Assessment of Parent-Child Interaction

This research found disparities in the interaction patterns of families with substantial behavior difficulties vs. households with children not referred for behavior problems. Referred children, in particular, are less likely than non-referred children to comply with their parents' demands and are more likely to scream, yell, and give counter commands in response to their parents' commands.

Mothers of referred children give their children more demands; repeat commands more frequently before the child can comply, and engage in more negative verbal behavior towards their children than mothers of non-referred children. Much research has found an intense and persistent link between destructive parental behaviors and adverse child outcomes.

As a result, the development of appropriate parenting styles and parent-child interactions is frequently the focus of treatments for children with significant behavioral difficulties, making parent-child interaction evaluation critical for treatment planning.

Meaning of Assessment of Parent-Child Interaction

The assessment of the parent-child relationship is crucial for the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral issues in children. Internalizing (e.g., anxiety, depression) and externalizing (e.g., conduct problems) behavior disorders both have their roots, at least in part, in early parent-child interactions, and many of the symptoms of behavior disorders are maintained and exacerbated by interactions between parent and child. So far, however, most studies investigating the relationship between parent-child interactions and particular childhood diseases have focused on childhood externalizing disorders.

Observation of Parent-Child Interaction

Observations of parent-child transactions can reflect the form and quality of the parent-child relationship. Several observational approaches are available for measuring interactions between family members of children with behavioral issues. Direct behavioral observation measures are often regarded as the gold standard in behavioral assessment because they provide the most accurate description of target behaviors, such as disobedience to parental directives and the efficacy of parents' reactions.

When a family is watched in the home or clinic, important childrearing characteristics that require attention, such as impaired physical behaviors and negative verbal behaviors, such as criticism, can be identified. Parents' tone of voice, usage of age-appropriate vocabulary, and degree of warmth can all be rated as qualitative characteristics of the encounter.

Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II

The Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II (DPICS-II) is a commonly used system for direct observation of parent-child interactions in a standardized laboratory environment utilizing a reliable and accurate approach. The approach includes 25 categories for classifying parent and kid behavior during encounters.

The parent-child dyad is often monitored from behind a one-way mirror while they engage in pleasant, interactive play using a standard set of toys. The dyad is observed in three standard DPICS circumstances to assess the quality of their social interactions in situations that differ in the level of parental control necessary and the pressure placed on the kid for compliance.

The DPICS-II coding system was designed for research and therapeutic uses to provide practicing physicians with a controllable and practical means to quantify pretreatment and posttreatment alterations and ongoing treatment progress. Simultaneously, the DPICS-II was designed to offer researchers a reliable and valid instrument for measuring interaction behaviors with enough precision and specificity to increase our understanding of the evaluation and treatment of children with behavior issues.

Furthermore, by allowing clinicians and researchers to code the same behaviors for parents and children, clinicians and researchers can use the DPICS-II to describe behaviors within the interaction that may elicit or maintain the children's behavior problems and assess changes in these behaviors during and after treatment.

Since its inception, the system has been used to explain parent-child interactions in clinical and research settings. In addition to distinguishing dyads with and without disruptive behavior disorders, Webster-Stratton has used the coding system to differentiate parent-child interactions of mothers of neglected children from children with behavior problems and normal control children, as well as abusive from nonabusive families. The approach has also been used to assess pretreatment to posttreatment changes in children with behavioral issues.

Q-Sorts and Rating Scales

Q-sorts and parent rating scales are two different ways of assessing parent-child relations. Walters and Deane's (1985) Attachment Q-set measures a child's attachment-related behaviors in the behavioral aspects of security, reliance, and sociability. The Q-set consists of 90 behaviorally descriptive items that a parent categorizes into nine heaps or stacks based on how much they are typical or untypical of the kid.

Using the Strange Situation, the Q-set exhibited a substantial relationship with home behavior observations and laboratory-based attachment security categories. Parent-completed surveys, such as the Parent-Child Relations Questionnaire (PCR) established by Roe and Siegleman (1963), can also be used to examine dimensions of parent-child interactions. The PCR is a 5-point, 130-item questionnaire with six subscales representing a parent's loving behaviors and four reflecting a child's affectionate behaviors.

Behaviors can be rewarded or punished. Because of the transactional nature of a child's presenting difficulties, assessing parent-child interactions is crucial to choosing the best course of therapy. Whether using direct observation, Q-sorts, rating scales, or a combination of methods, the information gathered from the assessment aids in determining the frequency, intensity, and duration of the child's behavior problems across settings and with different parents, as well as information on the parent behavioral antecedent and subsequent behaviors that may be serving to maintain the child's behavior problems. This information may be used to determine the target behaviors that need to be changed in both dyad members and to give a baseline against which to compare the changes that occur with therapy.


Parent-child interaction evaluation is essential for diagnosing and treating behavioral issues in children, as it has been linked to adverse child outcomes. Observation of parent-child interactions can be used to assess the form and quality of the relationship between family members of children with behavioral issues.

The Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II (DPICS-II) is commonly used to observe parent-child interactions in a standardized laboratory environment. Q-Sorts and rating scales can also be used to assess the dimensions of parent-child interactions. This information can determine the frequency, intensity, and duration of the child's behavior problems across settings and with different parents.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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