Program Report: Incredible Years Parenting Program

Chie Takano Reeveschiet_crop
JSS Community Outreach Worker

Between January and June 2016, Incredible Years (IY), a 14-week parenting program, was co-provided by JSS and Toronto Public Health (TPH), targeting Japanese-speaking mothers with children 2-6 years of age.  Ikebata Nursery School generously provided the program spaces.

IY is a program with scientifically proven effectiveness, developed by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton (Ph.D) in Seattle, U.S., based on various developmental theories such as cognitive social learning theory, modelling and self-efficacy, and developmental interactive learning methods.  The program has been delivered in 20 countries including Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden, and Russia. (from The Incredible Years Parent, Teacher and Child Programs: Overview of Program Details, 2013)

The short-term goal of the program is to build positive parent-child relationship, prevent or treat behavioural problems, and support and encourage the child to acquire social, emotional, and academic skills before becoming an adult.  Each session is precisely designed for parents to acquire skills that consist of (1) learning positive parenting skills from the facilitators and videos, (2) practicing through activities (e.g. role play), and (3) trying it out at home then sharing the results with the group following week.  In the long term, the aim is “prevention of conduct disorders, academic underachievement, delinquency, violence and drug abuse” (from The Incredible Years Parent, Teacher and Child Programs: Fact Sheet, 2013).

In the sessions at JSS, two trained, accredited IY facilitators – a JSS social worker (myself) and an English speaking TPH nurse with an interpreter – led the group for the first time in Japanese in Canada.  Regretfully, this was the last IY term because TPH made a decision to terminate the contract with the IY developer in U.S.  In this article, I would like to deliver the parenting message of IY, by reporting the program highlight as well as participants’ feedback.

Importance of Parent-Child Play Time

In the first few sessions of IY, the participants have to go through the homework of “playing with the child (without the parent doing anything else)” and applying various play techniques, to enhance child’s growth in social, emotional, academic skills as well as independency by effective attention giving.  Undoubtedly this can be a very difficult task for many of parents who have busy lives in this modern-era with other responsibilities (e.g. work, chores, study) other than parenting.  Our participants were the same; many said it seemed impossible to play with their child without doing chores at the same time, and moreover, to play by following the child’s lead.  However, they soon began noticing some change in their child’s behaviour after a few sessions.  Their whining, crying, or screaming will gradually decrease with plenty of proper playtimes and correct usage of praising. This happens because the child realizes that the parent constantly spends time with them and cares for their feelings.  As the child’s security and trust toward the parent grows, the child does not have to earn the parent’s attention with those behaviours that quickly catch the parent’s eyes.   Thus the building positive parent-child relationships will begin.

Importance of Praise

In IY, parents are strongly encouraged to praise the child by specifically pointing out the good that the child did.  I often hear people say, “Canadian children are praised too much,” and I myself grew up with my parents telling me all the time, “It is nothing special to be able to do something” – meaning, whatever I do does not deserve praising.  Some of the IY participants also shared that number of being criticized by parents were much more than being praised.  Indeed a child can grow up without being praised.  Praising means acknowledging and celebrating that you did the right thing, and it gives a child a clear impression on what they did right.  It builds self-confidence in them by repeatedly earning the praise. Even when they could not achieve something, if they are praised for their effort, they learn that it is a good thing to put in effort, as well as the feeling of fulfillment or accomplishment.

More importantly, this provides a sense of trust in the child that the parent is watching out for him or her. They recognize their efforts instead of simply leaving it as “nothing special.”  It always amazes me how sensitive children are about how their parents feel about them.  The parent can often be the world to the child at this age and praise can be the best reward they ever need.  The child may doubt that the parent is interested in him/her and lose the desire to do their best. This is because they don’t get praised for their efforts, and don’t see the point.  It is natural for such a child to seek parental attention by any means possible.  In the end, the child learns what behaviour gets parental attention (literally any types of attention, including both praising and scolding), and they repeat this behaviour.  Therefore, it is very important to praise any good behaviour your child shows. This includes any small thing such as being quiet on the bus for 5 minutes, or playing among siblings for 30 minutes.  You may think these are “not special enough” to give praise. But by praising the child they learn what they did was right and the behaviour their parent wants to see more of.  So, ignore the ones you want to eliminate (unless it is dangerous), and praise your child by telling him/her what specifically they did right – “Thank you for sitting quietly in the bus,” “You both are doing great job playing together very nicely,” or “Thank you for walking next to mommy (in the public), you are helping me a lot!”

Building basics first ~ Parenting Pyramid

A child may be surprised or confused by their parent’s new approach at the beginning, but once the parent becomes used to giving proper attention including praising, each formula of “X causes Y” starts accumulating in the child’s mind.  The parent following through with these formulae can also build trust and security in a child towards their parent.  However, it confuses the child when the parent does not follow through, such as breaking the limit they set or co-parents having different approaches.  “Consistency” is one of the most important keys in parenting.Chie_parenting pyramid

In IY, once the basic part of the positive parent-child relationship is developed, the participants learn highly-skilled techniques such as “limit setting,” “ignoring,” and “time out (to calm down),” which often causes resistance from child when applied first the few times.  This is the Parenting Pyramid, the frame IY uses.  In the illustration, the parenting techniques are shown in yellow, and child acquires the skills on the side of the pyramid as the parent tries these techniques. The frequency of the techniques is the same as the shape of pyramid.  Often the parent wants to master the top 3 rows without obtaining the bottom 2 rows.  It is the same as the pyramid that does not stand when it is flipped upside down.  Without securing the fundamental attachment and trust between child and parent even if you meant to “ignore” your child’s problematic behavior, only the child may feel that she/he, as a whole human being, was ignored.  It would not help in building a positive parent-child relationship.

Importance of Self-care

Another big message the program delivers is self-care.  Parents are just human beings and sometimes one person can only do so much.  You have to take care of yourself by also being praised or asking for help when you need it.

In my experience with parent support groups in JSS, I have encountered many parents telling me that they can’t ask for praise since they are not children.  Many also believe that child-rearing and home chores are their responsibility just because their partner is the provider or they are women.  They do everything they can, and blame themselves for “not doing enough.”  It will eventually break them.

Parenting is not straightforward, and every child has a different temperament.  The things you read in books or learn in various parenting workshops may not work well or it may take a very long time to feel its effectiveness. Besides, a child’s brain takes much longer time to learn things than an adult’s.  The frustration and feeling of guilt in regard to the child and other family members will pile up as burdensome stress, and it can become like walls that surround you.  Remember, a child senses how their parent might be feeling.  Your child may be protective towards you, or may think you don’t like them.  When the child sees the parent blaming him/herself, the child learns to blame him/herself.  When the child sees the parent asking for help, the child will become able to ask for help.  You hear this often when you board a plane, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then put it on your child.”  It is very important that you as a parent are healthy and happy as much as possible, to take care of your child.

Akiko Yano, a famous Japanese singer songwriter sings, “Mom wants to be praised too.”  This is so true.  A parents can go forward by being acknowledged and praised for their effort, the same is true for a child. They try harder when they are praised and given attention.  No one praises you?  Tell them about the great thing you did.  If a child sees family members praising each other, it will become an opportunity for the child to learn the importance of recognizing and praising someone for their efforts.

Do not blame yourself if you still hesitate or find difficulty in praising your child or yourself.  It is natural to feel confused especially if there was not much praise around you when you grew up.  Still, please, try to praise even a bit as if you are tricked into it.  You’ve heard this phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” – You may feel awkward at first, but eventually you will reach the point where you feel comfortable using praise.  In IY program, the participants also brainstorm and practice the ideas about praising the parent themselves, giving themselves a reward, methods of handling their emotions (e.g. positive self-talk, positive actions and imaginings), and asking someone for help.  For example, telling yourself, “It’s okay, it won’t last forever,” or “I do this for my child,” can calm you down, as some of our participants suggested.  Other ideas such as “deep breathing before throwing out words that you will regret later,” and “taking yourself away from the situation, calm yourself down by distraction (e.g. relaxing thoughts), and come back to the child,” were also shared.  They later reported many times that these methods helped their emotions to calm down when their child’s behaviour really irritated them.

Through the final survey we conducted, the participants suggested that “praising, even if it is a simple daily matter,” “giving proper attention” and “respect the child’s self-determination” as being the most important thing they gained from this program.  Some also commented, “I feel good that I now know why some things I tried did not work,” or “I learned that parenting is a difficult job for anyone.”  Nobody’s perfect.  The fact that you are trying as much as you can, is the best gift and teaching for your child.

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As I wrote above, JSS and TPH will no longer offer IY.  JSS also separately had to make the decision to put certain programs that involved child-minding services on hold due to the system change to ensure safety. See LetterFromBoard-ServiceDisruption(Aug,2016)(pdf). JSS recognizes the importance and needs to provide opportunities for parents to talk about parenting as a whole or recognizing the differences between Canada and Japan, in Japanese.  Thus, we are working towards reviewing these corresponding policies, making appropriate changes and developing the proper training in order for us to keep up with the legislative requirements.  Although these programs are on hold, please do not hesitate to contact us and let us know that you are interested in these programs.  We will inform you once they are resumed, and will be happy to help you in finding similar parenting support services near you.

Child-minding services are the essential for providing parenting support programs.  We need to recruit and train child-minding volunteers more to make the service accessible and at the same make necessary adjustments.  Please contact Chie (jss.outreach@gmail.com) for volunteer registration and questions.

We really appreciate your ongoing support for our parenting support programs.

For more information about the original IY programs in Seattle, visit their website: http://incredibleyears.com/

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