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Thomas Gordon


For a relationship to change in any significant way, he who holds the power must change. - T. Gordon

"Punitive discipline is by definition need-depriving as opposed to need-satisfying." - T. Gordon


Notes and articles

April 2006 Review of the Gordon Training Website

Difference Between Agreements and Rules

Copy of Gordon and Farson 1987 Active Listening Article


I like the ideas of Thomas Gordon. I have collected some of his writing here. Today I reviewed the Gordon Training website. I started getting the idea that he had died and did some more checking and found out he did die, in 2002. After spending some time on the site, I feel more worried now about the direction the company is going. I have some specific concerns, but overall I would say his training courses, assuming they are fairly true to his original ideas, are probably still quite good. I still would definitely recommend reading his books. (library and bookstore page)

Below are links to notes and articles.

S. Hein
April 4, 2006

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Notes and articles

Notes from Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) 1975 - These are some of my notes from his book.

Thomas Gordon on Parental Authority, Setting Limits

Articles by Thomas Gordon

How children really react to control - From www.naturalchild.org

The case against disciplining children at home or at school . Full text copy of an article. This came from www.nospank.net

A summary from Nobleednews.com


http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/thomas_gordon_obituary.html - Brief biography

http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/thomas_gordon2.html - Article by Gordon "Children don't really misbehave"

Also by Thomas Gordon - Discipline that works



"Why are children the last ones to be protected against the potential evils of power and authority? Is it that they are smaller, or that adults find it so much easier to rationalize the use of power with such notions as 'Father knows best' or 'It's for their own good'?

"My own conviction is that as more people begin to understand power and authority more completely and accept its use as unethical, more parents will apply those understandings to adult-child relationships; will begin to feel that it is just as immoral in those relationships; and then will be forced to search for creative new nonpower methods that all adults can use with children and youth."

From Parent Effectiveness Training

Notes from Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) 1975

In the introduction Gordon says he was pleased when he was asked by schools for his help in training teachers. He writes:

Having harbored a secret ambition to invent some ways to effect a major transformation of the personalities and character of school teachers, I wasted no time accepting their requests. Here was my chance to change members of the profession whose representatives had caused my ejection from exactly 23 classes during my four years in high school ( a record which, with some pride, I have claimed is not likely ever to have been surpassed at my high school in Springfield, Illinois). (pg xii, xiii)

He then designed a course for teachers and called it the TET. He writes:

"The acceptance of both the course and the book in an institution that historically has been quite resistant to any significant changes in its system of human relationships has been personally gratifying to say the least. (pg xiii)

Later he writes that he believes "for a relationship to change in any significant way, he who holds the power must change." (p xv)

Below are direct quotes from the book:

Chapter 1 - Parents are Blamed But Not Trained

Everybody blames parents for the troubles of youth and for the troubles that young people appear to be causing society. It's all the fault of parents, mental health experts lament, after examining the frightening statistics on the rapidly increasing number of children and youth who develop serious or crippling emotional problems, who become victims of drug addiction, or commit suicide. Political leaders and law-enforcement officials blame parents for raising a generation of ingrates, rebels, protesters, hippies, peace demonstrators, and draft-card burners. And when kids fail in school or become hopeless drop-outs, teachers and school administrators claim that the parents are at fault. Yet who is helping parents? How much effort is being made to assist parents to become more effective in raising children? Where can parents learn what they are doing wrong and what they might do differently? Parents are blamed, but not trained. Millions of new mothers and fathers take on a job each year that ranks among the most difficult anyone can have, taking an infant, a little person who is almost totally helpless, assuming full responsibility for his physical and psychological health and raising him so he will become a productive, cooperative, and contributing citizen. What more difficult and demanding job is there? (p 1&2)

As a practicing clinical psychologist, I used to be as convinced as most parents that the period called "the terrible teens" was both normal and inevitable-the result of youngsters' universal desire to establish their independence and rebel against their parents I was sure that adolescence, as most studies have shown, was invariably a time of storm and stress in families. Our experience with P.E.T. has proven me wrong. Time and time again, parents trained in P.E.T. have reported the surprising absence of rebellion and turmoil in their families. (p 2)

I am now convinced that adolescents do not rebel against parents. They only rebel against certain destructive methods of discipline almost universally employed by parents. Turmoil and dissension in families can be the exception, not the rule, when parents learn to substitute a new method of resolving conflicts. (p3)

Parents today rely almost universally on the same methods of raising children and dealing with problems in their families that were used by their own parents, by their parents' parents, by their grand parents' parents. Unlike almost all other institutions of society, the parent-child relationship seems to have remained unchanged. Parents depend on methods used two thousand years ago! (p4)

A few professionals certainly have tried to pass on new ideas and methods to parents, particularly Haim Ginott, who pointed our in his book, Between Parent and Child, how parents can talk more therapeutically to a child and avoid damage to his self-esteem. However, even those relatively few parents who have read this and other books show little evidence in our classes of having modified their behavior very significantly, particularly their approach to discipline and handling parent-child conflicts.

p14 It is essential that you learn what you are feeling.

p16 Being accepting is a characteristic of their own personality-- their inner security, their high tolerance level, the fact that they like themselves, the fact the feelings about themselves are quite independent of what happens around them, and a host of other personality variables. Everyone has known such people; although you may not have know what made them that way, you regard them as "accepting people." One feels good around such people--you can talk openly to them, let your hair down. One can be oneself.


See also Thomas Gordon on Parental Authority, Setting Limits

f you are interested in parenting or teaching, please be sure to read the page on Haim Ginott show in the link above.


In comparison to all the material I like from Thomas Gordon, I just have a few criticisms..

On pages 10, 11 talks about parents who are winners, losers and oscillators. He implies that all conflicts are battles. He does not speak in terms of whose needs come first.

Judging by his website seems the company based on his ideas seems to be more interested in making money than in helping children and parents these days. There is some information on it, but mostly it seems like a big advertisement for his products and consulting services. (these were my original comments the first time I reviewed the site)

By the way if you are interested in parenting please be sure to read chapter 10 from my book. While I was feeling very critical of parents when I wrote, I now actually feel amazed to see how accurate I was in my analysis of the cause effect relationships between parents and children. I don't feel boastful when I say this, but I do want people to appreciate that I was able to see things very clearly even though I was not a formally trained psychologist or child development expert.


Aprl 2006 update - After working with suicidal teens for the past few years, I feel even more sure that my ideas were right on target in my 1996 chapter on parenting. None of the teens I talk to would be suicidal or self-harming if the parents followed the suggestions in my book.


From nobleednews.com

Here is a copy of something from www.nobleednews.com (with some minor edits)

The specific link is http://www.nobleednews.com/the_gordon_model.htm#Initiating%20the%20Gordon%20Model

Gordon's basic approach is that discipline can not be achieved through either reward or punishment but rather must be developed within the character of the child and teenager.  Gordon believes that overt authoritarian discipline was harmful to the children and teens, leading to anti-social and self-destructive behavior.  He also doesn't believe in permissiveness and finds this approach to be just as damaging.  Rather he goes for a middle of the road strategy with the goal of helping people make decisions that help them control their own behavior.

Gordon's basic tenant is that

"You acquire more influence with young people when you give up using your power to control them...and the more you use your power to try to control people the less influence you'll have on their lives."

Gordon's Principal Concepts and Teachings

  • Authority -a condition that can be used to exert influence or control over others.  There are several types of authority.  The first three are types of influence but the fourth is a source of control over others.

Authority E - expertise

Authority J - job description

Authority C - contracts and agreements

Authority P - the physical, financial, psychological power to control others (edited by S. Hein)


Authority S - survival. parents' power over children due to the child's life being dependent on parents

Authority L - love. when a person feels loved and cared about by another.

Authority R - respect. when respect is earned and the person feels respected by another

* These last two were added by S. Hein

  • Non controlling methods of behavior change -- methods teachers can use to influence student behavior in a positive manner without resorting to rewards and punishments.

  • Problem - a condition, event or situation that bothers someone.

  • Problem Ownership - individual troubled by a problem is said to "own" the problem.

  • Behavior Window - a visual device of Gordon's used to determine if there is a problem and who owns it.

  • Primary Feelings - the basic feelings one has following another person's unacceptable behavior.

  • Secondary Feelings - manufactured feelings one senses after the difficulty is solved.  For example, once a teacher realizes a student who has been hurt on the playground will be okay, she becomes angry because the child broke the playground rules.

  • "I" messages--messages that tell another person how you feel about their behavior.

  • "You" messages--blaming statements

  • Confrontive "I" Messages-messages that attempt to influence another to stop the unacceptable behavior.  "I'm glad everyone is so excited about the project but I can't give you your instructions unless you can hear me."

  • Shifting Gears-changing from Confrontive to a listening posture

  • Students' Coping Mechanisms-students react to coercive power by either running, fighting or giving in.

  • Win-Lose conflict resolution-ends the dispute temporarily with a winner and a loser.

  • No-Lose conflict resolution-everyone wins

  • Door openers-words or actions that invites folks to talk about what is on their minds

  • Active Listening-carefully listening and demonstrating understanding of what another person is saying

  • Communication Roadblocks-comments that can shut down student willingness to communicate

  • Preventive "I" messages-messages that attempt to prevent future misbehavior.  "I hope we can all be quiet for the visit from the physicist.  Can you all help me to keep it quiet?"

  • Preventative "You" message--you message to prevent future misbehavior.  "You were very rude last time we had a guest in the classroom.  You made me very embarrassed.  I hope you do better this time."

  • Participative Classroom Management-leadership approach that encourages students to take a part in problem solving and decision making concerning the classroom and the rules within.

  • Problem solving-a process in which

    • people clarify the problem

    • present possible solutions

    • select a solution all can live with

    • put the solution in place

    • see how the solution is working

Initiating the Gordon Model

So you've decided you like this model of behavior management but just how do you get started?  Here's what you might want to do.

  • Step I

Figure out just how you'd like students' to behave in given situations.  When do want them to talk?  When do you want them quiet?  How neat does their work need to be?  How much talking can you deal with? 

  • Discuss your concerns with your students

On the first day let students know what the class will be like and what you'd like from them.  Allow students to be part of the planning and problem solving.  Be an active listener in order to keep communication with your students open. 

  • Help students learn to function within the parameters of the classroom agreement

Use frequent reminders and engage students in role play that demonstrates the skills needed to follow the class agreements.  The idea is to teach students ways to problem solve so that they increasingly control their own behavior. 


More about TG

Thomas Gordon is a clinical psychologist who is the founder and director of Effectiveness Training International, a group whose instructors offer teachers, parents, physicians, managers, young people and others training in discipline and group management.  He has also written several parenting books that offer teachers and parents help in teaching children to be more self-reliant, self-controlled, responsible and cooperative. 


The difference between rules and agreements

When someone isn't following the agreement, a new agreement is needed, not punishment. Agreements are made between equals, with neither party having the power to force or punish the other.


Site Review Notes - April 2006

I feel troubled by this definition of an "I message" which I got to from a pop up on their site.

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

That's now how I understand an "I message" to be.

First, I don't like calling it a "tool".

Second, I don't saying it is for "influencing others to change behavior". This implies the only reason to use it is to try to change someone else. Between this and calling it a tool it sounds too much like a trick to manipulate someone. I don't think this was Gordon's original intent.

Third, I don't like this part about interfering with your ability to meet your needs. For one thing it sounds like you are being pretty self-centered, for another does this mean that saying "I love you" is not an I message?

Fourth, I don't like the part about "it makes you feel". If a girl rejects me and I say "I feel suicidal", does that mean she made me feel that way? Or is it more accurate to say that my feelings are acually more a result of years of lonliness, discouragement and rejection, and her rejection simply triggered all this past pain?

I am not sure what else to say besides "makes" though. Sometimes I say "helps me feel" something, but this is awkard. I think I would just leave it as "I feel..." and not try to say in one or two words what the cause and affect is. It is likely to be too complicated to so simplistically.

Fifth, I don't like the "confronting someone else's behavior". I don't think an "I message" has to be confrontational at all. To me confronting is very close to attacking.

Finally, I don't like the "unacceptable behavior" part. That makes it sound like you are being pretty authoritarian, deciding what is "acceptable" and "unacceptable." It doesn't sound like there is much room for consideration or respect of the other person's feelings, not to mention compassion for the other person or understanding of their reaons for what they are doing. Generally anyone who talks about "behavior" seems to sound like a teacher or parent to me. Teens don't talk much about other people's "behavior." The word itself, to me has authoritarian and judmental associations. And if not that, then at least clinical.


Something else I don't like about the site is that it seems like the whole site is pretty much one big advertisement and they only want to give you enough free info to get you interested in buying something.

For example, I was trying to learn what a "behavior window" was and when I clicked on the term I got a pop up, similar to the one on "I messages" which said this:

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.

This doesn't tell me anything useful. This is just an ad for the idea of a behavior window, and thus the company's courses. Here are my "I messages": I feel resentful, tricked, kept in the dark, taunted, offended, discriminated against (because if I had money and access to one of the courses I could find out what this tempting term is, but since I am in Sala, Argentina, it is unlikely I could find out anywhere around here, even if I spent hours or even days trying to.)

By the way, later I found an article which talked about the term again and had a graphic of what used to be called the window of acceptance. I still feel resentuful of the time I had to spend trying to find even that article.


Something else which troubles me. I clicked on a list of their client list and it looks like a lot of big corporations.


tgx.h... has backup copy of children dont really misbehave art

From TG website... Aug 2012

*Individual P.E.T. Instructor Training – On-site Workshop

We can send a Master P.E.T. Trainer to you for a private 2-day instructor training, at your location. You will work one-on-one with our trainer to prepare you to teach P.E.T. classes in your community. The training will consist of discussion, skill-building exercises, activities and lots of practice teaching.

Pricing for the individual certification includes the P.E.T. Instructor Kit. The tuition is $3,195. The Master Trainer’s travel, lodging and meals are additional.