When a child has experienced abuse, the response to that trauma is different for each child. But most children have some behavioral issues as a result.
Whether a child is cared for by a biological parent, family member, foster parent, or adoptive parent, those trauma-related behavioral issues can create significant parenting challenges. That’s where a service we provide-Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT)-comes in.
A few months ago, I passed by a small family leaving one of their first PCIT sessions. The little boy, about four years old, was having a complete meltdown because he didn’t want to leave the PCIT room where he got to play with toys. His face was red, he was crying and his breathing was shaky, and he was begging his mother to let him stay and play. His mom looked guilty and embarrassed but wasn’t sure how to get him to stop.
He had a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another and because he didn’t have the verbal skills to explain his feelings, he would get mad and have a tantrum. He had also learned that his mother usually gave in to this kind of behavior because she didn’t know how to deal with it.
I saw this family again after about several weeks, and it’s like he was a completely different child. He was much calmer. And his mom was different too-she had so much more confidence as a parent!
What is PCIT?
PCIT is a 12-16 week program that is designed to help children with severe behavioral issues and their caregivers. Parents receive training on discipline and, for our clients, on how to meet the needs of children who have been affected by abuse. The most important part of PCIT is hands-on training for parents when they’re interacting with their children.
Parents and children play in a calm, home-like environment with special toys so they can focus on each other. A specially trained therapist views the interaction through a two-way mirror and coaches the parent through an earpiece.
For the first six or seven sessions (Phase 1), the goal is to enhance the parent-child relationship. The child chooses the activity and the parent plays along, building a nurturing relationship and secure bond between the parent and child.
When the family is ready to move on to Phase 2, the sessions include more active direction from the parent and allows them to practice setting limits and disciplining their child while the therapist coaches them.
We’re proud to offer PCIT because we continually see how it improves the relationship between children who are victims of abuse and their caregivers, like the four-year old and his mom who had both changed so much.
Who is PCIT for?
PCIT is for children who have severe behavioral problems and/or have experienced trauma that results in behavior problems. That can be any number of things, but in our work we serve children who have been victims of abuse.
Since 2003, we have provided PCIT as a part of the reunification process to parents and children where abuse has occurred in the home. We know that not all families end up reunited so we are excited to now offer PCIT to foster and adoptive parents thanks to a federal VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant.
Ultimately, PCIT benefits children long-term by helping them form a strong, trusting bond with their caregivers. Children learn to behave better, and caregivers learn how to parent and discipline in a way that lessens their stress and helps their children feel safe.