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How to Interact Better: Transactional Analysis

Your teenager is throwing a tantrum. She really wants to go to a party but you know there will be alcohol there and you don’t want to place her in an environment where she might be peer pressured. When you tell her she can’t go, she roars “I hate you” and slams the door. You feel a bit guilty and you don’t like fighting with her. But you know it’s the right thing to do. Nonetheless, the conversation remains on your mind for the evening:

You: You cannot go to that party.

Child: Why not!?

You: Because there is going to be alcohol at it. And I’m your mother and I said so.

Child: Yeah but I won’t drink any of it. Please, you don’t understand. Everyone will be talking about it and I will be the only one not going.

You: I don’t care. It’s done. You’re not going.

Child: Well I’m going to drink at the next party I go to anyway and I’m not going to tell you.

You: Well if that’s the case, I’m never going to let you leave the house!

Child: You are the worst. I hate you!

[Slams the door]

This is a problem that most parents will face. And the solution also applies to everyday interactions for anyone. Transactional analysis gives people a lens to understand how they carry out interactions.

Transactional analysis states that there are three ways we can interact with other people. These three modes are as follows:

1) Child Mode

2) Parent Mode

3) Adult Mode

The child mode involves being told how something is. You are wrong and the other person is right so you learn from them. Children younger than 8 will take this position when listening to their parents as they are learning more about the world. The parent mode occurs when you are telling someone else what is correct. You are right and they are wrong. Parents will take this form when they are explaining social norms to their children.

Now these two forms are very adaptive when there is a clear relationship between a parent and a child. However, it can develop into a problem when children get older and they begin seeing the world in a different way. This is also a problem when two adults take the parent mode and both people think the other is wrong. This creates a disagreement, which then creates an arena where negative emotions can flourish. It is this arena that demonstrates people with weak and strong social skills. So how can we ensure that both you and the person at the other end of the disagreement still feels positive emotions? The adult mode.

The adult mode takes the rational approach of realising that when dealing with opinions, both people can be right. However, it still shows assertiveness whereby it validates the other person’s viewpoint, while still explaining your own perspective. Hence, the adult mode states and you are right but I am also right. But how do we start applying this to all interactions. Well the first step is to realise that we all perceive the world in different ways.

As we grow up, we are exposed to different forms of learning. For example, an American child is told that they are special and unique while a Chinese child is told that they are part of a bigger system. Everyone has different perceptions of what they understand about the world. When these two people then meet, there is a clash of perspectives and how someone perceives the clash determines if there is a development of knowledge or a disagreement. If someone perceives the clash as I am right and you are wrong, someone demonstrates the parent mode. This person shows bad social skills, regardless of if they are a parent or a neighbour. They are making the other person feel negative emotions because they are challenging their belief systems. If a person simply folds over and takes other peoples’ perspectives, they then demonstrate the child mode. They try to please others so much that they don’t stand up for their own opinions and beliefs and this has a negative effect on one’s mental health.

However, the truth is that on some topics, there is no right and wrong. There can only be opinions. So it is more important to acknowledge someone else’s opinion, because it allows you to gain more information on the subject topic. I recently experienced this situation when I came across two people arguing over the need of religion. One firm believer of science accused the religious follower that her viewpoint was wrong. He was trying to explain that the scientific method is our best way to accurately measure how the world works and there is no scientific evidence of a God and the stories of the bible are completely fabricated. This made anything she said invalid. However, what she was saying was that religion was important because it gave people hope, which improved their mental health because they had something to turn to when they felt situations were out of their control. While both their points were important and valid, they were blinded by being right (the parent mode) and consequently, this only led to an unsuccessful interaction. However, this interaction could be successful and both parties could gain from the interaction. They chose to stay in the realm of you are wrong and I am right rather than delving into each of their perspectives of the importance of scientific evidence, and the importance of how religion can benefit individuals. If they had done this, they could both develop their understanding on the topic and they could appreciate each other. This results in them both coming away with positive emotions.

The same situation applies to parents. As children grow up, they begin developing their own interpretation of the world. And while the parent would have experienced similar aspects of development such as relationships, peer pressure, and fitting it, they have no experience of growing up with social media and technology. Consequently, when your teenager disagrees with you, they do have a valid point saying you don’t understand. However, it is again important to acknowledge that they are not wrong and you are not right. But rather, this is what you think is best and you have taken their opinion into account. However, the differing and often more difficult factor here is that because you are the parent, you are still the decision maker. But regardless, acknowledging what they are saying will still have positive long term impact on the relationship with your child. Let’s show you how to correct the original interaction:

You: I’m sorry but you cannot go to that party.

Child: Why not!?

You: Because there is going to be alcohol at it.

Child: Yeah but I won’t drink any of it. Please, you don’t understand. Everyone will be talking about it and I will be the only one not going.

You: I know you would not drink but I’m not putting you in a situation where someone might force you to take some. I know it’s difficult because everyone will be talking about it but give it a few days and then it will be over. And there will be plenty more parties.

Child: Well I’m going to drink at the next party I go to anyway and I’m not going to tell you.

You: Well that is your decision but if you do, remember that you will lose my trust.

Child: You are the worst.

You: I know I might seem like I’m out to get you but I’m only doing this because I care. How about you invite one of your friends over tomorrow and they can update you on what happened on the party.

Child: Yeah, I’ll see.

This parent truly listens to her child and consequently, her opinions are valued. The mother does not try to act like she knows everything. She acknowledges that she does not know everything is going on but that it must be difficult and she compromises. She is assertive yet understanding. This is good parenting, this is good social skills, and this is successfully taking care of the mental health of yourself and others. Give it a try the next time you disagree with someone.

Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.


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