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If You’re at Your Wits End With Your 2-7 Year Old, Try This

If you are struggling to manage your young child’s difficult behaviors, this might be just the kind of help you need.

It is not uncommon for very young children to struggle with expressing strong emotions appropriately. They can lash out verbally or physically. Under times of stress, these behaviors can become extremely difficult to handle.

If you ever wished you had a sort of “parenting genie” to whisper in your ear and tell you what to do in these situations, I have some good news for you. It actually exists. It’s called PCIT.

What is PCIT?

PCIT stands for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. This form of therapy was developed by Dr. Sheila Eyberg in the 1970’s. It is a combination of play and behavior therapies, using the best from both worlds. Play engages the young child in his primary mode of learning and relating and behavior is modified with positive and negative feedback.

However, in PCIT, it’s not a therapist conducting the play therapy, it’s you, the parent. During the sessions, the parent is given guidance on how to connect with and correct the child. Some therapists communicate with the parent using an earpiece from behind a one-way mirror. Not all PCIT therapists use this whisper-in-the-ear technique, but the idea is the same.

This is an evidence-based approach. Extensive research has found this therapeutic technique to be highly successful, even in the long term. Treatment can last anywhere between 12 and 20 sessions.

How does it work?

PCIT typically involves two phases: the relational phase (which is child-directed) and the discipline phase (which is parent-directed).

During the relational phase, the parent lets the child take the lead during the therapy sessions, engaging in play with the child. The parent is encouraged by the therapist to verbally encourage any positive behavior that is observed. The parent practices reflective listening, repeating what the child says so that the child feels heard and valued. The parent takes a very verbal role during this phase in order to strengthen the relationship with the child.

The discipline phase addresses training and correction. The parent gives the child simple instructions and re-directs misbehavior. If the instruction is obeyed, the child is encouraged and rewarded with positive verbal engagement. If the child does not comply, the therapist will instruct the parent how to address the misbehavior with age-appropriate consequences. As the parent becomes skilled in executing both encouragement and correction, the instructions from the therapist decrease.

Is it time?

This is a low-risk, high reward form of treatment. But only you know if it is time to seek out professional help. Here are a few signs that it might be time:

  1. Your child’s challenging behaviors have been increasing despite your efforts to curtail them
  2. You find yourself without the patience or ability to address misbehaviors
  3. You are resorting to harsh language and punishments to maintain compliance
  4. Your child’s behaviors are affecting the overall emotional health of the family
  5. Your child is regularly harming himself and/or others during outbursts

There is a lot in the news lately about mental health. We all need to do our part to look out for the emotional well-being of ourselves and our loved ones—especially the little people who depend on us to do it for them.

If you are interesting in finding a certified PCIT therapist, you can search for one in your state here.

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay
Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional counseling. Read our full disclaimer here.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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