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Resources > TopicsParenting > Improving Outcomes for Children

Best evidence that improving parenting improves children’s outcomes


The most believable results of intervention studies for improving children’s life trajectories come from randomized control trials. Such trials have rigorous methodologies that allow us to understand the cause of change in children’s outcomes. There have been a large number of randomized controlled trials of parenting programs and we briefly summarize this work below and suggest where you can read more about it.

Olds and colleagues (2007) recently reviewed a large number of randomized controlled trials for infants and toddlers. Some of these involved visits with mothers before the babies were born (including interventions on diet, smoking etc.), while others started after the babies were born. From this extensive review of randomized trials they conclude “Evidence is accumulating….that some programs delivered by professionals, especially nurse home visiting programs for pregnant women and parents of young children, produce replicable effects on children’s health and development, and that these programs can be reliably reproduced with different populations living in a variety of community settings”. p 355.

Several parenting interventions have been shown to be effective for preschool and school aged children. For instance Triple P is a parenting program that has been carried out in countries across the world. The program involves interventions at the population level to educate families about parenting but also has targeted elements in which parents who are having difficulties parenting can receive parent management training. Incredible years is another program, carried out across the world, that has been shown to improve the behavioral problems of young children. Although it includes a parent management component, it also involves training components for teachers and social skills programs for children.

Behavioral problems in children (including impulsivity, hyperactivity and aggression) co-occur in childhood with academic difficulties (for instance poor reading skills). As a consequence investigators in the United Kingdom put the Incredible Years Program together with a literacy training program and carried out a randomized controlled trial to examine effects on children’s behavior and their reading. The program was carried out in primary schools over one year and included groups for parents of children showing behavioral problems that focused on parent management (12 weeks), how to encourage and shape reading skills (10 weeks) and the two interventions combined (6 weeks). The results of the program showed that effect sizes (the measure of the strength of the intervention effect) were moderate to large for parenting, child behavior and literacy. You can read more about this program in Scott et al., 2010.

Recommended Reading

The incredible years. Parents, teachers and children training series

Olds, DL, Sadler, L and Kitzman, H. (2007) Programs for parents of infants and toddlers:
recent evidence from randomized trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 355-391.

Scott, S. Sylva, K et al. 2010 Randomised controlled trial of parent groups
for child antisocial behaviour targeting multiple risk factors: the SPOKES project. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51:1 (2010), pp 48–57

Sylva, K., Scott, S., Totsika, V., Ereky-Stevens, A., & Crook, C. (2008). Training parents to help their children read: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 435–455.

Triple P: Positive parenting program website

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