What Should Parents Do When Their Child is Having Behavior Problems?

Written by: Terresha Anthony, M.S.W.
What Should Parents Do When Their Child is Having Behavior Problems?

When children have frequent behavioral challenges that affect their ability to function at school or within the family, parents are often left feeling helpless. When children struggle with frequent temper tantrums, defiance, aggression, hyperactivity, or emotional outbursts that seem to come out of nowhere, this can be difficult for parents to manage. When parents are constantly getting phone calls from their child’s school, struggle to get their child out the door for daily activities, or they cannot get their child to cooperate with the simplest requests, parents can feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is the go-to treatment for these challenges. PCIT is a powerful and evidenced-based intervention that has been extensively researched and tested in the field of child psychology. It is a form of behavior therapy that has been found to be highly effective in reducing disruptive behaviors by improving the quality of the relationship between parents and their young children. PCIT was primarily designed for young children between the ages of 2 and 7 who struggle with conduct disorders such as oppositional defiance disorder, and other conditions including trauma, anxiety, and ADHD.

PCIT is a highly-structured and manualized intervention that is typically delivered in 12-20 weekly hour-long sessions. During each session, parents are coached in the specific use of techniques designed to meet the psychological and developmental needs of their child. This results in more positive interactions between the parent and child – something that both parents and children want and need.

The therapy consists of two main components: Child-Directed Interaction and Parent-Directed Interaction. The first component, CDI, involves a structured play session between parent and child. The therapist observes and coaches the parent on how to provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors, how to ignore minor misbehaviors, and how to redirect the child’s attention when necessary. The goal of CDI is to increase positive interactions between parent and child.

The second component, PDI, focuses on teaching parents specific techniques to manage their child’s behavior in a positive and effective way. This involves providing clear, consistent instructions, setting developmentally appropriate limits, and using positive reinforcement to encourage desirable behaviors. The therapist again provides coaching and feedback to help the parent learn and implement these skills effectively.

Throughout therapy, parents are also taught how to effectively manage their own emotional responses to their child’s behavior and use self-care techniques to reduce stress and improve their own emotional well-being. Moreover, parents who participate in PCIT also report feeling more confident in their parenting skills and more satisfied with their relationship with their child.

Research has consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of PCIT in reducing disruptive behavior problems in young children. Studies in journals such as Journal of the American Academy of Child, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, and Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology report positive outcomes related to behavior problems and aggression.

While PCIT is primarily designed for young children between the ages of 2 and 7, there are modified versions of PCIT that have been developed for older children. These modified versions may be more appropriate for children over the age of 7 up to 10-years-old. Again, a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that PCIT-S was effective in reducing behavior problems in children between the ages of 6 and 11. However, PCIT for older children should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, PCIT is an important and effective intervention for young children with disruptive behavior problems. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated numerous times over the years in many publications. It is a valuable tool for families who need help.