Children living in poverty or born to teenage parents are at increased risk for developmental delays as well as child neglect. Research has shown that one effective avenue for preventive intervention is teaching parents to recognize and respond to their young children’s communicative signals using responsive caregiving behaviors (e.g., warmth and praise, prompt responses linked contingently to the child’s signals, following the child’s interest, stimulating language, and using positive behavior guidance strategies). However, parents with low education and literacy levels are often limited in the degree to which they can benefit from generic instructional materials such as parenting books and classes. The “Play and Learning Strategies” (PALS) parenting program, which has been shown to be effective with at-risk parents and children in several randomized control studies, addresses the needs of this challenging population through the use of video modeling, guided live practice of target skills, and reflective review and discussion of the parent’s own video footage of her interaction with her child. This paper will briefly review literature on the use of video reflection to facilitate skill acquisition within an adult learning framework , and then outline the process by which individualized coaching combined with video reflection can bring about positive changes in parenting and child outcomes, using the PALS program as an example.

Key Take Away Points

  • Coaching at-risk parents to improve responsiveness to their children requires a balance between empathic support and active facilitation of parents' practice of new skills.
  • Effective coaching strategies focus on helping the parent see and recognize the direct impact of her behaviors on her child.
  • Viewing and discussing footage of their interactions with their children increases parents' insight and ability to make positive changes in their own parenting behaviors.

Author Biography

Cathy L. Guttentag, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas - Houston Health Science Center. She is also a licensed clinical child psychologist. Her research focuses on improving the quality of parent-child interactions in at-risk families, developing evidence-based professional development interventions for childcare teachers, and promoting optimal developmental outcomes for young children with disabilities. Dr. Guttentag has served as a co-investigator on multiple studies using the “Play and Learning Strategies (PALS)” responsive parenting intervention developed by Drs. Susan Landry and Karen Smith, and has trained and supervised many PALS coaches over the past 12 years.


The author would like to thank the following current and former “PALS” coaches for their valuable insights and contributions to this article: Gladys Fuentes, Jackie Gross, Michelle Hogan, Dr. Ursula Johnson, Denise Longoria-Lopez, Isabella Todd Lozano.