The Incredible Years® Blog


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Wally Problem Solver gets vaccinated and helps other children ages 5-8 years

  • by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, PhD, Incredible Years Program Developer

Wally recently spent the day at Vashon Elementary School spreading his superpower magic with children ages 5-8 years. He received his vaccine and helped other children who received their vaccine that day to stay calm.

First, Wally takes deep breaths & stays calm using his super power breathing and thinks of his happy place…

and it is over before he knows it!

He choses his favorite Band-Aids – Star Wars and Frozen…

and gets a high five from the vaccinator.  His mother tells him he has super powerful calm-down muscles and is strong and brave and is helping to keep others healthy. He is very proud!  

It was a fun day at Vashon Elementary. One hundred forty children were vaccinated with their first dose. The Vashon community team worked on this being a fun day for the children so they will be eager to come back for their second injection. 


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How Parents Can Build Emotional Resilience in Young Children Who Are Anxious

Carolyn Webster-Stratton, PhD

by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, about one in five children have struggled with feelings of fear, hopelessness, and sadness at some time during their development. When children feel anxious, their brains are flooded with feelings of danger or future threat. These powerful feelings and anxious thoughts can lead to emotional dysregulation with physical and behavioral outcomes such as:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizzy or shakiness
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Stomach aches, nausea, vomiting
  • Anger, defiance
  • Irritability
  • Tantrum outbursts
  • Crying

Sometimes these symptoms that involve children’s thoughts and feelings are called internalizing disorders. For many children these fears or worries won’t last. However, when the symptoms are intense or persist longer than 1-2 months, they can interfere with the child’s ability to attend school, to be away from parents, to focus and concentrate, to get adequate sleep, or to make friends and engage in social activities.

Although our understanding of the impact of the pandemic on children is still evolving, it seems that despite the uncertainty and challenges of Covid, 60-70% of children have been remarkedly resilient, emotionally regulated, and able to cope with the uncertainty and ongoing stress.  On the other hand, since the pandemic, there has been an upsurge in reported rates of child anxiety and internalizing symptoms. Current estimates show as many as 30-40% of children and adolescents are experiencing anxiety, depression, or stress.  Certain groups are more at risk for anxiety disorders and are more vulnerable to the added impact of the pandemic: those living in poverty, those with unstable housing, and those with a prior history of developmental delays or mental health issues regardless of their socioeconomic background. How can we help these at-risk children and promote their “protective factors”, their strengths and resilience?

IY Program Developer Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D. has written a new article with lots of tips to help parents help their children who are anxious. Here are some examples:

Do accept and validate your child’s fears and worries and help them learn how to manage them. When your child expresses uncomfortable feelings, such as fear and worry, name these feelings and what the experience is that may be causing them. “You are sad and scared because your granny is sick. Is that right?”  This validation shows acceptance.  It is nonjudgmental and helps your child feel understood.  Combine your validation of their feeling with gentle suggestions for a coping statement that helps them face their fears. This approach assures your support and understanding of the child’s fears and shows your belief that your child can manage the situation and the feelings.  For example, saying, “Maybe we can draw a picture for her that will help her know we love her. This will make her happy.”  Or, “I see you are afraid to ask your friend to play (validate), let’s practice what you can say (coping)?”   

Do use positive forecasting. Predict for your child that things will be eventually get better. “I can see you are afraid to go back to school, but your friends will be so happy to see you. What might you tell them when you see them?” Or, “You look worried and lonely, but soon you will be playing soccer and will have fun.” It is important to note that positive forecasting is showing your child a possible positive outcome, but still allows your child to have their unhappy feelings in the moment. 

Do help your child to be aware of their positive and comfortable feelings.  When your child is acting in ways that are not fearful, give attention to these positive emotions and link the positive emotion to the child’s particular experience. For example, saying, “You look happy when you are playing a game with your friend.” Or, “You are so patient figuring out how to put that puzzle together. You are staying calm and trying another idea. I think you will solve that puzzle problem.” Or, “You seem relaxed reading that book.” “You are brave to try that high slide!”  The goal is to focus on and give attention to your child’s positive emotion feeling states such as being happy, patient, calm, confident, brave, or persistent with a difficult task.  Children learn to recognize and express these comfortable feelings in themselves. Then they can use them in their own positive self-talk as well as in communication with others. They recognize that they are not always fearful, angry, or anxious and remember the situations that lead to more comfortable feelings.

Do use puppets to enhance young children’s learning of self-regulation strategies.  Children love pretend play and can learn well using imaginary situations. Pretend play helps them understand what others, including a puppet, might feel. Your child can practice emotional self-regulation strategies to help the puppet calm down, and then when your child is upset, your puppet could prompt your child to use the same strategies. Your child may be more responsive to the puppet’s coaching than to your parent voice.

You can use puppets to promote your child’s practice of self-regulation calming thoughts and memories, feeling talk, and breathing methods. You can tailor the puppets’ experiences to situations that are real for your child. For example, your puppet could be stressed at school, afraid to talk about making a mistake, nervous about meeting new people, or having a vaccination. Your child will likely show empathy for the puppet’s feelings. The puppets can ask your child for ideas to respond to each of these situations. You can prompt your child to show the puppet what to do to calm down and feel better. This helps children to normalize their own anxious thoughts and feelings around a stressful event and opens up further possibility of your child feeling safe to talk about their own fears and worries with others.

See all of Carolyn Webster-Stratton’s tips for how parents can help their children who are anxious in her new article: How Parents Can Build Emotional Resilience in Young Children (3-8 years) Who are Anxious – The Do’s and Don’ts


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New book “Helping Preschool Children with Autism” now available!

This book provides parents and teachers of children on the autism spectrum (aged 2-5 years) with strategies for promoting children’s optimal social, emotional, language, and academic competence.  It includes verbal and nonverbal strategies to help caregivers to enter in children’s attention spotlight and expand their interest and joy in relationships with others.  The book includes sample adult-child social and emotion coaching scripts for interacting with children and suggestions for modeling, initiating, and prompting social behaviors and joint activities.  Also included are other connection and communication strategies such as sensory games, visual prompts and pictures, gestures, pretend and puppet play, and intentional communication.

This book is a great resource for parents and teachers, even if they are not in an Incredible Years group. The book includes scripts of the naturally occurring parent-child and teacher-child interactions found in the IY Autism program vignettes. We hope that these scripts will give parents and teachers ideas for how to get in children’s attention spotlight to communicate, model, prompt, and set up joint attention practices in everyday activities. Below are sample pages from the book featuring the scripts.

Being Child-Directed & Getting in Your Child’s Spotlight

Click sample pages above to view them larger

Descriptive Commenting and Visual Prompts to Build Language

Click sample pages above to view them larger

Spotlighting tips for parents and teachers

Just like the Incredible Years Autism Programs for parents and teachers, this book includes spotlighting tips to help parents and teachers expand and enhance children’s attention and communication skills.

Click sample pages above to view them larger

Please visit our website for information on ordering the book Helping Preschool Children with Autism: Parents and Teachers as Partners


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Affirming Diversity and Achieving Cultural Sensitivity When Delivering IY Programs

IY Program Developer Carolyn Webster-Stratton
  • by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, MSN, MPH, Ph.D, Incredible Years Program Developer

Over the past 2 decades we have seen many research reports showing the effectiveness of the Incredible Years (IY) programs with culturally diverse populations. Randomized control group studies (RCTs) using IY Parent Programs with multicultural groups have been conducted in Finland, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and with new immigrant Head Start families in United States. These studies attest to the ability of the IY programs to be transported in culturally sensitive ways to achieve positive outcomes such as more nurturing parent-child interactions, increased child social and emotional competence, and reduced child behavior problems.  Pre/post data showing positive results has also been reported by Estonia (with both Estonian and Russian speaking families), Slovenia, and New Zealand Māori and Pacific Island populations (see the Incredible Years library of research on our website at: https://incredibleyears.com/for-researchers/research-library/)

It is noteworthy that in a diverse sample of 634 families with children enrolled in Head Start (19% African American 11% Latino, 12% Asian, 50% Caucasian), ethnicity analyses with an RCT design revealed few differences across ethnic groups according to observed parent behavior at home. All groups made significant improvements in hypothesized directions with high levels of satisfaction with the program and similar attendance.

It is an immensely rewarding opportunity to bring new perspectives about effective child management parenting practices and child development principles to parents from different cultural backgrounds. IY group leaders who have a multicultural perspective are caring and collaborative in their approach, take the time to listen and understand parents’ perspectives and try to make the material relevant for each parents’ goals and family circumstances. They recognize the importance of native language, family traditions, rituals and religious holidays, and make the parents’ culture visible by calling on them to share their cultural experiences during discussions.  Collaborating with parents in this way acknowledges parents’ dignity, self-respect, and self-control. This is especially important if parents are feeling low self-confidence, stress, and uncertainty about the appropriateness of the IY Program for their family and culture.

Affirming diversity means that cultural, linguistic, and other family differences are acknowledged, accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching. The collaborative culturally sensitive approach has the added advantage of reducing participant attrition rates, increasing motivation and commitment, and reducing resistance. Working together with families in this partnership way will enhance parents’ confidence, build family support systems, and strengthen communities by highlighting that parents’ goals for their children and families transcend culture, thereby providing mutual understanding and supportive community networks.

Here are a few tips about IY group leaders affirming diversity and being culturally responsive when delivering the IY programs.

• Respect and affirm cultural differences and promote a supportive, non-judgmental & culturally sensitive group atmosphere​.

• Collaborate with each group to individualize the group rules they want to adopt.

• Acknowledge and affirm each parent’s individual goals for themselves, their children, and their families. Be careful not to make assumptions that entire cultures have a homogenous set of values. Recognize the heterogeneity of experiences and beliefs that exists within any given culture.

• Acknowledge that you bring your own bias to the group and be willing to listen to parents and learn from them. 

• Make culture visible and invite discussion and sharing of cultural identity and recognize its importance in relationship building. Acknowledge celebrations, and traditions from different cultures.

• When possible, select video vignettes that represent diverse populations, family structures and the cultural background of your groups.

• Understand that cultural responsiveness is more important than the surface level cultural adaptations of showing vignettes that represent the particular families in your group.  Rather it is the “deeper structural” principles that guide the collaborative delivery of the program that ensure its cultural sensitivity and relevance for families. For example, use the vignettes to help parents discover key behavior management principles of parent interactions and then apply these strategies to each parents’ individual goals for themselves and their children.

• Make culturally relevant metaphors to explain developmental theories and concepts.

• Use multi-cultural puppets and select a realistic selection of toys as well as diverse books, songs, games, and food snacks that represent the cultural and socio-economic background and experiences of the participants in your groups.​

• Respond flexibly about number of sessions shown and add more than the minimum required number of required group sessions for families who find the content new and need more time to understand, process, practice, and integrate the new approaches.

• When possible, have group leaders who represent the culture of the group​.

• Give parents the message that linguistic diversity is a resource. Learn to say parents’ names correctly, check in to be sure they understand the meaning of words, and encourage practice using the newly learned coaching skills in their own language. Avoid correcting parents’ English. Use phrases from their own language yourself and write them on flip chart.

• Use trained interpreters in the IY program and work collaboratively with them so that the meaning of the program content and vignettes is understood​ and that they translate in a collaborative manner. Translate handouts, home activities, and key points into participants’ own languages.

• Understand socioeconomic and educational and reading barriers.

• Review weekly evaluations and make adjustments according to learning needs and parents’ personal goals.

• Empower parents to help their children to develop a healthy ethnic and cultural identity.

• Advocate for and with parents so they can support their children’s learning at school also at home.

See chapter 11 “Affirming Diversity: Maintaining Program Fidelity While Achieving Cultural Sensitivity,” In Collaborating with Parents to Reduce Behavior Problems by Carolyn Webster-Stratton.

Download this article as a PDF here.


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Invest in Kids continues to provide incredible support to parents, teachers and children across Colorado

Invest in Kids partners with local communities to provide training and support for the implementation of Incredible Years® parent, child, and teacher programs. Their ongoing support promotes the sustainability of IY programs in Colorado, and ensures high-quality delivery of the programs designed to produce significant positive outcomes for parents, children, and teachers.

Invest in Kids has shared their report of 2020-2021 implementation of Incredible Years® programs. Despite COVID, Invest in Kids continued to offer coaching and support to group leaders through online peer coaching sessions.  Through this support, parent group leaders and teachers were able to pivot to offering the Incredible Years® parenting program and Classroom Dina child program curriculum online. Both parents and teachers reported improvement in children’s social and emotional skills. Parents participating in IY increased their use of positive parenting strategies and decreased harsh, inconsistent, and negative discipline strategies. Check out their blog below!  

Invest in Kids is excited to share that the 2020-2021 Report of The Incredible Years® (IY) in Colorado is now available! 

by Erin Albrecht, Ph.D., Data and Evaluation Manager, Invest in Kids

This report features the number of students, teachers, and parents that were served by IY programming in Colorado last year, as well as the outcomes for Dinosaur School students and Parent Program participants. This report also includes an Innovations section (see page 10), which documents the numerous ways in which the IIK-IY team flexibly and capably pivoted and modified their coaching supports for The Incredible Years® in response to the ongoing pandemic. 

In addition, the report provides some demographic information about the students, parents, teachers, and Parent Program Facilitators to describe who was served by the program during the 2020-21 program year. 

Key outcomes for the 2020-2021 program year include statistically significant gains in the following: 

  • Dinosaur School students’ Social-Emotional Competence, including Academic Skills, Emotion Regulation, and Prosocial Communication
  • Dinosaur School students’ Social-Emotional Skills 
  • Parents use of Appropriate Discipline, Clear Expectations, and Positive Parenting practices
  • Parents use of Harsh Discipline and Inconsistent Discipline 

IIK-IY staff at Invest in Kids partnered with Colorado communities across 20 counties to support the delivery of IY for parents, teachers, and young children. Dinosaur School, Parent Program, and a TCM Book Study were delivered in school and community-based settings to 4,027 children, 399 teachers and educational staff, 67 Parent Program Facilitators, and 375 Parent Program participants with coaching and technical support from Invest in Kids. 

from the Invest In Kids 2020-2021 report: Supporting high-quality IY implementation

Follow the link here to dig into the 2020-21 report and learn more about IY, the IIK-IY evaluation, and Invest in Kids support for high-quality delivery of IY across the state of Colorado.

cheers to our friends at Invest in Kids!


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The Changing Lives Initiative: An Early Intervention Approach to ADHD

The Changing Lives Initiative is a cross border community-based project in County Louth, Ireland, Colin/West Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the Argyll & Bute region of Scotland working to provide an early intervention parent program for families with children aged 3-7 experiencing behaviors consistent with ADHD. There are five partner organizations involved in The Changing Lives Initiative: Archways, Colin Neighbourhood Partnership, Dundalk Institute of Technology, The Genesis Programme (Louth Leader Partnership) and NHS Highland.

The Changing Lives Initiative has been implementing the Incredible Years® parenting program, specifically aimed at helping families and children with ADHD. When Covid hit, they were able to continue with remote online delivery with families.

They have recently shared their outcomes evaluation, finding that parents participating in the Incredible Years program had increased use of positive discipline strategies, decreased parental stress, and improved parent/child relationships. The parents reported reduction in child hyperactive/impulsive behaviors, improved concentration and attention, and reduction in social and emotional problems.

Incredible Years Mentor Sean McDonnell, PhD, was Principal Investigator in this study and one of the authors of the evaluation report. Sean is a Psychologist and Deputy CEO at Archways. Sean has shared his work with the Changing Lives Initiative, below:

The Changing Lives Initiative

  • by Sean McDonnell, PhD, Deputy CEO Archways
Sean McDonnell, PhD

In 2017 Archways was awarded a large scale European funding to establish a new community-led early intervention treatment model for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  This model designated the ‘Changing Lives Initiative’ was ambitious. Designed to be implemented over a three-year period in cross-border areas in border communities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and in Western Scotland (the Argyll & Bute region), the Initiative set out to create a better understanding of ADHD and to provide an intervention programme for families with children (aged 3-7) experiencing behaviours consistent with ADHD.  The project offers a tiered intervention for families starting with Information and Awareness Sessions, through to a Screening Programme and finally an intensive intervention in the form of an evidence based ADHD-focused Incredible Years® Parent Training Programme (22 sessions).  The intervention was primarily delivered to a pre-diagnosis population; with potential families being identified via a range of agencies including schools, preschools, GPs, family support hubs, and pediatric health services.  Importantly, the primary goal of the implementation was to provide an implementation template for the treatment of ADHD using the Incredible Years® parent treatment model which would allow the standardization of services to this cohort of families and children.

Uptake of the Changing lives suite of offerings was phenomenal. Our ADHD information workshops were made available to 1700 professionals and 2000 families, and the Incredible Years®parenting Programme was made available to over 350 families. We were aware that research was vital if we were to provide the information needed to transform the services in these communities and embed the initiative in what were traditionally hard to reach communities. Thankfully all of our Project Partners recognized the imperative of robust research and evidence. The use of evaluations allowed us to measure the impact of our work and understand better what worked well and what did not.  Our research findings shed light on unknowns, filled gaps in our knowledge, and has in many ways changed the way that healthcare professionals in these areas now work.

Our suite of evaluations included outcome, process, and cost evaluations and since much of our work was conducted under the Covid shadow, we also had an opportunity to test and compare the online Incredible Years® parent programme and face to face delivery modes. Thankfully all of the evaluation outcomes proved successful. Participating organizations are now fully committed to the delivery of our changing lives model. Professionals are better informed as to the subtle and not so subtle manifestations of ADHD. Parents are better informed as to the unique challenges and opportunities parenting a child with ADHD presents. Most importantly the power of the Incredible Years® programme to bring about lasting change was proven.

Post programme, those who attended the twenty-two week programme thrived and their children flourished. Parents of children with behaviours consistent with ADHD reported improved relationships practices, greater positivity within the home, parental strategies which scaffolded their child, held them securely, and replaced negative disciplinary strategies with loving and supportive inputs. Not surprisingly, the parents spoke of reductions in stress and the amazement they experienced as they saw reductions in their children’s hyperactivity. Impulsivity and compulsivity reduced to normative levels. Time together was cherished, ideas explored as the children’s concentration levels improved. Children’s behaviours improved as the opportunity to practice social engagement skills grew from the peer networks the children developed over time.

In many ways the Parenting programme once again underscored the truism that supported children and informed parents and teachers can overcome even the most embedded of problems. The Changing Lives Initiative will shortly be rolled out to two counties in the Republic of Ireland with the mainstreaming of the service to be conducted over the coming years. We are thankful to the parents, families and practitioners, grateful to the children and as always indebted to the programme, we have started a conversation, made the first step in a journey, hopefully there is more to come.

In March 2020 the COVID -19 pandemic brought changes to how The Changing Lives Initiative continued to support families.  Along with other projects throughout the world, The Changing Lives Initiative had to adapt to the changing circumstances and restrictions arising from the pandemic. The added strain on families, who had lost support structures and routines due to the restrictions, made it even more important that the project continue its work.  The Changing Lives Initiative adapted quickly and completed some of the programmes underway through remote delivery methods.  Over the summer months, the project then went on to pilot the first ever fully remotely delivered ADHD IY Parent Programme.  From August 2020, Information and Awareness workshops for both practitioners and parents/caregivers were moved online and extended, with more emphasis on effective strategies to support children’s behaviour.  The Screening Programme was also then successfully adapted to remote delivery via telephone.   A full cohort of remotely delivered ADHD IY Parent Programmes were then delivered from September 2020 through to late January 2021. 

Although the project evaluations were mostly complete at this stage, it was felt important to gather feedback from parents in relation to the remotely delivered programmes and so a piece of qualitative research was added to the evaluations in order to explore the acceptability of the remotely delivered ADHD IY Parent Programme, a summary of the findings included in this report.

Read the report: The Changing Lives Initiative: Summary report on Outcomes, Process and Economic Evaluations


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Incredible Years Parent, Small Group Dina, & TCM programs offered as overlapping programs in Wellington, NZ

The Incredible Families Charitable Trust of Wellington, New Zealand, has recently shared with us the results of a pilot program to deliver the Incredible Years Parent, Child, and Teacher programs as overlapping programs to one community of parents, children, and teachers at the Kahurangi School in Strathmore.

The Incredible Families Charitable Trust has been offering the Incredible Years parenting classes to families in the Wellington area for many years.  They wanted to see if offering the IY parent, child, and teacher programs to the same community would result in increased benefits for the parents, children, and teachers. 

With the support of the Ministry of Education and the Kahurangi School, the Incredible Families Trust introduced the Incredible Years Small Group Dina curriculum to a group of 12 children who were identified as students who might benefit from this social skills and emotion regulation curriculum.  Their parents were invited to participate in the Incredible Years parent training program.  The children’s teachers, teachers’ aides, and school principal participated in the Incredible Years teacher training program.  Along with trained facilitators in the IY Parent, SGD, and Teacher programs, one accredited group leader with the Incredible Families Charitable Trust was a part of all 3 facets to increase the interconnection between the groups.

The idea was to create a wraparound approach, wherein the IYP, SGD, and IYT program delivery would be interconnected within the same community, with the parent and child at the center of their wraparound approach.  In this way, the strategies learned in the Incredible Years programs could be consistently applied both at home and at school.

Findings:

Results showed a significant improvement in children’s social competence, and reduction in reported behavior problems.

Looking at parents’ confidence and competence, and their reports of child behavior problems, the Incredible Families Trust was able to compare their post-participation data with the families participating in their Parent + Small Group Dina + Teacher intervention with other families who received the IY parenting program alone.  While the Incredible Years parenting program alone did result in considerable improvements, the impact was even greater for the group of families who received IYP + SGD + IYT.

Parents and teachers who participated in the Incredible Families Trust IYP + SGD + IYT pilot reported a feeling of increased connection, collaboration, and support.

From the report:

Teachers felt validated by the SGD facilitators who also noticed the same challenging behaviour in the children and were able to collaborate on strategies and management. At the request of the teachers, the facilitators met with them on a regular basis to discuss the techniques they were using with the children and exchanged ideas with them on how these techniques could be incorporated into the classroom. The school Principal found the support of the SGD facilitators, in their roles of advocate for the child, was valuable in restorative practice meetings and planning. All groups realised the huge benefits of working together to support the child.

By the conclusion of the programme, parents reported feeling confident when discussing their children’s challenges and now felt like equals when talking with teachers.

The increased positive communications between the parents and the school, and the confidence that was engendered in the parents by this, was a crucial part of the parents’ willingness to keep implementing the new skills they were learning, despite the everyday challenges of life that they were facing. This was made possible by the fact that the parents were from the same school community and felt familiar in the friendly and supportive environment there. This does not usually occur in the standard IYP programme where the location of parents who are enrolled is random. We believe that facilitation of these parental insights was a significant factor and a turning point for the programme’s success.

The Incredible Families Trust hopes that because of the strengthened collaboration and support in the community receiving their intervention, this wraparound approach will result in changes that are sustained over time.

IY facilitators Aleksandra Alagh, Caroline McGlinchy, and Leah Cooper

Thanks to The Incredible Families Charitable Trust for sharing their evaluation of their pilot project with us!


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The Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Universal Prevention Program: New Research!

Developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D.

The Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Program is a universal 6-10 session parenting program that can be delivered with all parents of children aged 2-6 years. This program focuses on teaching parents the value of child-directed play, and how to use academic, persistence, social and emotion coaching to promote their child’s school readiness and language skills, emotional literacy and empathy, friendship skills, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills.

Xiang Zhou, PhD, LP, Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology at Purdue University has recently published a study of the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® program, Evaluating the Feasibility of the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting Program as Universal Prevention for Racially Diverse Populations – the first assessment conducted on the Attentive Parenting® universal prevention program with an ethnically diverse population.

In this study, 152 parents (88% mothers; 81% non-White) participated in the Attentive Parenting® Program in 6 to 9 2.5-hour weekly sessions. Parents in this study were found to have attended 71% of all sessions. Parents who completed the program reported a significant decrease in conduct problems and an increase in prosocial behaviors in their children.

We are excited about this study of the Attentive Parenting® Program because it looks at the impact of a shorter (6-10 session) video-based prevention program with a culturally diverse sample. Just like the original Incredible Years Preschool Basic program, the Attentive Parenting® program includes the core parenting concepts of child-directed play, social, emotional, & persistence coaching, and praise. With its updated vignettes and added content on promoting academic readiness through interactive reading and teaching children self-regulation and problem-solving strategies, agencies may consider the Attentive Parenting® program as another option for parent education with a prevention population.

Read Professor Xiang Zhou’s blog on this study here!

About the Attentive Parenting® Program: Teaching parents the importance of child-directed play & coaching to promote child development

The Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Program is delivered in 6-10 weekly 2-3 hour sessions. For group leaders working with parents of toddlers, the course will take 6 weeks to complete, and for group leaders working with parents of preschoolers, it will take 8-10 sessions to cover the program content. Read below to see how the skills taught in the Attentive Parenting® Program can be used to help parents and children, and preview vignettes from this program.

Child-Directed Play: Promoting Positive Relationships

Children derive unique benefits when their parents give them undivided, focused, regular, and responsive attention during child-directed play. During adult-child play, the child develops a trusting emotional bond and important physical, cognitive, social, and language skills. Attentive playtimes also play a critical role in shaping the way children think, learn, react to challenges, and develop relationships throughout their lives.

Attentive Parenting® Program 1: Child-Directed PlayIntroductory Narration

Like all Incredible Years® programs, the Attentive Parenting® Program starts by building a foundation of positive adult-child relationships through child-directed play interactions. This style of interacting during play means that parents follow the children’s lead and ideas, enter with their children into their imaginary and pretend world, express their joy and playfulness in being with the children, and help the children feel special by being an appreciative audience to their play. Because one of the major devel­opmental tasks for young children is to become more autonomous, parents learn how child-directed play helps children feel some indepen­dence and develop an individual sense of self. A second major developmental task for young children is to form secure attachments with parents. Child-directed play strategies help parents build safe and secure relationships that eventually lead to fewer difficulties for children separating from their parents and easier transitions to school settings.

Descriptive Language Coaching

In the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Program parents learn how to coach children during child-directed playtimes using descriptive language coaching. This descriptive commenting is a running commentary during play that describes the children’s behaviors and activities. Descriptive commenting indicates to the child how attentive, focused and responsive the parent is on what the child is doing, which further strengthens their relationship bond. By giving positive attention and reinforcement to whatever aspect of the play the commenting is focused on, the parent further encourages children’s exploration and sense of discovery. Descriptive language coaching is also a valuable teaching tool that encourages language development by bathing the child in language, providing direct, important verbal information about behavior and actions or the names of objects.

Attentive Parenting® Program 2: Academic & Persistence Coaching Introductory Narration

In academic readiness coach­ing, parents focus their comments on academic concepts, including the names of objects, shapes, colors, sizes, numbers, textures, and position (e.g., on, under, inside, beside, next to). For example, when the parent says, “You have three yellow rectangles on top of the red fire truck,” the child is learning about shape, colors and numbers, and the language to describe these concepts. Thus, descriptive language coaching can be delivered strategically and can be tailored to meet a number of relationship, language, and learning goals, according to children’s needs and developmental levels.

Persistence Coaching

Another form of coaching is Persistence coaching – when the parent comments on the child’s cogni­tive and behavioral states while the child is playing. For example, a parent whose child is working on a puzzle can comment on the child’s being focused, or concentrating well, or trying hard, or persisting and staying patient, even though the puzzle is difficult. Recognizing the child’s inter­nal state of mind and the physical behaviors that go along with that state is especially important for children who might be inattentive, easily frustrated, impulsive, or hyperactive. Labeling the times a child is focused and persist­ing patiently and calmly with a difficult task helps the child to recognize that internal state, what it feels like, and to put a word to it. Attention and coaching help the child to stick with the task longer than he or she might have otherwise, and builds confidence by teaching that, with patience and persistence, the child will be able to eventually navigate a difficult situation.

Emotion Coaching

Emotion coaching, that is, labeling feelings as children experience them, helps children link a word to a feeling­ state, which helps them develop a vocabulary for recognizing and expressing emotions. Once children are emotionally literate, they will be able to express their feelings to others and more easily regulate their emotional responses. In addition, they will begin to recognize emotions in others – the first step toward empathy.

Attentive Parenting® Program 3: Emotion Coaching – Introductory Narration

In the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Program, parents are encouraged to give more attention to positive emotions than negative emotions during play interactions. However, when children do exhibit negative or uncomfortable emotions, such as anger, fearfulness, or sadness, the parent will coach them by pair­ing the negative emotion with the positive coping response. For example, a parent might say to a child whose tower is knocked over, “You look frustrated about that, but you are staying calm and concentrating hard to try to solve the problem,” or to a fearful child, “I could tell that you felt shy about asking her to play. It was really brave of you to try it!” In this way, the parent validates the angry or shy feeling without giving it too much attention, and also expresses faith that the child will be able to cope with the feeling to pro­duce a positive outcome. Emotional and persistence coaching can be combined, and this approach may even preempt an escalation of an angry tantrum.

Emotion Coaching Promotes Emotional Regulation

A major developmental task for young children (ages 3-6 years) is the development of emotional self-regulation skills, such as the recognition and expression of emotions, ability to wait and accept limits, development of empathy, and self-control over anger and aggression. As children begin to recognize and express their emotions, parents can begin to teach them self-calming strategies.

Attentive Parenting® Program 5: Promoting Emotion Regulation Skills – Introductory Narration

Because children are visual thinkers and love imaginary play, it is highly effective to use stories, puppets, pictures, and role-plays to help them practice calming thoughts, images, and words. For example, parents in the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting® Program learn how to use Tiny Turtle’s secret to calming down through deep breaths, positive self-talk, and happy visualizations. During playful interac­tions with the help of a calm-down thermometer and turtle puppet, children practice these cognitive strategies.

Attentive Parenting® Program 5: Using Tiny Turtle Puppet to Explain How to Calm Down

One-on-One Social Coaching

Another major developmental task for young children is forming social and friendship skills that include beginning to share, helping others, initiat­ing conversations, listening, and cooperating. Social coaching involves adults playing with children in a way that models, prompts, and reinforces these skills. The first step in social coaching is for the parent to model and label appropriate social skills whenever they occur. For example, a parent might model social skills during play inter­actions by saying, “I’m going to be your friend and share my truck with you.” Next, the parent can prompt a social behavior by asking for the child’s help to find something or asking the child for a tum. If the child does share or help, then the parent responds to this behavior by describing it and praising. For example, “Thank you! You found the blue block I was looking for. That was so helpful. You are a good friend!” On the other hand, if the child does not share or help when prompted, the parent models waiting and being respectful by saying, “I guess you are not ready to share. I am going to wait patiently for a tum and do something else right now.” Through modeling, prompting, and scaffolding social skills with social coaching and praise during one-on-one playtimes, children are learning positive play social interactions.

There is a wide range of developmental variation in the development of children’s social skills. Most toddlers and some preschoolers engage in what is called parallel play. Parallel play is when children may be playing next to another child but are totally involved in their own exploration and discovery process and rarely, if ever, initiate interaction or seem unaware of the child sitting next to them. As they develop, children begin to be interested in other children but lack the social skills to initiate and sustain these interactions on their own. At ages 4 to 5 years, children progress to some sustained interactions with peers but still need coaching to maintain these interactions in a positive way and to solve interpersonal peer issues during the play.

Attentive Parenting® Program 4: Social Coaching – Introductory Narration

Peer Social Coaching

For children who have moved beyond parallel play to peer interactions, parents can use social coaching with two or more chil­dren playing together. This time the parent prompts, models, and describes the social skills that are occurring among the children, for example, commenting on times the children share, wait, take turns, say thank you, help each other, ask before grabbing a toy, and give a friendly suggestion. They also encourage interactions among children by providing words for a child to use to ask for something he or she wants, or praising a child who is waiting patiently when another child is not ready to share, or prompting a child to praise another child. Individual or peer social coaching strengthens children’s friendships and makes it clear what the desired social skills are. However, it is important to assess children’s developmental readiness for social play with peers. Children who are primarily engaged in parallel play and do not initiate play with peers or seem interested in peers will benefit from individual practice with an adult before entering into situations with a peer. Then, when they do play with peers, scaffolding by adults will help them to be successful. Children who are interested and motivated to play with other children but who lack the impulse control or skill to do so successfully also will benefit from individual coaching because an adult can patiently help a child to practice and fine-tune social skills. Then, when playing with peers, the adult can continue to prompt and praise social behaviors as they happen. For example, a parent might say, “You shared with Mary. That was so friendly! Look at how happy your friend seems now.” Helping children make the connection between their positive social behavior and another child’s feelings is important for them in developing empathy, as well as peer relationships.

Teaching Children to Problem Solve Through Play Interactions

As children move from toddlerhood to the preschool and early school­ age years, parents can use emotion and social coaching during play to help children learn how to express their feelings and use calm-down self-regulation strategies, and to practice appro­priate social behaviors, such as sharing, waiting, helping, and taking turns. These are the bedrock cognitive and behavioral skills children need to begin learning to solve problems. During the preoperational stage of cognitive development (ages 4-6 years), when children’s imaginary play is exploding, parents can use puppet play and pretend scenarios during play interactions to teach children problem-solving strategies for managing conflicts through a five-step process.

The first step is to help them define and recognize a problem by having a puppet present children with a common childhood problem (e.g., being teased) that is signaled by an uncomfortable feeling. Then children are asked to help the puppet come up with a solution to the problem by showing what the solution looks like (e.g., staying calm and ignoring). Next, the children are asked to help the puppet think of other solutions in case the first solution does not work. Each time, the children demonstrate and practice one of these solutions with the puppet. As children move into the operational stage of cognitive development, they eventually are able to learn the fourth and fifth problem-solving steps of evaluating solutions and choosing the best solution. All of this problem-solving learning takes place in fun, imaginary, creative, and playful situations so that children can learn the language and emotional self-regulation behaviors before they are encouraged to use this approach in the midst of real-life conflict.

Attentive Parenting® Program 6: Using Puppet to Teach Problem-Solving Steps

Read IY Program Developer Carolyn Webster-Stratton’s chapter on play and coaching, The Incredible Years: Use of Play Interventions and Coaching for Children with Externalizing Difficulties.

Learn more about the Attentive Parenting Program on our website!


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New report on IY Parent and Teacher Autism Program outcomes from New Zealand

On 17 May, 2021, The Ministry of Education and University of Canterbury presented an evaluation report on the implementation of the Incredible Years Parent and Teacher Autism Programs in New Zealand.

The evaluation team was interested in looking at how the IY Parent and Teacher Autism programs might lead to:
1) increased engagement, emotional regulation and communication skills of young children demonstrating behaviours associated with Autism (child outcomes);
2) increased wellbeing and coping skills of parents & caregivers enabling them to better support their child (caregiver outcomes);
3) increased teacher capability to help children demonstrating behaviours associated with Autism (teacher outcomes); and
4) longer term and unintended benefits for those involved and the wider communities (additional benefits).

The evaluation team collected both qualitative and quantitative data from program participants.

For participants who completed the Autism Parenting Program, the evaluation team found a significant reduction in reports of parental stress, improved feelings of confidence, competence, and wellbeing, and an improved home-school relationship.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It made me feel like that it wasn’t bad parenting… So I think for me as a mum I am more confident about what I am doing and therefore I am more relaxed about things” – parent

For teachers who completed the Teacher Autism program, the evaluation team found increased teacher confidence – teachers reported feeling confident about the skills they learned in the Teacher Autism program, in their ability to apply the strategies they learned, and increased frequency of use of these strategies. Further, teachers reported an increase in confidence in their knowledge of ASD.

“I feel like beforehand I didn’t understand this [ASD] child and I didn’t know how to teach these children. Now I feel quite confident that I have the knowledge and some strategies that I can try” – teacher

The evaluation team also looked at the outcomes for children whose parents, caregivers and teachers participated in the IY Autism Parent and Teacher programs. Their findings suggest that there is a positive benefit for children, including some increased child participation and engagement in activities at home and at school.

“He never used to join the mat times but now he is the first one to join everything” – teacher

In interviews with parents, caregivers and teachers, program participants reported an increase in child emotional regulation and communication.

The evaluation team found some additional “unintended” benefits to parents, caregivers and teachers. Parents reported:

  • Improved parental emotion regulation
  • Benefit of establishing social supports and relationships with other program participants
  • Improved understanding of their child, benefiting their relationship with their child, as well as with their spouse/partner
  • Ability to share what they learned with other members of their immediate and extended family

Teachers who completed the Teacher Autism program reported:

  • Increased communication and collaboration between home and school
  • Sharing information with colleagues
  • Increased knowledge of ASD
  • Ability to generalize skills learned in the IY Teacher Autism program to daily practice

Incredible Years would like to thank the Ministry of Education and IY Parent and Teacher Group Leaders in New Zealand for their commitment to implementing IY programs with fidelity through training, consultation and accreditation. These group leaders are the heart and soul of the success of IY program delivery because of their continual support and ability to tailor IY program principles to each child’s unique developmental needs.

Join IY Program Developer Carolyn Webster-Stratton for Autism Parent Group Leader Training!

Autism Parent Group Leader Online Tele-Session Training
Dates: June 8th, 10th, 15th, 22nd, & 24th 2021, 8:00am – 11:15am PST
Venue: Online (Zoom)
Led by: Carolyn Webster-Stratton, PhD
Cost: $775 per person
Contact: incredibleyears@incredibleyears.com
June 2021 Autism Parent Online Training Brochure & Registration Info


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Incredible Years® Programs – New and Emerging Research

New study is the first to evaluate the Incredible Years® Attentive Parenting program as a Universal Prevention Program for a Racially Diverse Population

Xiang Zhou, PhD, LP, Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology at Purdue University has recently published his evaluation on the Attentive Parenting program, Evaluating the Feasibility of the Incredible Years Attentive Parenting Program as Universal Prevention for Racially Diverse Populations – the first assessment conducted on the Attentive Parenting program.

In this study, 152 parents (88% mothers; 81% non-White) participated in the Attentive Parenting® Program. Parents in this study were found to have attended 71% of all sessions. Parents who completed the program reported a significant decrease in conduct problems and an increase in prosocial behaviors in their children.

We are excited about this study of the Attentive Parenting® Program because it looks at the impact of a shorter (6-9 session) video-based prevention program with a culturally diverse sample. With it’s updated vignettes and added content on teaching children self-regulation and problem-solving, agencies may consider the Attentive Parenting® program as another option for parent education with a prevention population.

Read Professor Xiang Zhou’s blog on this study here!

Trial of the Incredible Years® Autism Spectrum and Language Delays Program in Spain

Dr. Fátima Valencia, a clinical psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Gregorio Marañón University General Hospital in Madrid has announced a pilot study of the Incredible Years® Autism Parenting Program in Spain – the FIRST STEPS project.

She and her team are conducting a randomized pilot trial with the primary objective of assessing the feasibility of implementing The Incredible Years® ASDLD program in Spain. The aim is to determine the acceptability and satisfaction levels of parents and, as a secondary aim, to establish the preliminary efficacy in reducing parental stress and behavioral difficulties in children. The protocol for the pilot study, Protocol for a randomized pilot study (FIRST STEPS): implementation of the Incredible Years-ASLD® program in Spanish children with autism and preterm children with communication and/or socialization difficulties, has been published.

The FIRST STEPS Incredible Years® ASDLD intervention is being carried out in three Spanish public health hospitals, recruiting a total of 72 children diagnosed with ASD or preterm infants with subsequent language delay, randomized to the IY-ASD intervention arm or the usual treatment arm. This is intended as a first step in the generalization of the program within the public health network, as well as for future controlled studies demonstrating its efficacy. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the intervention is currently being delivered both in weekly online sessions over 6 months and in some cases a hybrid approach depending on the policy for the various communities. Dr. Valencia and her team have consulted with Dr. Webster-Stratton regarding implementing the Autism program with families online with fidelity to the program protocol.

To date, the FIRST STEPS project has finished the groups in the three sites, with very positive feedback from the families. They are in the post-group assessment stage and are hoping to start sharing the results of the trial soon.

New research evaluating the IY TCM program in Ireland

For more than ten years, psychologists from the Irish National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) have been collaborating with primary schools in their community and delivering the Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management program. Two new studies evaluating implementation of the IY TCM program in Ireland have recently been published.

The first, Exploring the impact of Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management training on teacher psychological outcomes, included 368 Irish primary school teachers, looking at the potential impact of classroom management training on teacher psychological outcomes. Their findings suggest that there are benefits to teachers’ wellbeing and feeling of self-efficacy from IY Teacher Classroom Management Training as teachers learn positive strategies to manage challenging student behaviors.

The second study, Sustained CPD as an effective approach in the delivery of the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management programme, considered the experiences of teachers receiving IY Teacher Classroom Management program training as part of their continuing professional development. The study found the TCM program to be an effective program for use in teacher continuing professional development. The study highlights the importance of teacher group leaders tailoring the program to the needs of the participants, using the collaborative model, and providing sustained support.

New Meta-Analysis of behavioral therapies for children with ADHD

A new meta-analysis of behavioral therapy programs for children with ADHD, has recently been published: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis: Behavioral Treatments for Children and Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

This meta-analysis of programs, including the Incredible Years®, finds that: Children with ADHD, who have severe symptoms of ADHD or behavioural problems, and children with ADHD from single-parent families, should be given priority when it comes to behavioural therapy. If these groups of children are not treated promptly, the problems facing them and those around them increase faster than they do for other groups of children with ADHD.

This meta-analysis was conducted by Annabeth Groenman, PhD, and a team of researchers in the Netherlands at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), VU University Amsterdam, and at KU Leuven, Belgium. Their data analysis allowed them to see which sub-groups responded best to behavioral therapy. The results of Groenman’s research have been published in the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Here is a summary of their findings:

Behavioural therapy reduces the symptoms of ADHD and tackles the behavioural problems facing children with ADHD. It also relieves the pressure on both them and those around them. However, this treatment is not equally effective for all children with ADHD. It is important to understand who responds well to behavioural therapy and who is less suitable for this treatment, so that target groups can be identified more accurately.

Researcher Annabeth Groenman headed a large-scale study that involved a staggering 33 researchers from around the world, who all shared their data about the effectiveness of their evidence-based programs with her. All of the data were used to generate one large dataset. Groenman then reviewed the effects of behavioural therapy on 2,200 children with ADHD below the age of 18. She analysed the effect on the symptoms of ADHD, on the behavioural problems and on the functional impairment that they experienced in their daily lives.

The research shows that behavioural therapy for children with ADHD can help them to control their attention problems, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and behavioural problems. It also reduces the extent to which the children and those around them experience functional impairment due to their behaviour. In addition, the researchers identified a number of sub-groups that respond differently to the treatment. Children with a behavioural disorder as well as ADHD seem to deteriorate while awaiting treatment. This is also true of children with more severe symptoms of ADHD or a behavioural disorder, and children from single-parent families.

The conclusion of this study is that behavioural therapy works. It would also seem that certain groups of children should be treated quickly to prevent them from deteriorating. This applies to children from single-parent families, and children with severe behavioural problems or serious symptoms of ADHD. Groenman would like to see this group of children being offered treatment immediately and not being placed on a waiting list. A prompt intervention with behavioural therapy can help to prevent further deterioration. 

Incredible Years® Seattle applauds this team of researchers in the Netherlands for compiling all this data from multiple studies addressing treatment for children with ADHD and assessing the impact of intervention for those at greatest risk.

In Finland, ongoing RCT evaluation of the Incredible Years® Preschool Basic Parenting Program plus the IY Home Coaching Program for families receiving special services

Piia Karjalainen has completed several RCTs evaluating the implementation of the Incredible Years® Preschool Basic group-based parenting program plus the IY Home Coaching program with families in Finland who have been referred through Finnish CPS to receive special preventative services. In her first study, Group-based parenting program to improve parenting and children’s behavioral problems in families using special services: A randomized controlled trial in a real-life setting, published in 2019, she found that parent reported child problem behavior as well as clinical levels of behavioral problems decreased to a greater extent in the intervention group than in the control group. The intervention also increased positive parenting practices.

In a recently published follow-up sub-analysis, Parents’ perceptions of a group-based parenting programme in families with child protection and other family support services in a real-life setting, she looked at parents’ satisfaction and perceived usefulness of the Incredible Years® parenting program. Parents participating in this study received 19 Preschool Basic parent group meetings and four additional home visits using the IY Home Coaching Program. She found the Incredible Years® parenting program to be a good fit for parents involved with Child Protective Services – 74.2% of parents attended approximately half or more than half of the sessions, and parent satisfaction reports were positive – 85.7% of parents would recommend or strongly recommend the program to others. Additionally, she found the use of positive parenting practices increased in the whole intervention group (both CPS and non-CPS families).