An Exploratory Evaluation of a Community Interactive Training Programme for Parents of Children Aged Birth to Five.
Morgan, Geoffrey John Robert
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I need time to arrange publication of my research.
Background: Conduct problems (CPs), a persistent pattern of challenging, oppositional, defiant or aggressive behaviour are a significant concern to educators, families and other professionals. CPs in preschool children are related to poorer educational and social outcomes in addition to a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties. Although there is evidence for hereditary and temperamental influences, parental factors are widely considered to be significant in the development of CPs. Parents experiencing psychological or social distress are considered to be at risk for challenging behaviour in their children. Psychologists and other theorists have suggested several possible reasons for this association. Firstly, it is possible that parents in distress have difficulty managing stress and as a result use harsh, inconsistent or coercive approaches to parenting. Secondly, parents with children who have CPs may be low in parental self efficacy, a consistent belief in their capacity to parent, which leads them to parent ineffectively and inconsistently. A third possibility is that parents in distress struggle to form stable attachments with their children which can lead to later behavioural difficulties. Finally, it is possible that parent’s distress is influenced by external contextual factors which also influence children such as family or social conflict. Studies suggest that training programmes for the parents of preschool children are effective in reducing child behaviour problems. Training approaches are influenced by a combination of psychological theories including behaviourist, social-cognitive, attachment and ecosystemic approaches. There have been many quantitative evaluations supporting the use of parent training programmes (PTPs). However, there has been limited inquiry into the process of PTPs from the perspective of those who attend them. Aims: The first part of this study was designed to evaluate vulnerability factors related to conduct problems; parental self efficacy, stress and child behaviour problems over the course of a community parent training programme designed to help participants to understand and manage the behaviour of young children. The overall research aim was to evaluate the outcomes and process, using different methodologies to address several questions. A realist methodology was applied to evaluating: 1. was there an association between parental stress, parental self efficacy and child behaviour problems at the start of the programme consistent with the established theory? 2. Did the parents attending the course experience higher than expected levels of stress and child behaviour problems? 3. Did quantitative and qualitative data indicate that these vulnerability factors changed over the duration of the course? Finally, an interpretivist methodology was used to explore how parents of young children evaluated as at risk of challenging behaviour described the experience of learning in the programme. Methods: The study utilised a pragmatic approach to evaluation with mixed methods and differing methodologies. At the start of the programme, a cohort of 38 parents agreed to participate in the study prior to the programme and completed self report measures related to parental stress and parental self efficacy. Parents with concerns about the behaviour of a child aged over three also completed a questionnaire relating to child behaviour problems. Of the original cohort, 27 completed self report measures at the end of the programme. 17 parents completed the same measures at a follow up meeting at the Children’s Centre, five to six weeks after the programme was completed. At this meeting 16 parents were interviewed to discuss their experience of the programme and any subsequent changes which had occurred. Results The results of the first part of the evaluation suggested a significant relationship between parental self-efficacy and stress and between stress and child behaviour problems. However, there was no statistical association between self-efficacy and child behaviour problems, as expected. This tentatively indicates that parental self-efficacy is less important in the development of child behaviour problems than has been previously suggested. The analysis of stress data at the start of the programme indicated that the frequency of parents reporting moderate to extremely severe stress was 4.42 times that which would be expected in a typical British cohort. At the start of the programme, frequency of child behaviour problems in the cohort were 5.9 times higher with conduct problems being 9 times what would be expected based on British norms. This suggests that the programme is being accessed by parents whose children are evidencing behaviour problems and, in particular, conduct problems. However, methodological issues are likely to have led to a slight overestimate of relative prevalence of child CPs in the cohort. Results indicated that parents reported significantly increased self efficacy, significantly reduced stress and child behaviour problems, including conduct problems, between the start and end of the programme. Thematic analysis and subsequent content analysis of outcome themes from interviews suggested that the majority of parents interviewed identified changes in parenting behaviour, knowledge, confidence, reduced stress and improved child behaviour as outcomes from the programme. However, changes in the quantitative data were not observed as frequently, reliably or to the same extent in the interview subgroup as they were in the main cohort, suggesting a sampling bias or a discrepancy in findings between methods. The self report data and interviews for all interviewees were then reviewed and interviews with six parents evaluated as having moderate to high stress, social or psychological difficulties and possible child behaviour problems were sampled. These were then re-analysed using a rigorous inductive approach to Thematic Analysis to identify emergent themes relating to the experience of participating and learning through the programme. Six themes emerged from analysis including; Understanding Difficulties, Identifying and Connecting, New Knowledge, Stopping and Thinking, Approach and Interaction and Reconstructing. The Understanding Difficulties theme described the different ways in which parents understood of their difficulties relating to themselves, their children and others which motivated them to attend the programme. The Identifying and Connecting theme described the importance to parents of personal identification with several aspects of the programme in terms of “being understood” in addition to identifying connections with established support, learning objectives and personal development goals. New Knowledge was categorised into three sub-themes of theoretical, practical and contextual. Contextual knowledge was constructed as understanding the experience of other parents, for example, identifying that other parents had similar difficulties. Theoretical knowledge about child behaviour and development encouraged parents to “stop and think” about the reasons for their children’s behaviour. Practical knowledge was constructed as parenting strategies which, when used, helped parents to feel more confident in themselves, more relaxed and more in control. The Stopping and Thinking theme described parents withholding action and considering the motivations for their children’s behaviour or the best approach to interacting with them. Approach and Interaction described changes to the way parents interacted with their children. The parents in question described changed or reconstructed understandings of their children, themselves and their difficulties as a result of participating in the programme. The theoretical implications of analysing the learning experience are that it highlights the importance of personal identification with the course objectives and experience. Moreover, results confirm previous authors’ conclusions that individual reflection and new understandings are important aspects of parental learning. Implications for practice with vulnerable parents include the importance of programmes being appropriately supported, relevant to parent’s needs and delivered in an appropriate context or through services with which they have established connections. The use by practitioners of approaches to support reflective parenting may also be helpful in supporting better outcomes for parents considered at risk for child behavioural difficulties.
DEdPsy in Educational, Child and Community Psychology