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The Parent Adult Child Model

The Parent Adult Child Model (PAC) which we discuss in this article is a part of Transactional Analysis theory.

Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, believed that each of us have 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:

• Parent.  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. '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. 
• Child. 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 emotional that are being replayed from childhood. 

Developments on the original 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 an old age.

Applying this 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 table 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:






Angry or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronising gestures

Attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, non-threatening and non-threatened

Emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, teasing, delight, laughter, speaking behind hand, raising hand to speak, squirming and giggling.


Always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words, patronising language, posturing language.

Questioning and querying words - why, what, how, who, where and when, how much, in what way, comparative expressions, reasoned statements, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realise, I see, I believe, in my opinion.

I want, I need, I wish, I don't care, oh no, not again, I don’t know, things never go right for me.

The information in the above table is taken from www.businessballs.com

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 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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