The Evidence Portal

The Parental Daily Diary

About the program

The Parental Daily Diary is a program designed to promote gentle disciplinary strategies and discourage physical punishment. It seeks to encourage positive parenting behaviours. It is aimed at parents who feel anger towards their children when they perceive an event requires discipline.

The program involves:

  • small groups of parents meeting weekly for 16 weeks
  • weekly home visits
  • a daily diary that is used to record disciplinary events

The diary encourages parents to record events that they feel require discipline and what discipline they use. The group meetings give the parents a chance to learn about and role-play using gentler disciplinary measures. They also provide information about the dangers associated with using physical discipline.

Who does it work for?

The Parental Daily Diary is aimed at parents with children aged 18 months to 4 years old, who use physical discipline and also have anger towards their children. The program is particularly effective for parents on a low income who receive some form of government assistance.

The program has only been tested in the USA (Peterson et al. 2002).

A randomised control trial was conducted with 81 people (44 in the intervention group, 37 in the control group). On average, mothers were 27 years old, and children were 3 years old. The majority of participants were Caucasian and from low-income families. Parents who are illiterate and from non-English speaking backgrounds were excluded from the study.

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

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Positive Outcomes:

  • Harsh parenting: there is a significant reduction in self-reported use of physical punishment each day in mothers completing the program.
  • Positive parenting behaviours: there is a significant increase in self-reported use of gentle discipline strategies including planned ignoring and time outs in mothers completing the program.

No effect:

  • No non-significant effects were found.

Negative Outcomes:

  • No negative effects were found.

How effective is it?

Overall, the Parental Daily Diary program has a positive impact 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 program has three components:

  • a daily diary completed at home by parents
  • weekly home visits
  • 16 weekly group meetings

Daily Diary

Mothers received instructions on how to use the diary. They were taught to record events they felt required discipline and what they actually did in terms of discipline. ‘Discipline’ was defined as anything you do to try to change your child’s behaviour and to stop them from doing something. Mothers were given explanations and examples of how to complete the diary.

Weekly Group Meetings

Sessions 1-6: Parents receive six sessions about developing a more positive relationship with their child. Gentle parenting skills such as ignoring, and time-out, are promoted. Positive behaviour skills include enjoyable activities and activities the child could be praised for completing. During home visits techniques are introduced by selecting behaviours to be ignored, modeling different methods for rewarding children, teaching parents to appreciate their children’s reinforcing qualities, and developing mothers’ understanding of how children’s development may produce behaviours that seem deliberately annoying or inadequate but are actually developmentally appropriate.

Session 7-8: Participants learn basic behavioural techniques for increasing compliance and begin instruction in decreasing negative behaviour (e.g., diverting attention early in the behavioural chain, planned ignoring).

Session 9: A review of the parents progress is conducted. Parents are also taught to integrate planned ignoring and positive methods of control into their parenting.

Sessions 10-12: Parents are introduced to a set of differing methods of anger control and are asked to select methods that would work for them. They are instructed in appropriate use of time-out and also discuss issues they experience while implementing time-out and using ignoring. Mothers are urged to use their newly acquired anger management techniques during the early, more difficult to implement episodes of time-out.

Session 13-14: Participants receive advice both about health and safety and explicit information concerning the dangers of abusive discipline.

Session 15: Parent’s problem solve and suggest the use of multiple techniques to deal with difficult to resolve child problems (drawn both from current and previous group experiences).

Session 16: A graduation ceremony where parents make a public commitment to whichever techniques they have elected to use.

Each group intervention session has 8-12 objectives. The program uses active role-playing and simulations, practice work at home, encouraging calls to a group partner (another person in the group), and home visiting, to ensure positive client outcomes.

How much does it cost?

Not reported.

What else should I consider?

Participants are required to complete daily diaries – studies have excluded parents who are illiterate, and from non-English speaking backgrounds (Peterson et al. 2002).

Where does the evidence come from?

One randomised controlled trial  conducted in the USA with 81 participants (Peterson et al. 2002).

Further resources

Peterson et al. (2002), ‘The Parental Daily Diary: A Sensitive Measure of the Process of Change in a Child Maltreatment Prevention Program’, Behavior Modification, Vol. 26, No. 5, pp. 627-647.

Last updated:

16 Feb 2023

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