Children, like all of us, are motivated by positive attention and reciprocity in relationships. Positive feedback from our boss helps us to do our job better. A compliment from a friend or co-worker sets a positive mood for the whole day. A friend who listens to your experience of a bad day helps get you through it. As adults when we feel valued, important and good about ourselves we are motivated to be our best. The same is true for children. This is the foundation of the PCIT (Parent Child Interaction Therapy) program.
Simple concepts such as Praise, Reflections and Behavioral Descriptions go a very long way toward building a positive relationship between caregiver and child and reducing disruptive behaviors. The PCIT program begins by teaching caregivers these very simple skills to develop a strong foundation of trust and attunement. Only once the foundation is laid do we move forward to teach behavior management strategies. Just like adults, children are more willing to follow directions from people whom they trust, feel good about and know feel good about them too.
We start with Praise – telling the child what you like that they are doing. Not only does this generally make everyone feel good but it increases the likelihood that this good behavior will be repeated. “Thank you for treating the toys so gently today” reminds the child that this is the caregiver’s expectation, helps them feel proud of themselves for meeting this expectation and chances are that tomorrow the child will remember that good feeling and play gently with the toys.
Reflection is next – repeating back to the child what they have just said to you. This lets the child know that the caregiver is listening, values what they have to say and approves of them. Appropriate verbalizations are likely to increase and the relationship improves based on this improved communication. “You did draw a circle,” reminds the child that the caregiver is paying attention not just to their words but to their actions as well. It increases their self-esteem and decreases the likelihood that they will engage in negative attention seeking behaviors.
Behavior Descriptions is another key skill – describing what the child is doing with their hands during their play. This skill serves to again let the child know that the caregiver is paying attention to them, it reminds the child what are appropriate behaviors (caregivers will only describe acceptable behavior), it makes their play time more interactive and enjoyable, as well as building vocabulary and concept development. “You are building a tall tower with red and green blocks,” lets the child know the caregiver is present with them, approves of their play, reinforces color awareness and encourages the child to keep building and playing in an appropriate manner.
While the concepts are simple and logical, the outcomes are extraordinary: improved relationship between child and caregiver, reduction of disruptive behaviors, improved speech and communication skills, reduction of parental stress and enhanced self-esteem. This strong foundation in the child’s early years can build resiliency that will last a lifetime.
Guest Writer – Jocelyn Clegg
Jocelyn Clegg is the Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) Clinical Manager at Counseling4Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides health and healing to abused and neglected children and youth in the foster care system. For more information on programs and services or to get involved please visit www.counseling4kids.org or contact (310) 436-8921.