Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

Parents don’t get a how-to manual when they have kids. Yet, we know from attachment theory that infants and children who develop secure attachments with their caregivers are more likely to be open to healthy, fulfilling relationships as adults. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) ensures that parents and children build healthy, trusting relationships with one another, one interaction at a time.

What is Parent-Child Interaction Therapy?

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is a therapy modality that includes both the parents and children in therapy sessions. Generally, families arrive at PCIT when one or more of their children demonstrate difficulties in the home or at school, such as throwing tantrums, refusing to follow rules or instructions, or deliberately upsetting others.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy supports the growth of the parent-child relationship by taking things interaction-by-interaction. Parent-Child Interaction therapists help both parties better understand one another by coaching them through difficult situations. The goal of PCIT is for parents to learn how to set boundaries with their children, discipline them in appropriate ways, and bring positive emotions into the relationship. For children, therapists aim to instill secure, loving attachments into the relationship.

What happens in a Parent-Child Interaction Therapy session?

Therapists invite both the parents and their children into Parent-Child Interaction Therapy sessions to receive guidance on how to make their relationship healthier. Parents learn how to instigate play therapy with their children, such as engaging them in a fun task while offering them emotional support and maintaining an open dialogue. Parent-Child Interaction therapists act in the “coach” role and will correct any behaviors that they want to discourage between the parents and children. Parents will practice, with the support of the therapist, setting appropriate limits with their children. They’ll also practice reinforcing positive behaviors and ignoring inappropriate behaviors from the child. By structuring the parent’s engagement with their child or children, therapists help the family build healthy, respectful relationships with one another.

Parents might practice putting their children in time-outs after negative behaviors or giving out rewards for good behaviors. Sometimes, Parent-Child Interaction therapists observe the clients from another room, giving pointers to parents through earpieces. As the “coach,” the Parent-Child Interaction therapist encourages families to take home the skills they learned in session and practice them.

What can Parent-Child Interaction Therapy help with?

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is an evidence-based therapy modality that is commonly used for treating children up to age 7 who experience:

Parent-Child Interaction therapists generally work with younger children, those who lack the cognitive ability to talk through their feelings. To maximize the benefits of PCIT, it’s important to find a therapist who has additional training or certification in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. They’ll have the experience required to bring parents and children closer together, without difficult behaviors taking away from the strong parent-child bond.