Empowering parents by teaching positive parenting techniques – Norway

WHO/Malin Bring

“Parenting is probably one of the hardest jobs an adult will undertake,” notes Dr Carolyn Webster-Stratton, founder of The Incredible Years programme, “but probably also the one for which the least amount of training and preparation is provided.”

Parenting can be an emotional rollercoaster: many parents feel anxiety over their child’s vulnerability, anger when they refuse to cooperate, guilt when they struggle, a sense of loss as they grow up. This can be hard to regulate, especially when children have behavioural issues.

Studies show that children with challenging behaviour are at a higher risk of experiencing maltreatment – especially in terms of neglect and emotional abuse. In many cases, this maltreatment is unpremeditated and results from high stress levels.

Parenting programmes such as The Incredible Years are one of most effective ways to prevent unpremeditated maltreatment. These programmes promote positive parenting – a parenting strategy that encourages mutual respect, creativity, realistic expectations and self-care as a parent.

While parents must be confident and ready for inevitable problems and conflicts, there is always room for what Dr Webster-Stratton calls “flexibility, whimsy and creativity”. She continues, “There is no magic blueprint or pat formula for parenting.”

The teachings of The Incredible Years programme have proven results. In a 2001–2004 study in Norway, the programme found a statistically significant reduction in child aggression and other behavioural problems, as well as a statistically significant increase in the application of positive parenting strategies.

Mr Bjørn Brunborg, Head of Implementation of The Incredible Years in Norway, notes, “Parents participating in the programme feel empowered, less stressed and more able to manage their child’s behaviour. After completing the programme, parents express their gratitude for the opportunity.”

Norway has subsequently scaled up The Incredible Years to become a national programme available to parents of children aged 4–8 years who have behavioural issues. Mr Brunborg explains, “Implementation has been successful for 3 reasons: long-term government support, the clear national provider at the Norwegian Regional Centres for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare, and the European network of The Incredible Years.”

Nationwide implementation is challenging but important, as it ensures that as many parents as possible have access to the training and information they require to be positive parents. Norway has set an example to the rest of the WHO European Region of how to tackle child maltreatment.