• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Thursday 14th November, 2013

A less controlling way to promote good parenting?

strong>Parenting programs whose effectiveness has been convincingly established through research have tended to be those that teach behavior management skills derived from social learning theory. But an evaluation from Norway of the International Child Development Program (ICDP) – a “non-instructive” program aiming to promote parental empathy and understanding of children’s development, suggests it could benefit families. Proven parenting programs have tended to be those that teach behavior management strategies derived from social learning theory (The Incredible Years, Parental Management Training and Triple P being internationally recognized examples). Less is known about programs based on different theoretical foundations and elements. There is also less evidence from rigorously-conducted evaluations about programs that may be helpful to parents and caregivers in the community who are experiencing stress, but show no clinical sign of problems and whose children do not exhibit behavioral disorders. For them, the International Child Development Program (ICDP), an eight-week, “non-instructive” group program studied in Norway, could prove to be a promising approach – although some caveats apply to the positive findings from a controlled, but non-randomized evaluation by researchers in London and Oslo.An approach based on empathyThe ICDP, which has been implemented in 35 different countries is designed to be culturally sensitive. It seeks to improve parents/caregivers’ empathy and interactions with children, while increasing their understanding of child development. Facilitated groups usually consist of 5-10 parents and caregivers attending two-hour sessions that consider different dimensions of parenting. These include ways of showing loving feelings, praising and acknowledging the child, supporting the child’s comprehension and showing enthusiasm for the child’s experiences. Another set of guidelines is concerned with regulating the child’s actions step-by-step. ICDP facilitators encourage parents take an active role, participate in group discussions and role plays, and carry out home assignments. The Norwegian “quasi-experimental” study compared questionnaire responses from parents recruited for the ICDP with results obtained from parents from similar backgrounds who lived in areas where the program was not available. Both groups completed questionnaires applying a range of assessment measures on parenting, psychosocial functioning and child difficulties before and after the ICDP course took place. But while 269 caregivers recruited for the ICDP completed the first set of questionnaires only 141 (52.4%) completed the follow-up questionnaires. Likewise, out of 157 control group caregivers, only 79 (50.3%) returned the second questionnaire. In addition, although the parents/caregivers in both groups did not differ significantly on aspects such as age, gender, employment or their child’s age, those in the control group were significantly more likely to be married or live with a partner and to have higher education than the ICDP group. Improved parenting and child management strategiesThe evaluation found that, compared with the control group, the ICDP parents/caregivers following the course were significantly more positive about child management and reported better child management, improved parental strategies and less impact from children’s behavioral and other difficulties. Caregivers whose initial scores had been low benefited most. The ICDP results also showed differences in the impact on subgroups of parents and caregivers. For example, caregivers who were depressed appeared to gain particular benefit, while participants who were initially less satisfied with their social support showed significant improvements on their measures use of positive parenting strategies and a reduced degree of “commotion in the home”.. Overall, the results suggest that taking part in the ICDP could help parents and other caregivers in the general population to improve their parenting skills and parent-child relationships. However, this study was not a randomized controlled trial that would allow us to confidently identify the ICDP as the direct reason that outcomes improved. Differences between the intervention and control group at baseline, problems with attendance and the loss of almost half the participants between the initial survey and to follow-up are among the factors that limit the generalizability of the results. In addition, it is somewhat surprising that no significant relationship was found between the number of ICDP sessions that participant attended and the change in their questionnaire scores. The researchers, meanwhile, argue that the philosophy of the ICDP, focusing on positive emotion and regulation rather than control may resonate particularly well with parents who experience the ordinary challenges of everyday child-rearing. **********ReferenceSherr, L., Skar, A.-M. S., Clucas, C., Tetzchner, S., & Hundeide, K. (2013). Evaluation of the International Child Development Programme (ICDP) as a community-wide parenting programme. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7595, 1-17.

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