A P.E.T. Glossary

A P.E.T. Glossary

You can benefit from the P.E.T. Vitamins Blog whether or not you've taken the course or read the best parenting book of all time -- Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children -- because Dr. Thomas Gordon’s concepts are pretty clear and accessible.

I just thought maybe it’s high time I put all the Behavior Window terms in one post, with some illustrations from our family’s recent past.

Here they are from the top down -- forget about alphabetical order, we are trying to imprint this precious roadmap onto our brains!!

Behavior Window

The brilliant backbone of the P.E.T. approach, the Behavior Window is something each of us has for every person with whom we interact. We view all behaviors through our particular window for that individual.

Example: Taking a taxi alone falls in a different area depending on whether I'm viewing it through the Behavior Window I have for my 16 year old son versus that for my 11 year old daughter.

Line of Acceptance

This demarcates whether we find a particular behavior acceptable or not. Three factors affect this ever-shifting line:

  1. What’s going on within ourselves
  2. Which child we are dealing with
  3. The environment in which the behavior occurs

Example: Checking one’s phone is ok on the way to church, but please, not during Mass.

Problem Ownership 

This is the central analytical tool of the P.E.T. approach: Who owns the problem? Once we know in which box a particular behavior falls, then we can use the corresponding skills.

Let me mention that, in the course, under Child Owns Problem we always add “unmet needs.” This follows from the P.E.T. philosophy that all behavior is seeking to meet valid needs. (Of course, then, we understand Parent Owns Problem to mean the same thing.) 

Child Owns Problem -> Helping Skills 


Powerful stuff -- giving the child (or other person) the time and space to develop her thoughts and speak without interruption. 

Example: I have said to my husband, “I want to Active Listen but sometimes you don’t like that. Please know that my silence is full of acceptance and empathy right now.”


Being present and in the moment. Stooping down and looking little ones in the eye can be pretty radical. 

Example: I have to remind myself that my Facebook and What’s App messages are, 99% of the time, less important than the child in front of me. 


Letting our child know we are listening and following.

Example: Lately, I've been saying “Mmm” or “Yeah” and touching my son’s arm quite a bit.

Active Listening

Reflecting back the facts and emotions of what someone is communicating through his words, facial expressions, pauses, pace of speech, tone of voice and body language.

Example: While I was facilitating between my 16 and 14 year old sons, I helped pinpoint Jake’s overall reaction so that his older brother could really hear him, “It seems like even though Jake says he will go along with that, his tone of voice and his shrug show that he's not happy about it.”


An open-ended invitation that lets the other person know we are interested in what they have to say.

Example: Last week, I plunked down next to my son and said, “Hey, you seem pretty down. If you want to talk, I am here now or will just be upstairs, ok?”

No Problem Area -> Relationship Skills

Declarative I-Message

Honest, open sharing of opinions and thoughts.

Example: Claudia will quickly shoot down a song that has profanity in it: “I don’t like this song. Why do they have to use that language?!”

Preventive I-Message

Sharing a future need and then allowing our child to take the initiative to be our helper.

Example: “Guys, I have been out all day and want to get some work done as soon as we get home.”

Positive I-Message

A spontaneous utterance that conveys our appreciation for our child’s behavior or gratitude for his existence on this planet. This is emphatically not praise, as it does not evaluate the child nor try to mold his future behavior.

Example: “I’m the lucky woman who gets to be your mother!” 

Responsive I-Message

A contribution from our P.E.T. colleagues in Australia, this is a slightly longer but more effective way of saying "No" by first inserting a quick acknowledgment or Active Listen.

Example: To my boys who, thank goodness, still sometimes want me to put them to sleep, I might say, “You really want me to scratch your back longer, but I’m afraid I will fall asleep if I lie down and I still have stuff to do. Love you so much, g’nite."

Modifying the Environment

Preventing problems by adding things to, removing things from or changing things in the environment.

Example: Recently, we added two new hampers to catch laundry.

Parent Owns Problem -> Confrontation Skills

Confrontive I-Message

The strongest version will have three parts:

  1. Non-blameful description of the behavior
  2. Our feelings about it
  3. Concrete and tangible effects on us meeting our needs    

Example: Very unhappy with the early morning mayhem, I recently shared with Jake, “When you call for me to come upstairs in the tone of voice you just used, I feel frustrated and annoyed because I have so many things to do and pack and I simply can’t concentrate.”

Shifting Gears

Like navigating changing road conditions, we have to adapt while keeping our destination in mind.

So if, despite our perfect specimen of a Confrontive I-Message, our child becomes defensive or resistant, it behooves us to Active Listen to bring down her emotional temperature. Then we shift back (persistent, aren’t we?) to another Confrontive I-Message to assert our unmet needs.

Both Own Problem -> Conflict Resolution Skills

Method III Problem Solving

With a focus on everyone’s NEEDS, rather than desired solutions, this win-win approach has six steps:

  1. Active Listen to define needs (time-consuming yet crucial!)
  2. Brainstorm solutions
  3. Evaluate solutions
  4. Choose solution
  5. Implement solution
  6. Check results


Sharing our expertise and life wisdom in a way our child will hear us and, hopefully, take on our values.

The effective consultant: 

  1. Gets hired -- you listen with empathy and acceptance so now your child is willing to listen to you
  2. Shares facts and figures, often including the negative concrete and tangible effects of her current behavior, not on us, but on HER 
  3. Leaves the decision with the “client” -- we may see the desired outcome immediately, years later or even never but, along the way, we have preserved the relationship! 

Example: As I mentioned in my piano post, Claudia decided to continue playing, but Harrison gave up his Mandarin tutor a couple of years ago and the jury is still out on whether he will ever really pursue it.


I think I agree with Dr. Gordon: the only true way of influencing our children is by living our own lives according to our values.  

Example: I am fortunate my kids started eating healthy foods along with me earlier rather than later (this is another influencing tool that requires patience). Of course, they have also taken on some of my less desirable traits. Kids are always watching.

Modifying Self

The greatest gift of the P.E.T. approach is the awareness that we have the power to change our thoughts, perceptions and responses to our children no matter how "unacceptable" their behavior may appear to be.

Example: I have sweated buckets to learn to control myself over the video gaming issue. This power for influence trade has earned me the admiration and closeness of two boys who, in turn, deeply consider my opinions and needs and are willing to modify themselves too.

As a linear, left-brained person, I heavily rely on the structure of the Behavior Window and can vouch for its universal applicability. If you've come across an issue that you can't seem to reconcile with P.E.T., please send it my way. I'm up for the challenge and would love to try to help!

Wishing you peace in parenting,


Credits: Terms visual (http://yumuniverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/terms8.jpg)