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The power of the Parent Directed Interaction (PDI) Phase in PCIT - Katie Smith, LCSW

Updated: Nov 6

At the beginning of PCIT, caregivers often come in with a laundry list of complaints about their child's challenging behaviors. Additionally, caregivers may present an even longer list of parenting techniques that have failed to work. During PCIT, some caregivers may wish to rush through CDI, eagerly anticipating that the second phase of PCIT (the Parent-Directed interaction Phase) is going to solve all behavioral concerns. However, that is not what PDI (and PCIT) is about.


As Kelly Kincaid mentioned in her CDI post, the CDI Phase builds a solid foundation of positive parenting skills that are specially designed to enhance the parent-child relationship. The PDI phase continues to build and strengthen the caregiver-child relationship without empty threats, corporal punishment, or a dictatorship household. The PDI Phase teaches caregivers how to effectively give commands, address the few remaining problems left over from the CDI Phase, and instills confidence in caregivers' ability to use PCIT skills outside of the clinic in their day-to-day lives.


Remember when you were growing up and your parent told you do something that you really didn’t want to do? Then when you didn’t listen, they pulled out your full legal name, along with a stern voice, and several threats such as grounding or taking away your favorite activity? You knew your parent meant business, but you didn’t exactly know what was going to happen.

The PDI Phase of PCIT teaches caregivers how to be consistent, predictable, and use the correct follow-through when telling a child to complete a task. Consistency teaches caregivers to handle behavioral challenges in the same manner, regardless of other life stressors, how their child is acting, or how they are feeling personally. Teaching the caregiver to be predictable helps both the caregiver and the child anticipate strategies to address challenging behaviors, thereby reducing stress for the caregiver and child. Lastly, caregivers are taught to follow-through (do what they say they are going to do), which eliminates those empty threats.


All the hard work of mending the strained caregiver-child relationship in CDI helps make the time in PDI that much more enjoyable. My favorite part of PDI is seeing the caregiver who was overwhelmed by their child’s behaviors have confidence in their ability to parent their child. And isn’t that what every parent needs, a little more confidence? During PDI, remember to not only give caregivers lots of praise, give yourself a praise (or two) as well!


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