Parent training represents a therapeutic approach in which parents are taught how to:

  • increase desirable child behavior,
  • reduce children’s misbehavior,
  • improve parent-child interactions, and
  • bring about a positive family atmosphere.

This approach is based on extensive research examining parent-child interaction patterns and the ways children learn.

Behavior therapists recognize that parents play a most important role in their children’s development. Therefore, in parent training, parents are trained to become “co-therapists” in the treatment of their children’s behavior problems.

Parent training has been evaluated as a treatment of children’s behavior problems in hundreds of studies. Most of these studies have been conducted with families of children between 3 and 12 years of age. Children in these families showed a variety of conduct problems, including failure to obey their parents, temper tantrums, stealing, lying, and fighting.

Studies have consistently shown parent training to be effective for reducing these behavior problems. Moreover, these reductions in conduct problems have been shown to last years after treatment has ended. Some studies have also shown parent training to be valuable for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, developmental disabilities, autism, and elimination disorders such as bed-wetting.

Sessions may be conducted with an individual parent or with groups of parents. Although many variations of parent training exist, several characteristics are shared by most programs. Parents are usually taught how to carefully observe their children’s behavior in order to better understand why their children act the way they do. They observe what situations and events come before the behavior and what usually follows. Parents are taught to effectively use a number of skills and techniques for improving their children’s behavior.

Specific skills often taught include praise, positive attention, administration of rewards and privileges, rule-setting, ignoring, reprimands, withdrawal of privileges, and time-out. (Time-out refers to a time-out from rewards and attention. The child is quickly removed from a pleasurable situation in which he or she is misbehaving and briefly placed in a quiet and boring area that is not enjoyable at all. Placing the child in time-out prevents him or her from getting attention or other rewards following undesirable behavior.)

Parents are taught when and how to use these skills. They are taught timing, consistency, intensity, and integration of the various skills. Even the most effective skill used at the wrong time or in the wrong way will not promote wanted changes in behavior.