Do you want to improve your relationship with your child? One way is parent-child interaction therapy. There are two parts to the therapy. The first part is improving parent-child relationships through play and the second part is learning how to use commands effectively to improve behaviour.

parent and child playing

So how can parents adapt this for use at home? You can start by telling your child that they are going to have 30 minutes or an hour to play whatever they want with you. It is important to let your child take the lead rather than choosing the activities yourself. For example, try not to say ‘Let’s play with the trains next.’ Don’t direct your child and don’t ask too many questions such as ‘which animal is this?’ Instead, listen carefully to your child and reflect back what they say. For example, if your child says ‘I like to play with spiderman’, you can say ‘Spiderman is fun’. You can also copy your child’s play. For example, if your child is putting furniture in their doll’s house, you might say ‘I am putting furniture in the doll’s house, just like you.’ This teaches your child how to interact with other children and that you approve of their play. It is important for you to be enthusiastic so that your child feels you enjoy playing with them. Try to praise your child during the play time and avoid criticism. Only stop the play time if they become aggressive or destructive. Try to ignore other misbehaviours such as playing roughly or whining.


Once you have started playing with your child in this child-led way, you can start changing the way you give commands to them. Use direct commands with your child, rather than indirect. For example, you could say ‘please, put the lego in the box’ rather than ‘let’s tidy up.’ Tell your child what you want them to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do. For example, you can say ‘Please, sit here’ rather than ‘stop jumping on the sofa.’ Only give one instruction at a time and be specific. However, always give commands in a polite and respectful way and avoid shouting orders at them. Your child may try to delay obeying your commands by asking ‘why?’ but is better to save explanations until after they have obeyed your instruction (Bell and Eyberg, 2002).

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