P.E.T. and Taking Advantage of Inclinations

This page has touched on the subjects of parental attitudes and demeanor toward their children. Even the most well-intentioned parents sometimes fail, and some have the humility to go back to school about it. One elegant non-violent management tool, popularized by Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, is to offer limited alternatives.

For at least a certain number of years, parents are in a position to offer limited choices. By not keeping SSBs (sugar-sweetened beverages) in the home, you avoid a half-hour-long wrangle over whether a bottle in the fridge may be opened or not. Parents who offer the choice of plain water or cucumber water can entertain the possibility that their kids will get used to it.

Play it clever

Avoid asking, for instance, “What veggie do you want?” An open-ended question leads to a lot of wasted breath on both sides, and while kids might have time for that, one parent has dinner to make, and the other needs to check a couple of things under the hood of the car. The people who want supper are told, “You can have carrots. Or you can have spinach.” A child with spirit will try the old “What if I want both?” gag.

Picture this: The parent looks thoughtful, as if giving this proposition detailed consideration. Then, the parent appears impressed and taken aback by the cleverness of it all, and replies “Both? Well… I guess so…” It’s a classic win-win situation. The child feels like he’s gotten away with something, and the parent sees both spinach and carrots being consumed.

A lot of times, with a kid, their smarty-pants retort should not be interpreted as defiance or disrespect. A child’s attempt at humor very often reveals an underlying wish to reach a compromise without feeling defeated. The willingness to be playful, even in a sarcastic way, shows an inclination toward reasonableness, as long as they don’t feel coerced. When parents can play along with an immature sense of humor, they have a viable chance of exerting some influence. (That is not canonical Gordon, by the way, but an extrapolation on a destination that might be reached by trying out his suggestions.)

Wrong turn

This familial jocularity cannot flourish if the parent has a mean streak. Nobody needs a grownup to say disparaging things like “Oh, so today, you want plain water. What’s the matter, is the cuke water too strong for you?”

Many parents feel the impulse to discard any attempt at nuance, and just let their authoritarian streak take over. There is another way to look at it. If your friend was doing something you thought was dumb, wouldn’t you try to think of some halfway classy, dignified, or even humorous way to alert him that his mustache looks ridiculous? Why treat a child more rudely than you would treat a friend? That same basic impulse, to treat a child like a fellow human being, underlies a large part of Dr. Gordon’s work.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.),” GordonTraining.com, undated
Image by theilr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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