Parent Directed Interaction (PDI) Phase of
Parent Child Interaction Therapy

Overview of the PDI Phase 

Family of 3 holding hands on a bed and smiling

Parent Child Interaction Therapy is implemented in two phases: (1) the Child-Directed Interaction Phase (CDI); and (2) the Parent-Directed Interaction Phase (PDI). PCIT gives equal attention to the enhancement of the parent-child relationship, and the development of caregivers' behavior management skills.

In the second phase of PCIT treatment (the Parent-Directed Interaction Phase), caregivers learn to use effective commands and implement additional behavior management strategies for any remaining challenging behaviors (e.g., aggression, destruction). The overall goal for the PDI phase of PCIT is to create a supportive home environment by helping caregivers become consistent, predictable, and follow through with behavior management skills and strategies.

 

The Parent Directed Interaction Phase of PCIT integrates components of social learning theory, developmental theory, and behavioral principles. A goal of the PDI Phase is to improve the quality of the parent-child relationship by helping caregivers adopt an authoritative parenting style (Baumrind, 1967), which incorporates a child’s needs of warmth, psychological autonomy, and limit setting to achieve optimal outcomes. PDI incorporates authoritative parenting practices by outlining consistent child-rearing practices – with an appropriate balance between nurturance and appropriate limit-setting.  Click here for a more detailed description of the theoretical basis and influences of PCIT.

Benefits of the PDI Phase 

During the second phase of Parent Child Interaction Therapy - the Parent-Directed Interaction Phase - caregivers learn how to deliver clear, direct commands (see more details below) and utilize effective behavior management strategies.

The primary goal of the PDI Phase is to change ineffective caregiver-child interaction patterns. Benefits of the PDI Phase of PCIT include:

  • Increased compliance with adult (caregivers, teachers) requests

  • Increased caregiver confidence (and decreased stress)

  • Improved behavior at home, and in public

  • Decreased frequency, severity, and/or duration of aggressive behavior

  • Decreased frequency of destructive behavior

  • Decreased defiance

 

The goal for caregivers in PDI is for caregivers to be consistent, predictable, and follow through with behavior management skills.

Family of 3 making a house with sticks

8 Guidelines of Effective Commands in PCIT

Caregivers often seek mental health services for their child due to challenges with noncompliance and defiance at home, school, and/or within the community. During the Parent Directed Interaction (PDI) Phase of Parent Child Interaction Therapy, caregivers learn how to deliver clear, effective commands to increase the likelihood that their child will comply with their commands. In PCIT, caregivers learn 8 Guidelines for giving effective commands (which are further described below). However, it is important to note, the 8 Guidelines described below are most effective after the caregiver has demonstrated mastery criteria in the use of Child Directed Interaction (CDI) skills and they continue to practice using their CDI skills with their child: (1) during a 5-minute, one-on-one play-based activity every day; and (2) throughout the day (i.e., generalization of the skills across contexts). Click here for a more detailed description of the CDI Phase of PCIT.

Guideline #1:
Direct Commands

Dad and daughter being silly with fake mustaches

When a child is having significant challenges with noncompliance or defiance, the first guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to use direct (rather than indirect) commands. A direct command makes it clear that the child is being told to do something. This is contrary to indirect commands that often suggest, imply, or ask a child to do something.

Examples of Direct Commands:

  • "It's time to clean up, please put your plate in the dishwasher."

  • "It's time to leave for school, please put your shoes on."

  • "It's time for bed, please pick up the blocks."

Examples of Indirect Commands:

  • "Can you put your plate in the dishwasher?" (asking)

  • "I want you to put your shoes on." (suggesting)

  • "Let's pick up the blocks." (when caregivers use these types of commands they are often wanting the child to pick up, but the command implies that the caregiver is going to help)

Please Note: We are not saying that indirect commands are bad, and should not be used. In fact, most of us give indirect commands all day long (e.g., "When you have a moment, do you mind reviewing this report."). However, when a child is having clinically significant behavioral challenges that are leading to problems at home, school, and/or within the community, the use of direct commands has continually proven to be more effective. As the noncompliant or defiant behaviors decrease, the caregiver's use of indirect commands should increase.

Want to learn more about giving good directions? Please visit the CDC's Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers website.

Guideline #2:
Positively Stated

The second guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are stated in a positive manner. That is, the command should tell the child what to do, rather than what not to do.

Examples of Positively Stated Commands:

  • "Please use your inside voice."

  • "Please sit next to me on this chair."

  • "Please walk next to me."

Examples of Indirect Commands:

  • "Stop yelling."

  • "Quit jumping on the furniture."

  • "Don't run down the hallway."

Please Note: Telling a child what they are doing wrong can be critical or negative. Importantly, telling a kid what not to do is often ineffective, and can even increase the undesirable behavior.

Mother and child lying on the floor together and laughing

Guideline #3:
One at a Time

Child placing a magnifying glass over his left eye and showing a number 1 with his right h

The third guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are given one at a time. Two- and three-part commands can be difficult for adults to follow. It can be even more challenging for young children who are often noncompliant or defiant.

One at a Time:

  • "Please put on your shoes."

  • "Please put on your coat."

  • "Please wait for me at the door." 

Examples of a 3-Part Chain Command:

  • "Grab your shoes, then put on your coat, and then go wait for me at the door."

When caregivers give a chain (multi-part) command, it is difficult to understand whether the child is intentionally not following directions, or if the child is unable to remember all the directions that were given by the caregiver.

Please Note: When you break chain commands down, you also have the opportunity to provide more labeled praises for following directions, which increases the likelihood that the child will follow more directions in the future.

Guideline #4:
Specific

The fourth guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are specific and tell the child exactly what to do (as opposed to vague commands). 

Examples of Specific Commands:

  • "Please sit quietly in the chair."

  • "Please keep your hands to yourself."

  • "Please keep your toys on the table."

Examples of Vague Commands:

  • "Behave."

  • "Settle down."

  • "Act your age."

Please Note: As adults, many of us do not like directions that are vague and difficult to understand. It can be even more challenging for a young child.  Being specific increases the likelihood the child will understand parental expectations.

Confused child holding a question mark

Guideline #5:
Developmentally Appropriate

Child in a small cart with a helmet on and a staircase drawing in the background to symbol

The fifty guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are developmentally appropriate. It is unfair and inappropriate for a caregiver to expect a child to follow a direction that is beyond a child's current developmental abilities.

Examples

  • "Please hand me the blue block." vs "Hand me the aqua cylinder."

  • "Please give me the triangle." vs. "Please give me the pyramid."

Please Note: As a child grows and develops, they will be able to understand mor complex directions. During development, the caregiver should try to meet their developmental understanding. In fact, in the first example, just say "Please hand me this block (while pointing)" if the child does not know their colors.

Guideline #6:
Normal Tone of Voice

The sixth guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are delivered in a neutral, calm tone of voice. It is often helpful for caregivers to begin commands with the word "please" to help the direction be more polite and pleasant.

Examples of Calm Commands:

  • "Please give me your backpack."

  • "Please come inside for lunch."

Examples of Unpleasant, Harsh Commands:

  • "Give me that backpack!"

  • "Get in here, now!"

Please Note: The goal is for a child to follow directions because of what you say, not how you say it. Harsh and angry commands are negative and often take away from positive parent-child relationships.

Mother and son smiling and showing paint on their hands

Guideline #7:
Explanation or Reason

Girl holding a sign with the word why on it

The seventh guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to provide a brief reason (or explanation) before the command. A child who is often noncompliant or defiant will ask "Why" when a caregiver gives a direction. By providing a rationale prior to giving the direction, the caregiver has already explained why the command was given.

Examples

  • "It's time for bed, please pick up these toys."

  • "It's cold outside, please put on your coat."

  • "I need to fill your drink cup with water for school, please hand me your cup."

Please Note: Behavior management skills are best when the caregiver is consistent, predictable, and follows through with strategies. The more often a caregiver provides a brief explanation (or reason) prior to their commands, the more often a child begins to predict when a caregiver is about to give a command (which can help with following directions). 

Guideline #8:
Only When Necessary

The eighth and final guideline for giving effective commands in the PDI Phase of PCIT is to make sure that the commands are given only when necessary. If a child is given too many commands during the day (and night), the child can easily become frustrated and angry.

Examples of Necessary Commands:

  • "You are about to fall off the monkey bars. Please come sit next to me."

  • "Those are adult scissors, please hand them to me."

Examples of "Not So Necessary" Commands:

  • "The TV remote is over there, please give it to me so I can watch my favorite reality TV show."

  • "My drink does not have any ice left. Please get me some ice"

Please Note: As adults, we often avoid work environments with bosses who are overly demanding or critical. The same can be said for a child who may avoid caregivers who are overly demanding and critical of their actions.

Two dads having fun with their son

PDI Phase of PCIT

Certified PCIT Global Trainers - Dr. Danielle Campbell & Kelly Kincaid, LPC - share PDI stories

Danielle Campbell, Ph.D.

Certified PCIT Global Trainer

Dr. Danielle Campbell is a Licensed School Psychologist and expert in both Parent Child Interaction Therapy and Teacher Child Interaction Training.

 

Dr. Campbell is the Assistant Director of Parent Child Interaction Therapy, Inc. and she also provides PCIT services to families at a multi-disciplinary clinic.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Danielle Campbell.

Kelly Kincaid, LPC

Certified PCIT Global Trainer

Kelly Kincaid is a Licensed Professional Counselor who is an expert in Parent Child Interaction Therapy and Teacher Child Interaction Training.

 

Kelly is a Child and Family Therapist at The Children's Place and sees children and families in a private practice setting.

Click here to learn more about Kelly Kincaid.

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