Webster-Stratton, C. (2018). Using the Incredible Years Parent Program to Help Parents Promote Children’s Healthy Life Style and Well-Being (Unpublished paper). Incredible Years, Inc., Seattle, WA.
It is well established that parents have a critical influence on the development of positive health habits and childhood development (Golan, 2006). Parents influence the food and physical activities of their children through their own modeling of eating behavior and physical activities, attitudes, parenting styles, and child feeding practices (Birch & Davison, 2001; Moore et al., 1991). Adverse family experiences (AFEs) such as those stressors experienced by refugee families and those living in poverty can negatively impact parenting around feeding and development of healthy life habits (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012). However, despite the large number of evidence-based parenting programs available, very few have measured their outcomes in terms of promoting children’s life style changes such as healthy eating patterns, or increased physical activity, or assessed whether these improvements in parenting stress and more positive parenting lead to a reduction in childhood obesity, malnutrition or improvements in physical health, academic potential and overall well-being.
The IY programs were not developed to be exclusively focused on obesity prevention, nutrition or the importance of exercise, or healthy life style habits. Instead they were designed to be led in a multi-cultural, collaborative way, with group leaders taking cues from parents about their goals for themselves and their children. Parents come to the groups with a variety of goals for themselves and their children, and there are many etiologies for children’s behavior problems including temperament, ADHD or other developmental delays, parenting styles, and traumatic or stressful live events or environments. Discussions in the parenting groups often focus on children’s challenging temperaments or traumatic life experiences and how parents can help their children communicate about their feelings and problems as well as how to manage parental emotions and affect, improve their communication and listening skills, and build their family support systems (Webster-Stratton, 2017). When parents bring up concerns about eating habits and health or physical exercise issues, then there are many possibilities for the IY group leader to facilitate discussion of parent strategies to promote children’s healthy behavior habits. However, given the serious problem of malnutrition and obesity in youth today, it seems prudent for IY group leaders to be proactive about bringing up these discussions on healthy eating habits and life styles and weave them through the IY parenting sessions, whether or not families have identified nutrition or health care habits as their primary problem. Moreover, improvements in healthy eating and exercise can also contribute to positive mental health and a reduction of behavior problems.