Parents: Strategies for Dealing with Disruptive Behaviors

by Melissa Malakoff, Psy.D.

Many parents are dealing with children with disruptive behaviors that are difficult to control.  Despite parents’ effort, it often feels like “nothing works,” leading to frustration on the part of both parents and children.  However, the use of new strategies on the part of parents can help when used frequently and consistently.  The skills discussed in this blog entry focus on promoting positive parent-child relationships and interactions while teaching parents effective child management skills.  The aim of these skills is to decrease negative aspects of the relationship between parent and child and to develop consistently positive and supportive communication.  With proper and regular use of these child behavior management skills, you will see your child’s behavior improve.

The following skills should be practiced for five minutes per day while parents sit down at a table and play with their children.  The child should be provided with a couple of options for play, but parents should avoid games with rules such as board games or card games.  The child should be given the opportunity to lead the play, with parents playing along and using the skills listed below.  These skills, knows as PRIDE skills, include Prasie, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, and Enthusiasm.  These skills are taken from Parent Child Interaction Therapy, developed by Sheila Eyberg (Eyberg & Funderberk, 2011).

RULE I. Praise Appropriate Behavior.

  • Causes the behavior to increase
  • Lets the child know what you like
  • Increases child's self-esteem
  • Adds to the warmth of the relationship
  • Makes both parent and child feel good! 


  • That's terrific counting!
  • I like the way you're playing so quietly.
  • You have wonderful ideas for this picture. 
  • I'm proud of you for being polite. 
  • You did a nice job on that building. 
  • Your design is pretty. 
  • Thank you for showing the colors to me. 

RULE II. Reflect Appropriate Talk. 

  • Allows child to direct the conversation
  • Shows child you're really listening
  • Demonstrates acceptance and understanding of child 
  • Improves child's speech
  • Increases verbal communication 


  • Child: I made a star. Parent: Yes, you made a star. 
  • Child: The camel got bumps on top. Parent: It has two humps on its back
  • Child: I like to play with this castle. Parent: This is a fun castle to play with. 

RULE III. Imitate Appropriate Play.

  • Let child lead
  • Approves child's choice of play
  • Shows child you are involved
  • Teaches child how to play with others (e.g., taking turns)
  • Tends to increase child's imitation of what you do 


  • Child: I'm putting baby to bed. Parent: I'll put sister to bed too.
  • Child: I'm making a sun in the sky. Parent: I'm going to put a sun in my picture too.  

RULE IV. Describe Appropriate Behavior. 

  • Allows child to lead
  • Shows child you're interested 
  • Teaches concept
  • Models speech
  • Holds child's attention
  • Organizes child's thoughts about play 


  • That's a red block.
  • You're making a tower.
  • You drew a smiling face.
  • The cowboy looks happy. 

RULE V. Enthusiasm.

  • Demonstrates interest in child
  • Models appropriate positive emotions
  • Supports positive statements
  • Strenghthens positive relationship


  • Wow!
  • That's great!
  • That's super. 


Eyberg, S. & Funderberk, B. (2011).  Parent Child Interaction Therapy Protocol.  Gainesville:  PCIT International