Promising Programs – Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

Type Target Age Group Setting Outcomes
Delinquency & Recidivism Elementary School Classroom
5.1% reduction in recidivism


Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an empirically-supported treatment for conduct-disordered young children that place emphasis on improving the quality of the parent-child relationship and changing parent-child interaction patterns. In PCIT, parents are taught specific skills to establish a nurturing and secure relationship with their child while increasing their child’s prosocial behavior and decreasing negative behavior. This treatment focuses on two basic interactions: Child Directed Interaction (CDI) is similar to play therapy in that parents engage their child in a play situation with the goal of strengthening the parent-child relationship; Parent Directed Interaction (PDI) resembles clinical behavior therapy in that parents learn to use specific behavior management techniques as they play with their child.

PCIT draws on both attachment and social learning theories to achieve authoritative parenting. Attachment theory asserts that sensitive and responsive parenting provides the foundation for the child's sense of knowing that he or she will be responded to when necessary. Thus, young children whose parents show greater warmth, responsiveness, and sensitivity to the child’s behaviors are more likely to develop a secure sense of their relationships and more effective emotional and behavioral regulation. For this reason, in the first phase of PCIT parents learn the Child-Directed Interaction (CDI), which aims to restructure the parent-child relationship and provide the child with a secure attachment to his or her parent.

Social learning theories emphasize the contingencies that shape the interactions of conduct-disordered children and their parents. Patterson’s coercion theory provides a transactional account of early conduct-disordered behavior in which child conduct problems are inadvertently established or maintained by the parent-child interactions. Thus, in the second phase of PCIT parents learn the Parent-Directed Interaction (PDI), which specifically addresses these processes by establishing consistent contingencies for child behavior.

Treatment goals include:

  • An improvement in the quality of the parent-child relationship or, in residential treatment centers and foster homes, the caregiver-child relationship
  • A decrease in child behavior problems with an increase in prosocial behaviors
  • An increase in parenting skills, including positive discipline
  • A decrease in parenting stress

Target Population

PCIT was initially targeted for families with children ages 2-to-7 with oppositional, defiant, and other externalizing behavior problems. It has been adapted successfully to serve physically abusive parents with children ages 4-to-12. PCIT may be conducted with parents, foster parents, or others in a parental/caretaker role. Caregiver and child must have regular, ongoing contact to allow for daily homework assignments to be completed.

For more Information or to find Technical Assistance, visit:

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) International

In California:
PCIT Training Center
CAARE Diagnostic and Treatment Center
UC Davis Children’s Hospital