by the child’s action. Position-oriented appeals referred to rules or statuses (e.g., “8:30 is your bedtime,” “All children have to go to school”). Children whose mothers were more given to the use of person-oriented arguments, rather than position-oriented ones, were more successful in taking the perspective of another person in a game that required them to do so. Insofar as perspective-taking is instrumental in the development of moral judgment–and Kohlberg, Selman and others have argued that it is–then person-oriented reasoning by parents should foster this development.

At least, repeated parental stress on “the consequences (especially consequences for others) of children’s actions” seems to move them toward more mature levels of thought when they are asked to consider moral issues. This also confirms our three-part I-Messages.

Carlsmith, J., Lepper, M., & Landauer, T. Children’s Obedience to Adult Requests: Interactive Affects of Anxiety Arousal and Apparent Punitiveness of Adults. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1974, 30, 822-828.

Parents find that they can obtain immediate compliance by raising their voices and issuing orders rather than requests. However, in so doing they may be reducing their children’s readiness to be cooperative on subsequent occasions. Thus if they have used power-assertive methods, they must resort to them more and more frequently as time goes on. Ultimately power-assertive methods may lose their capacity to exact even immediate compliance unless pressures are escalated to very fear-producing levels indeed. The possibility of benign cycles quite clearly also exists. If parents succeed in obtaining compliance with inductive methods and cooperation-based appeals (partly by timing their requests to coincide with moments when they have the child’s attention and have induced a positive mood), then the chances for obtaining willing compliance on subsequent occasions should be improved.

Comstock, M. Effects of Perceived Parental Behavior on Self-esteem and Adjustment. Dissertation Abstracts, 1973, 34, 465B.

The weight of the evidence would appear to be that neither authoritarian control nor unalloyed freedom and permissiveness is the key to the development of high self-esteem in children. Rather, a pattern of interaction in which parents make reasonable and firm demands that are accepted as legitimate by the children, but in which parents do not impose unreasonable restrictions but “make demands and give directions in ways that leave a degree of choice and control in the hands of the children,” is the control pattern most likely to foster high self-esteem. Again this supports P.E.T.’s Confrontive I-Messages.

Coopersmith, S. Antecedents of Self-esteem. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Co., 1967.

Mothers whose children had high self-esteem when compared with mothers whose children had low self-esteem were found to use more reasoning and verbal discussion and less arbitrary punitive discipline. This study confirms the benefits of our Confrontive I-Messages which inform children of the consequences of their behavior.

Wood, C. and Davidson, J., Conflict Resolution in the Family: A P.E.T. Evaluation Study. Australian Psychologist, vol. 28, No. 2, 1993, pp. 100-104.

Assessment of video recorded interactions showed significantly greater improvement in conflict resolutions skills from pre-training to post-training in both adults and adolescents. Link to abstract and option to order study. Additional link to article, “Helping Families Cope: a fresh look at P.E.T.” by Christine Wood and John Davidson.

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