The playroom is a training ground in 1-on-1 caregiver and child therapy

The playroom is a training ground in 1-on-1 caregiver and child therapy
The caregiver wears an earpiece and engages with their child. On the other side of a 1-way mirror, Henley communicates step-by-step instructions on how to react if the child misbehaves. (SOURCE: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Kids don't come with an instruction manual, but an innovative program at the New Hanover County Health Department teaches parents hands-on strategies to navigate their child's early years.

"Children with responsive parents that are warm and nurturing, but also have a really high expectation for behavior, those kids tend to do best in life," said Susan Henley, a licensed clinical social worker of the Early Childhood Mental Health Program.

Henley's department works with parents through home visits and by appointment at the health department.

In a program called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Henley works 1-on-1 with caregivers and their children from birth to age 5.

The kids in the program come from all backgrounds, ranging from misbehaving at school to facing trauma and abuse.

A small playroom is their parenting training ground where a therapist gives coaching in specialized therapy and discipline techniques. The caregiver wears an earpiece and engages with their child. On the other side of a one-way mirror, Henley communicates step-by-step instructions on how to react if the child misbehaves.

"I love it because the parents love it. They come in and they're like, 'This is kind of awkward,' but the ways it's set up, the parents really get a lot of positive feedback," said Henley. "And they learn very specific skills that they see work almost instantaneously."

Parents can ask to join the program or can be referred by doctors or the Department of Social Services. Most insurance policies cover PCIT, according to Henley.

Henley encourages parents to protect their children from toxic stress and trauma. She cites research about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are strong influencers of life outcome.

To join the program at the New Hanover County Health Department and learn more, call Henley at 910-798-6690.

Community organizations Family Support Network and Cape Fear Memorial Foundation partner with the county health department program, according to Henley.

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