Whether aspects of parenting are less or more difficult to change might depend on the context in which parents are expected to apply newly learned behaviors. We hypothesize that it is easier to facilitate parents to learn behaviors that they can use in response to either positive or neutral child behavior (e.g., praise), than to “unlearn” behaviors they may resort to when they feel stressed (e.g., harshness), and to replace them by other behaviors (e.g., appropriate disciplining). More insight into whether this is the case could help us understand why parenting programs seem less effective to prevent child maltreatment, than to prevent other outcomes--child maltreatment typically occurs in situations that are stressful for parents, for example when children show challenging behavior.
Methods: We capitalize on decades of prevention research on parenting programs to test whether these programs yield larger effects on parenting practices that parents use in response to positive or neutral child behavior, than on parenting practices that parents use in response to challenging child behavior. Based on an earlier systematic literature review (until January 2015), we identified 23 eligible randomized trials (149 effect sizes), and will extend and update this search in November 2018.
Results: Preliminary findings suggest that parenting programs indeed seem to yield larger effects on parenting practices that parents use in response to positive or neutral child behavior (Cohen’s d = 0.76), than on parenting practices that parents use in response to challenging child behavior (Cohen’s d = 0.59). However, this difference was not significant in this preliminary subset of trials (p = .174).
Conclusion: In addition to replicating these findings in the full meta-analytic dataset, we will identify program characteristics (e.g., program intensity) associated with stronger program effects on parenting practices in response to challenging child behavior.
Our findings will inform future research and intervention development on facilitating parents to replace harsh and violent parenting practices for nonviolent discipline strategies – contributing to the prevention of child maltreatment.