The Evidence Portal

Incredible Years Parenting Training Program

About the program

The Incredible Years Parenting Training (IYPT) program is a group-based intervention designed to strengthen parenting skills and reduce child problem behaviours. A fundamental tenet of the program is that parents care about their children’s welfare and would prefer to behave in ways that facilitate their child’s development and success in school. The program is designed to help parents reduce harsh/critical parenting, increase parent discipline effectiveness, and improve positive/supportive/responsive parenting, each of which have been tied to children’s social and behavioral development.

The program teaches:

  • child-directed play skills
  • positive discipline strategies
  • effective parenting skills
  • strategies for coping with stress
  • ways to strengthen children’s prosocial and social skills.

The IYPT program may be particularly relevant to families with child welfare contact because it is group-based, focused on building support networks and decreasing isolation, and has a format designed to reduce stigma and increase parental participation and engagement. It emphasises individual goal setting and a self-reflective learning style, as well as intensive behaviour practice and rehearsal methods with other parents and a collaborative relationship between group leaders and parents.

See also Incredible Years Preschool BASIC Parenting Program Enhanced with Home Visits and Incredible Years Shortened Basic Version Program Summaries in the Reducing Child Harm and Maltreatment Evidence Review.

Who does it work for?

The program is designed for parents with children aged 12 years and younger, and particularly for families already in contact with child welfare services.

The program has only been evaluated in the USA (Baydar et al. 2003; Hurlburt et al. 2013).

A quasi-experimental design study was conducted with 882 families (607 in the intervention group and 275 in the control group). On average, children were 4.5 years old. The majority of families were Caucasian and low-income households (Baydar et al. 2003).

A randomised control trial was conducted with 378 families (257 in the intervention group and 121 in the control group). On average, mothers were 29 years old. Most of the families were Caucasian and receiving financial aid. More than 50% of families were headed by a single mother (Hurlburt et al. 2013).

The program has not been tested in Australia or with Aboriginal Australians.       

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Positive outcomes:

  • Harsh parenting: there is a significant decrease in the amount of harsh or negative parenting episodes, such as spanking or slapping, in parents who receive the IYPT program (Baydar et al. 2003; Hurlburt et al. 2013).
  • Negative parenting behaviours: there is a decrease in inconsistent or ineffective parenting methods used by parents receiving the IYPT program, such as allowing children to get around the rules or not following through with discipline (Baydar et al. 2003).
  • Positive parenting behaviours: there is a significant increase in positive parenting behaviours, such as praising a child when a child is well behaved, in parents who receive the IYPT program (Baydar et al. 2003; Hurlburt et al. 2013).

Negative outcomes:

  • No negative effects were found.

How effective is it?

Overall, The Incredible Years Parenting Training program has a positive effect on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Promising research evidence:

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT)/quasi-experimental design (QED) study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • Fewer RCT/QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT/QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

The Incredible Years Parenting Training program is delivered in 12-20 weekly group sessions, 2-3 hours in length.

The program teaches:

  • child-directed play skills
  • positive discipline strategies
  • effective parenting skills
  • strategies for coping with stress
  • ways to strengthen children's prosocial and social skills

Within the group framework, parents define their own goals and then formulate principles of behaviour that will help them reach those goals.

Parent group sessions: a collaborative, problem-solving discussion style where each family’s strengths and goals for their children are highlighted. They focus on strengthening parent-child interactions, nurturing relationships, reducing harsh discipline, and fostering parents’ ability to promote children’s social, emotional, and language development.

Each meeting covers a small number of parenting principles that group members discuss after watching 10–15 short video vignettes of parent-child interactions.

Group facilitators help parents to identify, summarise, and apply parenting principles to their own specific parenting situations and goals for their children. Role play among participants is designed to occur in every session. This provides parents with hands-on behavioural practice applying new parenting skills to situations they encounter with their children at home. Group leaders monitor group and individual progress in learning and applying targeted skills. This enables group leaders to tailor future sessions to parents needs.

Manual: An intervention manual specifies the content of each session, activities and homework assignments.

How much does it cost?

Not reported

What else should I consider?

Reduction in barriers to attendance: The availability of the parenting program was increased by reducing as many of the logistical and psychological barriers to attendance as possible. Day care, dinners, flexible evening hours, and make- up sessions were provided, and programs were delivered in conveniently located neighborhood schools where the children attended preschool.

Language: In both studies the program was translated and offered in Vietnamese and Spanish. In centers where enough parents spoke one of these languages, a Spanish or Vietnamese group was offered by trained native speakers. In other centres, non-English-speaking parents participated in an English group using a translator. (Baydar et al. 2003)

The RCT notes: Brief evidence-based parenting interventions, like the 8-week Incredible Years program used in this original study, may benefit participants but not yet have sufficient impact on parenting outcomes. The current recommended form of the IY BASIC parenting program in broad prevention applications is a minimum of 14 weeks. In intervention settings or settings in which families have higher numbers of risk factors, such as families with child welfare involvement, the 18–20-week treatment version of the program is recommended (Hurlburt et al. 2013).

Where does the evidence come from?

One Quasi-Experimental Design conducted in the USA, with 482 participants (Baydar et al. 2003).

One Randomised Controlled Trial conducted in the USA, with 378 participants (Hurlburt et al. 2013).

Further resources

The IYPT program website:

Baydar et al. (2003), ‘The Role of Mental Health Factors and Program Engagement in the Effectiveness of a Preventive Parenting Program for Head Start Mothers’, Child Development, vol. 74, no. 5, pp. 1433-1453.

Hurlburt et al. (2013), ‘Efficacy of the Incredible Years group parent program with families in Head Start who self-reported a history of child maltreatment’, Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 37, no. 8, pp. 531-543.

Last updated:

24 Feb 2023

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