A case of the P.E.T.'s
Managing our everyday problems is critical to the way we perceive the quality of our life. Little stressors may not be severe enough for us to take any action, so we end up brushing them under the carpet. Eventually thought the stressors would rear their "ugly "head", and what was once a small issue, will have become a significant problem. To prevent this development, the Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) model offers a holistic framework and specific tools.
In this article, I will present a scenario involving a parent and their children. Most parents will be familiar with the essence of this scenario, and I will present a preliminary analysis of the scenario from the parents' perspective, an analysis that most of us would think is acceptable. Then I will approach the same scenario from the P.E.T. framework and with the use of some of P.E.T.'s tools to manage the issue in a mutually acceptable manner.
Nod your head if you can identify with the following scenario:
It is obvious to see how this scenario can cause frustration to the parent. The parent, after all, is just trying to be a responsible parent and provide her children with the energy they need to keep going, and the children are not even affording the parent a useful answer.
I would also start to feel irritated. But before I do or say something I would regret, I will go into my P.E.T. toolbox and take this interaction through the looking glass of the P.E.T. model and unpack some of this interaction's deeper layers. What I hope to demonstrate with this exercise is how this scenario could help us draw more meaning and provide us with a better understanding of a seemingly simple scenario.
Some ground rules first. I will set the assumptions I am working with so that we have a common starting point. The first assumption is that the conversation presented is the whole interaction, no other interactions preceded or followed the scenario. The second assumption is that there this interaction has created a problem in the relationship between the parent and children. So with those assumption accepted as true, I proceed.
Having accepted those assumptions, I will attempt to isolate the feelings from the interaction and focus on the facts. The facts that we are concerned about in the P.E.T. model are the exhibited behaviours; the actions your phone can capture. Judgement, understanding, emotional reactions, interpretations and anything else not actionable, are not considered to be facts.
Having that in mind, the facts are; that the parent posed questions to her children and the children responded. I understand that this sounds uninspiring now that we have taken all the emotion and labelling out of the incidence, doesn't it? But, let's keep going. We will add the human factor in later, but in an altogether different way, as would be prudent with the guidance of the P.E.T. model.
Who has got a problem in this scenario?
One of the fundamental principles of P.E.T. is problem ownership. As we have previously accepted that the scenario has resulted in a problem, the next step would be to identify who has the problem. Or in P.E.T. speak, who owns the problem. What appears to happen in the events described is the parent is trying to offer food to her children, and they do not seem too fussed about it. The children do not appear concerned about what they want to eat, but the parent is concerned about what to prepare for the children.
In this instance, the children's' behaviour is not acceptable to the parent, and the parent is the person affected by the interaction. So, the parent owns the problem.
So now we know who has the problem, what next?
There may be several reasons why the parent thinks the children's behaviour is unacceptable. The P.E.T. model assists the parent in assessing why she is judging the children's behaviour to be unacceptable.
One reason the children's behaviour is unacceptable that comes to mind is that the parent is trying to get her maternal instinctual need of feeding her children met. Or perhaps, the parent does not want to prepare food that her children will reject, and it might go to waste along with the time and effort spent to prepare the meal. Maybe the parent is not getting the attention she thinks she deserves, or even, does not receive the appreciation she is expecting. The possibilities are endless, but also, very personal indeed. I would like to make clear that all the reasons hypothesised stem from the parent's opinions; they do not constitute facts. The parent adds the human factors of emotions, meaning, judgement, acceptance or not acceptance of the circumstances and critically appraises the situation.
With a little bit of mindisight, a term coined at a later date from the development of the P.E.T. model, the parent can pinpoint with deep thought the reason or reasons why the behaviour is unacceptable to her.
In summary, in this instance, the parent's needs are not met by the children's' behaviour, so the behaviour is not acceptable to the parent.
We know why, how can we fix that?
When I provided the initial analysis of the situation, I offered a common and expected outlook from the perspective of the parent. The perspective that the children lack communication skills or that the parent is at fault. If those perspectives became the motivation for any response from the parent, then having a constructive outcome would be unlikely. The reason is that the underlying issue would not be dealt with. Instead, the parent would have dealt with what seemingly was the cause of the problem, but in actuality was a fabrication of the parent's imagination. Eventually, when a similar situation arises, the parent would have to grit her teeth and go through the emotional pain again, as no actual progress was achieved, either short-term or long-lasting.
Finding fitting and time-withstanding solutions to our seemingly simple problems is where the P.E.T. program shines. The next step is one that is not what we usually expect. Self-acceptance. By accepting the reality that as a parent our initial reaction to a situation makes us susceptible to making rash judgements. As a parent, I recognise I have my reasons to feel the way I do, reasons that are not under my conscious control, hence there is nothing I can do, at least in the short term, to stop those emotions arising. And I can also use the P.E.T. framework to make sense of how my internal landscape influences the way I perceive other's behaviours.
To break the stalemate that can ensue by placing blame away from us, P.E.T. provides, along with self-assessment, a whole host of tools to prevent the situation happening again (preventive I-messages). If that doesn't work, to better manage the situation through communication techniques (confrontive I-messages, Gear-shifting, No-Lose Conflict Resolution method or Method III), or if that fails, acceptance of the differences in the family and appreciation of individuality. As John Gottman has identified through his research, most problems in a relationship, almost 70% of them, are unsolvable. And that does sound like something we need to be accepting of, as these problems will always be there.
Once again, sometimes it is all too easy to place the blame on the other, away from us. It is natural; who wants to be the person responsible for a challenging situation? What seems to be a simple problem, most of the times tend to be a multi-layered problem. To solve this requires honest self-reflection, courage and integrity. We need to efficiently communicate the deeper meaning we discover to the other parties involved if we wish to make progress. The P.E.T. model assists us in this process by encouraging us to look deep within ourselves and provides tools that motivate self-assessment and to promulgate our feelings, needs and beliefs across the immense gap that is between the other person and us. That would usually do the trick. If not, P.E.T. offers still more skills to help with the situation.