By Lauren Hallinan, PCIT Clinical Supervisor

During this hectic time of extended isolation, people of all ages are experiencing feelings of loneliness and frustration. There are difficult changes in schedules and daily routines, and increased expectations in our daily roles at home. This is stressful, overwhelming, and very demanding. For children, especially younger kiddos, difficulty expressing these thoughts and feelings can lead to an increase in negative behaviors. Crying, whining, throwing things, tantrums, not listening when they’re called, not cleaning up, getting up and walking away from schoolwork…You name it, we know it happens! And right now, during COVID-19, these behaviors are likely occurring more frequently and intensely. This then leaves parents overspent, stressed, and overwhelmed.

So today, we’re sharing some strategies that are used in Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) that will hopefully help your family in the coming weeks. Were going to focus on some simple skills that can make a big difference. In PCIT, we call this practice “Special Time.” Before we talk about how to do special time, let’s talk about the benefits. PCIT research has shown that just 5 minutes a day of “Special Time” with your child can:

  • Help your child to feel safe and calm
  • Teach you how to manage your child’s behavior with positive attention alone
  • Teach you how to communicate with your child if he/she has a short attention span
  • Teach you how to teach your child new things without frustration for either of you
  • Improve your child’s self-esteem
  • Improve your child’s social skills (like sharing) which children need in order to make friends

How do you do it?

  • You complete short practice sessions or “Special Time” with your child for 5 minutes a day.  Pick a time and set a timer. Though this might seem like a short amount of time, it feels longer when you are working really hard to practice these skills.
  • The basic rule of special time practice is to follow your child’s lead. So whether you are coloring, playing blocks, exploring playdough, or playing in your child’s room, you want to follow these general guidelines:
  • DON’T: ask questions, give commands, use negative talk or criticism, or teach any specific lessons
  • DO: Play! And while you are playing, I want you to work on 5 specific skills: praise, reflect, imitate, describe, and enjoy (PRIDE).

Now let’s talk a bit more in detail about these skills.


  • Give your child labeled, specific praises for positive behaviors. We want your child to know that you notice, appreciate, and are proud of them for showing positive and appropriate behaviors.
  • Children believe what you tell them. Specific praise helps to build their self-esteem. The more you notice these behaviors, the more frequently they are going to occur. To get as much practice using praise as possible, try and provide a praise at least every 30 seconds during your special time practice.
  • Some examples you could use are: “Thanks for sitting so calmly!” “I love it when you share!” “You are doing a great job focusing on your coloring!”


  • A reflection is similar to a repetition or paraphrase of what your child is saying.
  • Reflect your child’s appropriate talk. This helps your child to lead the conversation, and shows your child that you’re really listening to he or she is saying. This might feel awkward at first, but it becomes more natural very quickly the more you practice.
  • Example: if your child says, “Mommy I built a tower,” You might say, “You built a tower!”  The more enthusiasm, the better!


  • Copy your child’s appropriate play and be in the same space as your child. This helps keep your attention and comments focused on what your child is doing
  • Your children loves your attention! There is nothing quite like it! Imitation shows your approval of what your child is going, and makes the activity more fun.
  • Example: for your special time practice, if your child is coloring at the table, you should also color with him or her at the table. If your kiddo is playing with blocks on the floor, then you should also play with blocks on the floor.


  • Describe what you see your child doing! Descriptions let your child know you like and approve of what he or she is doing. I like to suggest that you pretend you are the sports caster of a game. Again, this might feel strange, but gets easier as you do it more.
  • Example: You might say,  “You are building a tall tower.” Or, “You are putting the doll at the dinner table.” Or, “You are showing mommy a silly dance!”


  • Enjoyment shows that you are happy to play with your child! The more smiles, enthusiasm, imagination, and playfulness the better. This makes this special time meaningful for both you and your child.
  • We know that enjoyment can feel difficult on hard days. You’re not alone if enjoying doesn’t feel easy sometimes – that’s why it’s a skill we practice as well.

Special time can look all kinds of different ways depending on the activity you’re doing together. Overall, if your child is smiling during your time together, then you are doing something right. Point out those smiles and increase your child’s self-esteem. Tell your child what you like about what he or she is doing. We promise: the more you notice the good behavior, the more it will occur!

At the end of the day, you are doing great. Every day might be full of new challenges, but it is also full of new opportunities. Try and take even just one of these skills, and find some opportunities to practice that skill as much as you can. Or, try and schedule special time two days this week (put a reminder in your phone!) and try as many PRIDE skills as you can.

These are tough times, but children and adults are quite resilient. Your kids likely won’t remember what COVID-19 was like, but the time that you spend with them and the lesson that they learn from your doing this time could impact them forever!

If you want to learn more about Parent Child Interactive Therapy, contact us! We’re open for families through telehealth in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Chester counties. We’d love to support your family by helping to reduce those difficult behaviors, help you find behaviors to praise, and strengthen your bond with your child.

About the author: Lauren Hallinan, MS, LBS, LPC has worked at CGRC for the past six years. She is the supervisor of Extended Assessment Services in the SWP Office and is a clinical supervisor of PCIT across counties. PCIT is a specific focus of her most recent work and training, and she is excited to help build the PCIT department at CGRC.

Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based treatment typically used for children ages 2-7. With an emphasis on the parent-children relationship, PCIT focuses on reducing behavioral difficulties by increasing parents’ use of positive attention and by strengthening the parent and child bond.