The M3ND Project knows that many families are struggling significantly right now during ongoing COVID-19 quarantine and shelter-at-home mandates, and extreme stress is on the family unit. Perhaps your children are acting up in ways they never have or this is an ongoing issue for you. If so, there are ways parents and children can interact to help diffuse toxic exchanges. To equip both healthy and abusive parents with needed information on the wholesome treatment of children, we want to share powerful tools used to support both children and parents during difficult times: Parent-Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT). It is important to enlist a specialist’s help if possible; however, you can begin applying these suggestions in your home today to create a positive child-parent dynamic.
Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT) can alleviate all kinds of issues. It improves parent-child attachment, models good behaviors in children and calms both parent and child. PCIT teaches positive reinforcement skills through play therapy, the primary modality of PCIT. The following is a summary of Rules for PCIT from the CAARE Diagnostic & Treatment Center, University of California, Davis (link below):
PRAISE: This rule requires you to praise appropriate behavior. By doing this, you are communicating what you like to your child, modeling positive social behavior and making both parent and child feel good. For example, when you see your child behave in a positive manner, try saying, “I like the way you’re playing so gently,” or “I’m proud of you for staying so calm,” or “you have wonderful ideas for this picture.”
REFLECT: This rule requires you to reflect appropriate talk and behaviors. By simply reflecting positive behaviors, it allows your child to lead the conversation in their way. This will calm an anxious child, shows them you are listening to them and is a non-critical way of correcting your child. For example, if your child says, “I wan weally fast,” you can respond by saying, “Yes, you ran really fast!” You are affirming what they have done, but at the same time correcting them in how to say it without criticizing them. Or you might say, “You’re placing the purple block next to the yellow one.” You aren’t correcting or leading their choice.
IMITATE: This rule requires you to emulate appropriate play. This will help your child to feel important and demonstrates approval of your child’s play. Further, as you model proper play, it helps your child to imitate positive behaviors. For example, try telling your child, “I am going to pour the beans into the bowl, just like you.” Or using one of their toy trucks and saying, “we are driving our trucks on the roadway.” In these ways, you have modeled positive play behavior without criticizing your child.
DESCRIBE: This rule requires you to describe appropriate behavior. By doing so, you will maintain your child’s interest and will increase their concentration and attention to the activity in front of them. It will also slow down an active child. For example, you can say, “You’re placing your paintbrush on the tray” or “you’re sharing your animals with me” to describe the behavior you desire.
ENJOY: This rule is so simple: enjoy your child and the activity you are engaging in. This will create warmth in the relationship and positive emotions for both of you. For example, smile, make eye contact, put your arm around the child, use a warm voice, or laugh while you play. Try telling your child, “I have so much fun playing with you.”
These rules come with some instructions on what types of things you should avoid:
- IGNORE inappropriate behavior (unless it’s dangerous or destructive). This rule is challenging, but it works. Be mindful of your verbal cues, or facial or bodily expression while you are ignoring the inappropriate behavior. Avoid negative facial expressions or scowls which communicate criticism. Be silent and ignore the behavior every time. Also, expect the behavior to increase in the beginning, so that if it does, you will be more able to remain calm, which is critical. This rule allows your child to learn the difference between good and negative behavior through your responses. Moreover, it will curb attention-getting negative behavior. Try introducing a new toy or game through modeling the appropriate behavior.
- AVOID giving commands. Commands create power struggles and provide opportunity for conflict and negativity. They also distract from positive moments during play. Commands don’t allow the child to lead so that they learn healthy independence and self control. For example, avoid saying things like: “Try putting that block up here” and “Let’s play with these toys” which sounds to the child like a command and is critical of their creativity.
- AVOID asking questions. Questions tend to control the conversation and increase frustration and anxiety for the child. They can also create a feeling of failure if there is a wrong answer. For example, while you are playing with your child you shouldn’t say, “what are you making now?” “what do you think this does?” or “why did that happen?” These questions will interfere with the child’s expressions and makes them feel judged.
- AVOID criticizing. Criticism doesn’t provide any direction. It focuses on negative behaviors and can actually trigger them to occur. Children burn out on words of criticism, making them ineffective in the long run. For example, avoid saying “stop acting like a baby”, “you’re doing it wrong” “I don’t like it when you talk back”.
- ALWAYS AVOIDthese words: NO, DON’T, STOP, QUIT, and NOT.
PCIT is not only highly effective for treating misbehavior in children, but in parents as well. It has been shown to help curb the cycle of abuse, which often starts with parents emotionally or physically harming children during discipline. These tools take practice. If they are difficult for you, it may be necessary to enlist a PCIT specialist who can help guide the interaction between parent and child, particularly where there has been significant trauma or behavioral issues. The play therapy taught through PCIT has been proven to reduce parental frustration, improve parent-child attachment, while encouraging positive behavior, creativity, and confidence in children.
As noted already, we are including more detailed information about PCIT as well as some helpful resources regarding PCIT below. Follow this link to find a PCIT provider near you: http://www.pcit.org/find-a-provider.html.