Parent-Child Interaction Training (PCIT)

Parent-Child Interaction Training (PCIT) is an evidence-based treatment using very specific, step-by-step, live coaching sessions with both the caregiver and the child. Parent Child Interaction Training places emphasis on improving the quality of the relationship and changing negative interaction patterns.

PCIT is:

  • A family-centered treatment approach.
  • Tailored for each parent and child’s specific needs.
  • Most beneficial for ages 2-7.
  • Short term, typically 12-20 weekly sessions. It is not limited to a particular number of sessions.

Parents are taught specific skills to use with their child to establish, improve, or maintain a nurturing and secure relationship while increasing their child’s positive behavior and decreasing negative behavior. This includes live coaching sessions in which the therapist provides in-the-moment skills to the parent while they interact with their child in a playroom setting. Each session is concluded with a conversation about which skills should be focused on at home during the following week.

Consistency is essential to the success of PCIT.

PCIT requires weekly in office sessions and 5-10 minutes of homework each day. This “Special Play Time” homework is essential to PCIT. Weekly appointments will be discontinued if homework is not completed.
In order to help ensure long term success, booster sessions are offered at 1 months, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year following completion of treatment.

PCIT can include multiple siblings and both parents/caregivers.

PCIT Structure

PCIT is divided into two sections.

Child-Directed Interaction
Initially, parents are taught “relationship enhancement” or play therapy skills. These skills are practiced in session with the therapist providing coaching in the moment. This first phase is designed to establish warmth in the relationship between caregiver and child. It encourages security, calmness, and confidence.

Child-Directed Interaction Goals

Decrease Increase
Frequency, severity, and/or duration of tantrums Feelings of security, safety, and attachment
Activity levels Attention span
Negative attention-seeking behaviors
(whining, bossiness, etc.)
Parental frustration Pro-social behaviors (sharing, taking turns, etc.)

Parent-Directed Interaction
The second part of PCIT is directed to address specific behavioral concerns. It equips caregivers with skills to maintain confidence and consistency in their approach to discipline. This phase includes learning strategies to help the child accept limits, follow directions, respect rules, and behave appropriately in public.

Parent-Directed Interaction Goals

Decrease Increase
Frequency, severity, and/or duration of aggressive behavior Compliance with adult requests
Frequency of destructive behavior (breaking toys intentionally, etc.) Respect for household rules
Defiance Good public behavior
Parental calmness and confidence during discipline

Treatment is considered complete when the caregiver has “mastered” both phases of training, and the child’s behavior rates within normal limits on a behavior rating scale.

We’ve tried therapy before. How might PCIT be different?

Many behavior parent training programs teach similar parenting skills, PCIT differs from other programs because it:

  • Emphasizes in-session parent practice of skills
  • Parents receive live coaching and feedback related to skills
  • PCIT is not session-limited
  • Graduation is based on parent demonstration of mastery of skills
  • Parents rate children’s behavior problems as within normal limits before treatment graduation

Basis for PCIT

PCIT draws on attachment theory, social learning principles, and Baumrind’s developmental theory of parenting to create a structured process through which parents and children can develop a warm, secure, and responsive relationship.

Secure parent-child attachment has been shown not only to enhance social and emotional regulation in other relationships, but it also enhances a child’s desire to please and willingness to comply.

Insecure attachments have been associated with increased aggression and poor peer relations.

The techniques taught in PCIT include “clear limit setting within the context of an authoritative relationship” and consistency in discipline. These techniques have been shown to improve mental health for parent and child alike.


call: 253.460.7248
fax: 253.564.4409
3560 Bridgeport Way W
Suite 2-C
University Place, WA 98466