Behavioral Struggles at Home? PCIT: The toolbox that every parent needs!

PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) is one of the most powerful tools to optimize a child's behavior. PCIT not only decreases disruptive behaviors but it also strengthens the parent-child relationship.

At times parenting may feel like one of the most challenging experiences an adult may have. I know because I am a parent, too! The stakes are high. As parents, we guide our children in becoming happy, productive and positive contributors to our communities. This task may feel daunting especially, when a child pushes back with behavioral outbursts.

What Can a Parent Do? 

While traveling along this parenting journey, it is common to ask, “Am I doing a good enough job? Am I too permissive or too strict with my child?” or, “Is my parenting style hurting my relationship with my child?” These questions are so common, that over a quarter of pediatrician visits are related to child behavior.

Numerous books and workshops have been created to help parents with ideas on how to best manage the “terrible twos”, the busy preschooler, and the school-aged child who talks back. However, one of the most powerful tools to optimize a child’s behavior is a technique called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

PCIT not only decreases disruptive behaviors but it also strengthens the parent-child relationship (a definite plus!). It is amazing how enjoyable the overall parenting experience can be, when parents receive a little coaching to manage the dips in the road and collect a few extra parenting tools for their toolbox.

Children want nothing more than attention from their parents. PCIT is a method that really builds on the power of positive attention for desirable behaviors, and its curriculum has repeatedly been shown to be a tool that positively impacts child behavior.

What is PCIT?

  • PCIT is an evidence-based therapy that is studied extensively.
  • PCIT has 2 goals:
  1. strengthen the attachment between child and parent
  2. support the development of positive child behavior
  • PCIT teaches parents skills that they can continue to use as their child grows older.
  • PCIT is a rewarding experience, helping both parent and child to learn new and more adaptive behaviors.

Who is it for?

  • All parents
  • Children 2-7 years of age.
  • All families can benefit from PCIT, however, families with children who have disruptive behaviors, tantrums, anxiety, self-regulation difficulties, ADHD, oppositional traits and sleep problems can especially benefit.

How s PCIT Done?

  • First, find a certified PCIT therapist that can work with you and your child for 16-20 sessions. Ideally, the therapist is integrated into a multidisciplinary group that includes physicians and psychologists who can offer your child a holistic management approach.
  • Live coaching, where the therapist observes you interacting with your child in a structured manner, allows the therapist to see the real dynamics between parent and child.
  • Learn and master the PRIDE* skills so that parents may optimize their relationship with their child – these are skills that ALL parents should understand and use!

*PRIDE stands for the following:


The Results!

  • Parents become more confident and consistent with their parenting strategies.
  • There is a significant decrease in parent and family stress.
  • There is a significant decrease in tantrums and disruptive behaviors.
  • Children feel more secure in their relationships with parents and feel more positive about themselves.
  • Children and families thrive!

Next Steps 

Learn more about PCIT. Here’s one of my favorite resources — Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.

Turn those tantrums into opportunities for you to do your very best job at parenting. And then watch your little one grow into a positive and happy individual with a wealth of skills. It is never too late to tweak your parenting game. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so sit back with confidence and enjoy every minute of it!

Published on: February 12, 2017
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Trenna Sutcliffe
Dr. Sutcliffe is a board certified Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrician and a mother of three busy children. She established Sutcliffe Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in Los Altos, CA with a mission to help children and families thrive. The Sutcliffe Clinic uses a multidisciplinary, integrated care model to help children with developmental, behavioral or learning concerns.
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