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Peaceful Parenting and ‘Reasoning’ with a Very Young Child

Larissa Dann

Reasoning with a child aged three and under?

Is that really possible? Surely, they’re not developmentally capable of responding to reason? Aren’t punishments such as smacking or time-out, and rewards such as star charts, the only way we can only get young children to learn, and to change their behaviour?

My lived experience (and that of hundreds of parents I’ve met through parenting classes) is that yes, you can reason with children – from a very young age. And yes, it is possible for them to change their behaviour, without resorting to rewards or punishment – you just need to give them the chance.

Communicating with the very young

The parent education course, Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) offers a ‘gentle’ or ‘peaceful’ parenting approach, and teaches respectful relationship skills. The course teaches communication skills, including: recognising whether you, your child or both of you are unhappy; and then putting into practice communication skills including active listening, assertiveness (using I-messages), or no-lose conflict resolution.

Challengingly (especially for people with small children), P.E.T. does not use rewards or punishment to change a child’s behaviour

In my view the respectful communication skills taught in this course, help children develop essential life qualities such as resilience, empathy and self-regulation (explored further in ‘How the Evidence of Today Supports the Wisdom of Yesterday.’)

My experience as the parent of a very young child

After attending a P.E.T. course when my first child was just eight months old, I leapt into implementing the skills on as many occasions as possible. Unimpeded by expectations of what children should or should not be able to understand, I naively put into practice the P.E.T. communication skills. Not every interaction resulted in the behaviour change I’d imagined. What I did discover, however, was how often I underestimated the abilities of my children, Ben and Phoebe*.

I’m not perfect – I learn every day!

I am not a ‘perfect parent’ – just ask my children! However, I’ve found that if I parent with respectful intent and see my children as capable, innocent, and acting out of need, my expectations are largely met.

My end goal as a parent, my big picture, is the relationship with my children. So when I communicate with my child, I might subconsciously be guided by these questions:

  • Do I understand what is happening for my child?
  • Do I understand what is happening for me?
  • Am I limiting my child by my expectations (or lack of expectations) of their ability?
  • Is my child developmentally capable?
  • Am I giving my child a chance to demonstrate his or her full potential?
  • How is this interaction going to affect my child?
  • How is this interaction going to impact on our relationship?

As a parent, and parent educator, I noticed that when P.E.T. skills are used to communicate with young children, they develop qualities such as the ability to recognise and label emotions; empathy; problem solving abilities; and increased verbal skills – from a very young age.

I recall one occasion when my daughter, Phoebe was around 20 months old. She was watching a ‘Pingu’ video, when she began to cry. I assumed she was sad, and using active listening I said, “It sounds like Pingu made you sad!” She replied by saying, “Scary. Pingu scary!” She had been frightened by part of the video – something I had not expected.

I was struck by her ability to differentiate her emotions, and tell me exactly what was she felt. My response to her fear was different to had she been sad. In this case, we put the video away.

My Learning

My children have been my greatest teachers. Over more than 20 years of being a parent, I have discovered that I continually underestimate the abilities of my children. The parents I’ve met through my parenting classes have similarly been amazed by the capacities of their young ones.

I encourage you to open up to the possibilities of communicating with very young children. Help them discover their full potential!

*Not their real names © Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved

Image of ‘two year old…‘ via Shutterstock


Larissa Dann

Larissa is a parent who, many years ago, attended a parenting course. The skills and approach of that program influenced her life so profoundly that she became a parent educator. She is now an experienced instructor of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), having taught over 1000 people, including parents, teachers and practitioners. Larissa uses the skills everyday, endeavouring to ‘practice what she preaches’. She is an accredited P.E.T. facilitator, group leader, and counsellor. She feels privileged each time she teaches, as she observes the communication skills empower children, parents and carers in a relationship of respect. Larissa is now enjoying dabbling in the area of written reflections, otherwise known as blogs at www.parentskills.com.au/blogs/larissa More about the Author