Feb 10, 2010

What If We Can't Find an Acceptable Solution?

This is one of the most frequent fears of parents. While it is justifiable in some cases, surprisingly few no-lose conflict-resolution sessions fail to come up with an acceptable solution. When a family encounters such a stalemate or deadlock, it is usually because parents and children are still in a win-lose, power-struggle frame of mind.

Our advice to parents is: try everything you can think of in such cases. For instance:
  1. Keep talking.
  2. Go back to Step 2 and generate more solutions.
  3. Hold over the conflict until a second session tomorrow.
  4. make strong appeals, such as, "Come on, there must be a way to resolve this," "Let's really try hard to find an acceptable solution," "Have we explored all of the possible solutions?" "Let's try harder."
  5. Bring the difficulty out in the open and try to find out whether some underlying problem or "hidden agenda" is obstructing progress. You might say, "I wonder what's going on here that prevents us from finding a solution," "Are there other things bugging us that we haven't brought out?"
Usually, one or several of these approaches works and problem-solving gets started again.

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book


  1. I'd appreciate a bit of feedback here on some confusions I have. I am a PET teacher - but have rarely used problem solving in the sense it's described in the books. I've been chatting to an ex PET teacher today and she says that she feels PET misses out on some of the authority that parents need to use with children. I find that too - that sometimes I avoid making simple requests and try to use I-messages - but simple requests seem to work better - eg for household chores. Does anyone have any comments on this? (It's my first attempt to join in this debate so forgive me if this is not the correct place!) This person also mentioned something called Authority J - she can't remember where she read this - can anyone point me in the right direction? Thanks very much. love Rachel

  2. Hello Rachel,

    Thank you for your comment and participating in our blog. I would like to try to answer your comment and explain problem solving and the word “authority” (and explain what Authority J is).

    There are different kinds of authority, specifically four kinds. The authority that I believe you are referring to is “Authority P”, which the “P” stands for “Power”; the power one person has over another.

    I believe parents continue to use power because they haven’t had the experience of others using non-power methods to influence and perhaps don’t quite understand what it is like to not use power. There could be a fear that exists because of their personal experiences and/or upbringing.

    The kind of authority that Dr. Gordon is referring to that is okay to use, is “Authority E” (E standing for Expertise)— suggestions and advice are clearly methods of influencing others by sharing one's experience, wisdom and knowledge, which is different from controlling others with Authority P.

    As Dr. Thomas Gordon states in his P.E.T. book, “each and every time they force a child to do something by using their power or authority, they deny that child a chance to learn self-discipline and self responsibility.”

    In the specific example you use regarding household chores, are you finding asking your children to do the household chores is a problem? Assuming so, I would ask yourself this question: Where does it fall in my Behavior Window? If it falls in the “we have a problem” then I can see where Method III (problem solving) would need to be introduced. If it falls in the “I Own the Problem” area, then a Confrontive I-Message would be needed. Does this help? Please let me know.

    P.S. I have a great article as well-- “The Four Kinds of Authority”. I will re-post it here. This article explains in more depth what Authority J is.


Thanks for commenting! - P.E.T.