Barbara Janta and Lynn Davies / May 2019
Many countries in Europe will be celebrating Children’s Day on June 1, an opportunity to increase awareness of the rights, care and education of children. For parents, it can also be a time to reflect on how parenting skills can affect children’s development. For parents, knowing whether they are raising their children the ‘right’ way can feel like an impossible task. Parenting norms differ across nations and cultures, and there is an over-abundance of information on different parenting approaches from manuals, television shows, and online influencers. Yet, while there is indeed no way to be a perfect parent, there are a range of proven parenting strategies that parents and caregivers can adopt to ensure that their children feel safe, loved, and able to fulfil their potential.
A recent policy memo on Positive Parenting Interventions, developed as part of the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) project, explains the unique contribution that parenting interventions can make to child and family welfare. These evidence-based interventions are designed to empower parents and caregivers with positive parenting techniques for the promotion of children’s health and well-being.
Research studies clearly indicate that parenting is one of the strongest determinants of a child’s future development. Positive parenting strategies and strong parent-child relationships have been found not only to promote positive development and adjustment in children, but also to make children more resilient to the harm caused by a range of negative experiences including bullying, and witnessing domestic violence. In contrast, harsh, inconsistent, and abusive parenting styles are associated with a variety of negative child outcomes.
Parenting interventions have existed since the 1970s and new programmes are continuously emerging. The memo summarises different types of interventions and provides a checklist of questions to consider. These questions can help to determine whether the programme selected is the best one available to fulfil the specific family’s needs. The memo also provides a detailed overview of the positive parenting interventions that have been recorded and critically appraised in EPIC’s evidence-based practices database. This includes information on the outcomes targeted, the age range of the children, the availability of the intervention materials, the EU countries where the programme has been evaluated, and how effective the programme is.
Parents can access parenting programmes in several ways. For instance, by being referred to take part in a specific intervention, by self-referring, signing up to online programmes, or participating in programmes run in educational settings.
These programmes offer support largely practical and psychological in nature, and are generally used to improve children’s cognitive and language development, to prevent or reduce child mental health problems and problem behaviours, and to combat harsh parenting and child maltreatment. One example is the Incredible Years programme that has been found to be successful in a number of EU countries, including Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.
Evidence-based parenting interventions most often target families with severe parenting deficits or significant socioeconomic vulnerabilities. However, these programmes also have the potential to benefit a much broader range of families who feel like they need additional guidance and support. As a healthy childhood is the bedrock of a healthy society, ensuring that children have a chance to develop their full potential and, at the same time, be protected from the potentially lifelong consequences of adversity, is therefore of critical importance. Although policy-level efforts may contribute to stable home environments, for example by alleviating the threat of poverty and enabling parents to reconcile work and family life, healthy child development is not necessarily guaranteed through policy-level efforts alone.
Parenting programmes can make a unique and indispensable contribution to child well-being, and ultimately give children the resilience to thrive even in challenging circumstances. Children’s Day on June 1 is a great time to celebrate childhood and raise awareness that every parent can be a better parent.