Transactional Analysis – Parent / Adult / Child

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The Parent Adult Child Model (PAC) is a part of the Transactional Analysis theory, which can be seen as an important part of modern sales techniques, as covered in our leading sales training courses.  Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, believed that each of us has 3 ego states (our Parent, Adult and Child). It is important to note here that the terms parent, adult and child have a slightly different meaning within the theoretical context than they do in normal, day to day language:


The Parent ego state is comprised of the behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied from our parents, or other parental figures. Our Parent is made up of hidden and overt messages such as ‘you / I should’, ‘under no circumstances’, ‘always’ and ‘never forget’, ‘don’t lie, cheat, steal’. Our parent is formed by external events and influences upon us as we grow through early childhood. As functioning adults, we have the ability to change the messages, but it does require awareness and effort.


‘Adult’ describes our ability to think and determine action for ourselves based upon the ‘here and now’. It draws on our understanding and analysis of our external and internal environment. In addition, the Adult in us is the means by which we keep our Parent and Child in check.


This is the ego state in which individuals behave, feel and think similarly to how they did as a child. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor, or crying, or getting angry. The Child is the expression of feelings, thoughts and emotions that are being replayed from childhood.

Developments on the Parent Adult Child theory

In more recent times, Transactional Analysis has developed beyond these Berne’s early theories. The original Parent and Child components were divided to form a new model. This development introduces Controlling and Nurturing aspects of the Parent, and the Adapted and Free aspects of the Child.

Parent is now split into two ego states, as follows:

Nurturing. Nurturing Parent represents more affirming and more pleasant qualities of what parents and society do for a person.

Critical. Critical Parent behaviours generally represent the corrective behaviours of real parents and the prohibitive messages of society.

Adult remains as a single ego state which can draw on the resources of both Parent and Child, and negotiate between the two.

Child is now split into two ego states, as follows:

Adapted. – The Adapted Child ego state represents human response which has some negativity in it, some resistance, some reaction and some deeper hostility.

Free. – The Free Child ego state represents a playful and spontaneous part of human behaviour, from infancy to old age.

Applying Parent-Adult-Child to day to day life

According to the theory, when we communicate with others we do so from one of our own ego states. In the list below you will see the physical and verbal behaviours and cues which can alert you to which ego state you, or the person you are communicating with, is in at that particular time:

Parent – Someone in Parent may use body language that is angry or impatient such as finger-pointing, fist-clenching, “in your face”. The language of the Parent may be judgmental, critical or patronising.

Adult – You can tell that someone is in their Adult when they are show interest and pay attention, they are not defensive or need the be threatening in any way. A conversation with someone in Adult is reasonable, straight-forward and oriented towards solving problems. They tend to ask for information before forming opinions, such as asking “why”, “what”, “how”, “who”, “where” and “when”. Individuals working from Adult use logic statements –  true, false, probably, possibly.  They don’t force their opinions on you as if talking to a child but will offer their own thoughts in a non-dogmatic way: “I think”, “I realise”, “I see”, “I believe”.

Child – An individual who is in their Child often behaves more emotionally than they do at other times, which could be sad, angry, despairing, fearful, depressed.  They may use the body language of a child, such as squirming, giggling, whining, shrugging, teasing.  There are many phrases that point to the Child being present, the person tends to use simple language such as “I want”, “I need”, “I don’t care”, “don’t know”.

Remember: when you are trying to identify ego states words are only part of the overall message.

  • 55% is body language
  • 38% of meaning is intonation
  • Only 7% of communication is the actual words spoken

The Parent Adult Child (PAC) Model can help you to understand more clearly what is taking place between two people in a situation, as well as to help you understand yourself and your own reactions. Once you have an understanding of your own parent, adult and child you have increased choice of which ego state to adopt, which signals to send, and where to send them. This enables us to make the most of our communications and create and maintain better relationships.

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