Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Cheryl B. McNeil

Committee Co-Chair

Elisa Krackow

Committee Member

Elisa Krackow

Committee Member

Amy Gentzler

Committee Member

Christa Lilly


Numerous efficacious early interventions target and alter caregiver-child interactions to promote optimal social-emotional outcomes for young children (Bagner et al., 2014). However, research has primarily relied on the use of caregiver report to assess caregiver-child emotion-focused practices, revealing the need for a behavioral observation assessment (Zinsser et al., 2021). Preliminary evidence suggests that Parent-Child Interaction Therapy with Toddlers (PCIT-T) is a well-received and efficacious intervention for reducing disruptive behaviors, improving child internalizing and externalizing behavior, reducing parental stress, and increasing parental sensitivity (Kohlhoff et al., 2021; Kohlhoff, Cibralic, & Morgan, 2020). PCIT-T strives to train caregivers to interact with their toddlers in a nurturing and sensitive manner to promote healthy attachment, improve child emotion regulation skills, and enhance child emotion socialization. Presently, PCIT-T lacks a well-established observational emotion coding system that would benefit treatment and the broader field of clinical child psychology in measuring outcomes in caregiver-child emotion-focused practices. The Dyadic Emotion Coding System (DECS) was developed to measure caregiver-toddler emotion talk emotion-focused practices. The current study evaluated the validity, reliability, and clinical utility of the DECS with archival data extracted from a randomized clinical trial of PCIT-T with 90 caregiver-toddler dyads referred for treatment of child behavior problems. DECS codes were significantly associated with maternal sensitivity, as well as exploratory relationships with caregiver and child emotion regulation. After undergoing PCIT-T, caregivers significantly improved in their use of adaptive emotion-focused practices. Practical utility of a standardized DECS training procedure was demonstrated via test-retest reliability (κ = .78). Evidence suggests the DECS would provide a well-established observational emotion coding system to benefit PCIT-T.