Incredible Years: News

Ireland Goes Boldly on to the Mountain

A decade ago parenting programs were not in fashion. It was commonplace to talk about the effects of family breakdown or the problems of single mothers, but relatively few people were paying much serious attention to what parents did or to how parenting behaviors could be changed with children’s health and development in mind. Not so today: many jurisdictions are awash with programs, most of them of doubtful value.

The Incredible Years is a case apart. It was developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton twenty years before most of today?s plethora of programs were dreamed up, and it is now among the most successful and widely applied in the world.

The Incredible Years is often represented as a construction of eight building blocks. At the base are five modules designed for children at successive stages of development ? infancy, preschool, early years and the first years of formal education. At the next level are two more that involve children directly and seek to improve their social, emotional and cognitive competencies. The eighth block is focused on teachers, providing skills to manage difficult behavior and a curriculum that encourages emotional self-regulation.

The catalyst for this week?s series of articles on The Incredible Years is a conference today in Dublin when the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews TD, launches the implementation and rigorous evaluation of Carolyn Webster-Stratton’s program in the Republic of Ireland as part of a broader commitment to prevention and early intervention. The initiative is being led by Margaret Maher, Director of a new NGO called Archways that has been set up to shelter The Incredible Years in Ireland.

Keynote speaker Judy Hutchings almost single-handedly showed the UK Government how its flagship prevention program Sure Start ? floundering elsewhere ? could be made successful. She put The Incredible Years, already a proven model, at the heart of Sure Start in Wales. She then led an experimental evaluation that demonstrated impact on children’s health and development.

After covering her contribution tomorrow, on Wednesday we profile the program?s originator Carolyn Webster-Stratton. On Thursday we turn to an experiment led by Stephen Scott, Director of Research at the new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners in London. Before spearheading this new initiative Scott led an experimental evaluation of The Incredible Years in four London mental health services. He found it had clear benefits and that it cost no more than conventional and unproven interventions to run.

The week is rounded off by a conversation between Carolyn Webster-Stratton and Judy Hutchings about the future of The Incredible Years in particular and parenting programs in general. Huge steps forward have been made in the last few years but they have depended on the guile, determination and rigor of pioneers in the handful of countries that take prevention seriously.

The challenge moving forward is twofold. For all the success of The Incredible Years and the only other proven parenting model, Triple-P, most policy makers and practitioners have yet to get to base camp when thinking about improving parenting.

At the the bottom of the mountain is a stony cutter of parenting interventions, all of them unproven. Some are stray fragments The Incredible Years and Triple-P thrown together. In the worst cases they owe nothing at all to the years of work of Webster-Stratton or pioneers in the field such as Albert Bandura and Jerry Patterson.

Base camp is the place for the rigorous implementation and evaluation of proven models like The Incredible Years and Triple-P. It should be possible to share ideas here and openly disseminate the results.

Further up the mountain there is much uncharted territory. How do we make parenting programs as routinely valuable and unobtrusive as ante natal services? How do we help parents encourage desirable behavior while responding sensitively to their children?s needs? Such is the focus of all the stories in Prevention Action this week.

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Kindergartners Gladly Accept Puppet’s Guidance

Wally is a celebrity among kindergartners at Ben Franklin Elementary School. When he shows his tan-fabric face and brown, curly, yarn hair, kids call out to him and come running to give him a hug or a high five.

Yes, Wally is a puppet, but a beloved puppet, who, with the help of Patti Miller from Olmsted County Child and Family Services, helps teach kids social/emotional behavior skills.

Using Wally, other puppets, music and pictures, Miller and DeeDee Weidman, of Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center, are teaching Franklin kindergartners the Incredible Years curriculum. Through the curriculum, the kids learn how to deal with their emotions and find solutions to problems, said Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, the school’s principal.

In Stephanie Sirek’s class on Friday, 19 5- and-6-year-olds sat cross-legged in a circle on a rug, with their eyes on Miller and Wally. Miller had just asked the students to “show me five,” which, basically, means quiet down and pay attention. /p>

They did.

Miller sat on the rug with the kids, holding the puppet and making his mouth and left arm move. She’s not a ventriloquist, but no matter — the kids intently watched Wally, not her.

“They think he’s real, but they think he’s a real puppet,” Miller said with a smile.

Wally talked to the kids about what to do when they have a conflict with another child. Some of the many solutions included: Use your words, share, and ask a parent or teacher to help.

Griffin-Ziebart hopes to expand the program through grade three if funding can be found.

“It really gives kids very consistent messages about how they can use their social/emotional behavior skills in the best way possible,” she said.

Why is it important? For one, 57 percent of Franklin’s kindergartners assessed last fall were considered academically at-risk, Griffin-Ziebart said, and Incredible Years helps them get ready to learn.

Sirek said she and the other Franklin teachers love Incredible Years.

“It’s totally changed the way we teach kindergarten,” Sirek said. “We’ve always been on the same page when it comes to curriculum, and now we’re on the same page for social skills. We have the same language.”

Sirek is spending a lot less time dealing with misbehavior and a lot more time focusing on positive reinforcement — that’s “catching them being good,” she said.

Incredible Years came to Franklin by way of a $38,000 grant from the Rochester Area Foundation’s First Steps program. The county and school district also have pitched in for staffing and training.

More than 20 Franklin staff members are now trained in Incredible Years, and 15 students’ families are participating in a 12-week class so they can reinforce the skills at home, Griffin-Ziebart said.

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She understands the kids who bring their parents to their knees – Early intervention is key in stopping aggressive behavior

Carolyn Webster-Stratton adores and understands kids who throw things, bite, kick, refuse to obey every request or command and who rarely get invited to birthday parties. Kids who are asked to leave preschools and, if they are invited to a play date, are never asked again.

And through every encounter Webster-Stratton appears as a woman wrapped in calm, a calm that puts visitors at ease the minute she enters a room.

Carolyn Webster-Stratton, whose work focuses on helping children ages 3 to 8, uses the puppets shown in her University District office to interact during therapy sessions. Her office is a dinosaur haven and her windowsills overflow with stuffed animals and a multiracial classroom of puppets, some of them in sizes and shapes similar to her clients. Children talk to the puppets, and this clinical psychologist listens.

Webster-Stratton is an ally of children who bring parents to their knees — children with conduct problems, a generic term for children who are highly oppositional, defiant, aggressive. These disruptive disorders affect about 8 percent of the population.

“That’s a lot of kids, and services for these children are few and far between,” she said. “Aggressive behavior is an important risk factor related to later violence.”

That’s why she’s focused on children ages 3 to 8, a key time to break the trajectory. Without early intervention, these children are at risk of getting kicked out of schools, living with anti-social behaviors, abusing drugs and alcohol and eventually facing criminal charges as they age.

She’s shown that these children can be helped, and dreams of the day when parents and educators are as attuned to developing emotional skills as academic skills.

“All kids yell, hit, bite, scream,” Webster-Stratton said of her subjects. “These kids do it at a greater frequency and intensity.” Most children are aggressive at 2 and 3, but that aggression decelerates at 4 or 5.

“A typical 5-year-old will disobey about one-third of the time, but do what is asked two-thirds of the time,” she said. “Children with defiance or conduct disorders refuse most of the time. Unless they obey, they can’t be socialized or taught.

“Highly aggressive children tend to stay that way throughout life unless they are helped. Both parents and teachers need to be involved in promoting social skills and replacing aggressive behavior.”

That means learning how to share, follow directions and use words to ask for what they want, for example.

Webster-Stratton said society, unfairly, tends to blame parents for kids with misbehavior issues: “The biology a child gets isn’t something they can do anything about.”

She cites three factors affecting a child with conduct problems: biology, family and school.

Biologically, a child’s “wiring” could be off, making him difficult to deal with. He might have additional issues such as an attention deficit disorder.

Family factors include neglect, high stress, poverty, harsh punishments and abuse.

Schools can add a high student-to-teacher ratio, not enough help, a teacher who isn’t tuned in to these disorders.

A combination of these risk factors can be overwhelming for an affected child.

Webster-Stratton has spent more than 30 years working to break that cycle. She’s worked with children, their families and teachers. She’s researched, developed and published curricula, books and videotapes — programs that are now used in countries throughout the world.

And she’s been at it long enough to track the results, which are impressive. On a three-year follow-up, more than two-thirds of the children were in the normal range on standardized measures completed by teachers and parents.

In the late 1970s this UW psychologist and professor began a parenting program with middle-class families, teaching them how to bring out the best in their kids and to deal with common behavior problems. But when she tried to publish it, editors said, “Who cares about the middle class?”

“It led me to take the program to lower-income families, often single-parent families with a child,” Webster-Stratton said. “That’s what hooked me on this population.”

She taught classes at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center to highly motivated parents who made huge efforts (as in several bus transfers) to learn ways to deal with their children.

Those classes led to programs for children, parents and teachers — prevention programs usually focused on schools with high rates of children in free-lunch programs. Teachers have been trained to deal with behavior and to offer a social and emotional curriculum. Parents are often offered classes in the schools their children attend, parenting classes open to all.

Webster-Stratton’s years in the field and follow-up studies have proved that an increase in social competence decreases aggressive behavior.

John Bancroft, director of Head Start for Puget Sound, has known Webster-Stratton and her work for a long time. She worked with him in a Head Start program for three years in the early 1990s.

“I liked her involvement of parents,” Bancroft said. “She was willing and eager to train parents to train other parents. There’s no professional aloofness. I would say it was one of the most successful parent education programs we’ve done in Head Start.”

Another mark of her success was having 70 percent to 80 percent of parents participate. “That was unheard of,” Bancroft said.

It was information to help all parents, not just parents of challenging children.

Webster-Stratton’s dream is for social and emotional curriculums to be regarded as being as important as reading or math. “You can’t separate them,” she said. “Better social/emotional skills (lead to) better academic outcomes.”

She also noted that we can take courses in almost any subject, but courses in parenting are rare. “We should ‘immunize’ parents to be the best parents they can be,” Webster-Stratton said.

She speaks from professional and personal experiences. A native of Canada, she has a nursing degree from University of Toronto, two master’s degrees from Yale — one in public health and another as pediatric nurse practitioner, and a doctorate in educational psychology from the UW.

After working with children for years, she had two sons, now 20 and 22. Did motherhood cause her to rethink any of her programs?

The question made her laugh. She said that’s when she developed her Advanced Parenting Program focusing on anger and depression management, problem solving, communication skills and giving and getting support.

PARENTING TIPS

Social skills are as important as numbers and the alphabet for preschoolers.

If parents feel they’ve lost control with their child, they should seek help.

Teachers are good at spotting problems because they have more perspective.

Parents can get away with some “slop” in their parenting skills with typical kids, but not with those with conduct problems.

Children with conduct disorders can be so inattentive they miss both praise and commands.

Attention is a powerful reward. It works when teachers ignore kids who are out of their seats and praise those who stay seated, for example.

Don’t reinforce misbehavior.

Develop a meaningful relationship with your child and partner with your child’s teacher.
— Source: Carolyn Webster-Stratton

TO LEARN MORE

To learn more about Webster-Stratton, her programs and books, go to incredibleyears.com

Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle offers parenting classes and other programs. Call the hot line: 206-987-2500.

The University of Washington Parenting Clinic is accepting families of children 4 to 6 years of age with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. For information, call 206-543-6010

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Show, Not Tell

A decade ago parenting programs were not in fashion. It was commonplace to talk about the effects of family breakdown or the problems of single mothers, but relatively few people were paying much serious attention to what parents did or to how parenting behaviors could be changed with children’s health and development in mind. Not so today: many jurisdictions are awash with programs, most of them of doubtful value.

After spending two years practicing among the Haida and Tlingit Indians of Alaska, Carolyn Webster-Stratton came to the conclusion that showing parents how to play with their children was more effective than telling them how to do it. When sl1e arrived at the University of Washington in 1976 to teach in the nurse practitioner program, she began the process of videotaping families to show them what worked with their children and what didn’t. Today, Webster-Stratton is a professor of nursing at the University of Washington where, in 1980, she con1pleted her doctoral dissertation in educational psychology on the effectiveness of videotape modeling parental education as a therapeutic tool.

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