THEORY TO PRACTICE: SOME SUCCESSFUL METHODS OF PARENT EDUCATION
McDermott, Ph.D. (2002)
School for New Learning, DePaul University
This is taken from a draft of a publication in preparation by
D. McDermott entitled "Parenting education from k-12: Theoretical
and empirical background and support." Portions of this
material were prepared with support from New York State toward implementation
of the parenting education requirement for high school graduation.
It will be useful for many projects that call for theoretical framework
and resources. This document may be duplicated for educational or
advocacy purposes with acknowledgement of authorship.
are listed at www.preparetomorrowsparents.org/references.html
Effective methods of parenting and parenting education are also positively
related to student learning and success. Indeed, Alvy (1994) has found
that many of the skills that enhance parent-child relations are the
same skills that enrich all human relations skills in general (p.
27). In addition, the identified skills students learn are often inter-related.
For example, problem- solving helps in stress management and communication
skills facilitate conflict resolution. The research below is provided
to demonstrate this.
rehearsal and modeling
& Youatt (1989), in one of the few high school parent education
programs that have been evaluated, reported their successful emphasis
on the method of reality- based experience, such as students interacting
with children, choosing age-appropriate toys at a store, and/or
observing patterns of parent-child interaction in natural settings.
Tomison (1998) described another high school program in Australia
which includes networking activities where students role-play
being parents and seeking assistance (p. 13).
et al. (1988) found didactic instruction alone did not promote skill
mastery in parents and programs incorporating modeling and behavioral
rehearsal were necessary. Knapp and Deluty (1989) found mothers
of low SES were more successful if they had received parent training
that included modeling and role-playing than were lower SES mothers
taught by written materials, short quizzes and discussions alone.
Gray & Steinberg (1999) found that modeling and setting a good
example were linked to children with better skills and attitudes
around academic achievement, employment, health habits, individuality,
relationships, communication, coping and conflict resolution.
parents and children in natural settings
Luster & Youatt (1989) had students observe care-giving interactions
in natural settings. Heath (1995) in her curriculum Learning how
to care: Education for parenting, provides exercises developing
these important observation skills as an effective learning method.
(1990) asserts that if knowledge taught in child development
and parenting is to be available for translation into action, it
must be taught through methods involving direct and fairly extensive
observation and experience with children (p. 86).
Rickert et al. (1988) also found videotaping successful. Videotapes
were used successfully by Black & Teti (1997) to alter mealtime
communication and attitudes among African American adolescent mothers.
Six mothers served as an advisory group to design the video messages,
title, music and setting. They starred in the film,
modeling positive interaction with their infants during mealtimes.
Evaluation of this randomized clinical trial with 59 first-time
mothers showed mothers in the program were more involved with the
infant and had more favorable attitudes toward feeding and communi-cation
than mothers not enrolled in the program. Webster-Stratton (1990)
also reported long-term success with parent training that employs
videotaped modeling. This work is summarized in a review of parenting
education methods by Matthews & Hudson (2001).
(1996) used videotaped scenes in a parenting program. The videos
depicted the same situation but reflected different themes presented
in contrast sets. One scene in each pair depicted a parent-child
interaction characterized by constrain child development
themes in a play situation involving a basket of toys. The other
scene of a parent-child interaction in the same play situation was
characterized by encourage development themes. Parents
were asked reflective questions relating to these videos. Parents
were also videoed at home and then viewed their videos and answered
more questions regarding their reactions/ideas. This was an effective
learning opportunity for parents.
play for empathy, understanding and learning
Brown (1998) recommends methods such as role-playing, modeling and
coaching rather than discussion groups and reading, especially for
persons of lower SES. She believes that parent education should
provide opportunities to apply elementary parenting skills so parents
(and students) can witness changes in child behavior quickly. These
successes build momentum for continued participation to deal with
more difficult issues.
(1997) lists the advantages of role- playing: It allows students
to express hidden feelings; It is student- centered and addresses
the needs and concerns of the student; It permits the group to control
the content and pace; It enables the student to empathize with others
and understand their problems; It portrays generalized social problems
and dynamics of group interaction, formal and informal; It gives
more reality and immediacy to academic descriptive material (History,
Geography, Social Skills, English); It enables the student to discuss
private issues and problems; It provides an opportunity for non-articulate
students and emphasizes the importance of nonverbal and emotional
responses; It gives practice in various types of behavior. There
are some disadvantages: The teacher can lose control over what is
learned and the order in which it is learned. Simplifications can
mislead. It may dominate the learning experiences to the exclusion
of solid theory and facts. It is dependent upon the personality,
quality, and mix of the teacher and students It may be seen as too
entertaining and frivolous. The advantages are many.
Several researchers (Daro, 1998; Gaudin et al., 1991; Gaudin, 1993a;
Chalk & King, 1998) have found that parent groups offering social
skills and problem-solving training were more successful than programs
offering general child-development information alone. Whiteman et
al. (1987) found that when they combined the teaching of problem-solving
with relaxation skills they were even more effective in changing
parent attitudes and expectations to meet childrens needs
more appropriately. Grusec & Goodnow (1994) found flexible problem-
solving as a necessary skill to resolve parent-child conflicts.
Heinicke (1995) found flexible problem- solving to be related positively
to appropriate responsiveness of parents to childrens needs.
Shure (1974) has successfully taught social problem-solving to parents
and has written curricula for children and teens.
and joint decision making
and Elias (1987) provide exercises to facilitate parenting decision-making.
They adapted their work for social skills learning for students
(Elias & Clabby, 1992). Brown et al. (1993) found that parents
engaging in joint-decision making with children had children joining
peer groups of high achievers as opposed to more negative groups.
Gordon (1996) noted that we should be teaching formal operational
level decision making to adolescents for use in pregnancy prevention
and other interventions.
mirroring, sensitivity and empathic awareness
Baker & Baker (1987) demonstrated the importance of the skills
of mirroring and sensitivity for early child development. Feshback
(1987) found a parents ability to recognize the emotions experienced
by a child (empathic awareness) and to communicate and respond appropriately
were crucial for child well-being. Cicchetti et al. (1988) advocated
verbal communication providing information and stimulation, and
communication of positive affect accompanying supportive verbal
and physical interactions Laosa (1978) and Saarni (1985) found evidence
that open communication with children on topics of feelings, needs,
reasons for rules and behavioral expectations promoted child well-being.
Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) successfully taught teens communication
skills combined with modeling and role-playing. Learning was maximized
when skills were seen by students as needed for application in social
& Elias (1992) assert that if children are to experience healthy
relationships and occupy meaningful and productive roles in society
as adults, they must be competent at communicating and working cooperatively
with others. They need to be able to express their own opinions
and beliefs, to understand and appreciate the perspective of others
who differ from them in background, needs, or experiences, and to
become skilled at reasoned disagreement, negotiation, and compromise
as methods of solving problems when their own needs conflict with
those of others.
If we start early teaching children skills like communication and
empathy we will not have as much conflict as we do. Wekerle &
Wolfe (1998) combined effective communication and conflict resolution
lessons through modeling and role-play. Black & Teti (1997)
asked teen mothers having conflict with toddlers to help make a
film on effective communication. Thus, they went from a dysfunctional
emphasis to empowerment. In being given the peer teaching role,
these teens learned how to resolve parent-child conflicts in a way
that kept everyones self-esteem intact. Fry (1993) looked
at two towns in Mexico in terms of how they socialized their children
to handle conflict. One town focused on communication. They modeled
discussion, explanation and training through words and actions.
This minimized physical and destructive conflict resolution.
Wolfe (1994) tells us that interventions for child maltreatment
now focus even more on mental health and contextual factors. It
was essential to teach the mothers in their studies how to manage
stress to decrease parental violence. Alvy (1994) found a relationship
between how parents model stress management and how children learn
to manage stress themselves. Whiteman et al. (1987) also worked
to help parents mediate stress and anger through more effective
problem- solving skills. Smith et al. (1994) in their care
for self parent education module offer suggestions to help
parents manage personal stress.
self-care, and self-monitoring
Taylor (1997) used a variety of techniques and strategies in developing
self-regulation skills in students: 1) role- playing 2) classifying
behaviors and identifying types of self-regulation strategies to
employ 3) working in cooperative groups 4) positively reinforcing
the mental habits 5) reading and developing stories; 6) being sensitive
to feedback and criticism; 7) teaching self-monitoring skills; 8)
seeking outside advice when needed; 9) evaluating the process (p.46)
et al. (1994) in their care for self module note While care
for self does not necessarily precede other parenting practices
it is quite possible to begin developing these skills before an
individual becomes a parent. In many cases, these self-care concerns
must be addressed before a parent can begin to concentrate on the
child and behaviors more directly related to parenthood. Care for
self is closely connected with advocate, a cluster of skills that
enable parents to reach out to other institutions and the community.
Caring for oneself is not only a critical parenting skill,
but a skill for life. Critical care for self practices are: manage
personal stress, manage family resources, offer support to other
parents, ask for and accept support from others when needed, recognize
ones own personal and parenting strengths, have a sense of
purpose in setting child-rearing goals, and cooperate with ones
child-rearing partners (p.20).
child advocacy skills
et al. (1994) provide an excellent teaching module on advocacy (pp.
39-43). Simpson (2001) also outlines advocacy for teens (pp. 62-64).
Several interventionsists included advocacy as the end result of
learning for students (Jaffe et al.,1992; Wolfe et al., 1997; Small,
1990). Wallerstein (1992) noted that empowerment strategies by design,
encourage people to act on the system rather than to be acted on
by the system.
Guiding, empowering and coaching
Empowerment has been described very well by Dunst et
al. (1988) and Cochran in the Cornell Empowerment model (1988).
Wekerle &Wolfe (1998) in their interventions rely heavily on
the strength of empowerment in the context of adolescent development
and social dating. Empowerment involves personal power
that is built through personal connections with others, which in
turn creates the freedom to be open and receptive with others. The
principles of participatory education, in particular have been well
adapted to health education and disease prevention. Educational
programs designed to promote social change and individual or group
empowerment are active by nature. Accordingly, we assist young people
in achieving control over their lives through their own efforts
and critical thinking about relationships. Such control, in turn
assists them in recognizing some of the underlying determinants
of their dissatisfaction or interpersonal problems, in describing
alternatives, and in taking action that leads to changes in their
personal relationship situation (pp. 358-359).
Flahertys (1999) excellent book we learn that coaching is
a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and
fulfilled so they are able to contribute to their families, work
and communities and find meaning in what they are doing. It is not
always just the events, or communications from others that lead
people to respond in destructive ways but what interpretation or
meaning people give to events. We can help by providing a new language
or way of talking about this as well as practice in allowing this
language to be a permanent part of a persons interpretive
might be as simple as saying What are my options/ instead
of I do not know what to do. The goal for those we work with is
self-correction. We the coaches are not indispensable. W just give
others a new set of glasses allowing the to assess their actions.
Flaherty talks of hoping for self-generation or locating the resources
within oneself and in relationships that would allow for continuous
growth. As a coach I cannot play in the game but I can be a guide
on the side providing information, support, time for practice of
new skills/language, time for reflection and always encouragement
and respect for efforts of those in my care.
action plans and goal setting
Ladd et al. (1992) found that parents who planned social contacts
and supervised their children had children with more healthy peer
relations. Heath (1995) addresses planning in her parenting curriculum.
Tomison (1998) described a parent program for teens that assisted
them to prepare for the demands of parenting before they became
parents. Jaffe et al. (1992) intervened with teens in four high
schools combining many of the methods discussed (modeling, role-plays,
plays, etc.) Their goal was to have students develop action plans
based on the changed attitudes from the intervention. This was a
goal for youth in the interventions of Wekerle & Wolfe (1998)
and Christopher et al. (2001).
Engage in structured or open ended
& Williams (1995) conclude in their work that there is a value
in engaging children in conversations via open questions (inquiry
or question asking). A format for open questions was designed in
the research of Thomas (1996). She found the questioning structure
supported reflective dialogue engaging parents in the process of
problem generation and interpretation and exposing them to ideas
and interpretations that differed from their own, two key learning
processes believed to facilitate theme-level learning. The questioning
sequence had the form of an hour- glass. It began with broad, general
open questions: What was happening here, what did you notice? What
thoughts did you have as you viewed the scenes? What were your reactions?
Questions then focused on specific aspects of a video segment. What
actions did the adult take? What goals do you think the adult had?
What goals do you think the child had? How did this action/ goal
work for the adult? Why? How did this action/ goal work for the
child? Why? How do you think the child felt? Why? How did the adult
feel? Why? Questions then broaden to focus on implications, consequences
and conditions: What do you think would happen if these actions
and goals would continue? Is it possible for parents to both meet
childrens developmental needs and address their own goals?
Under what conditions-what does it take to do this? What implications
do you see in the ideas generated about how conditions may affect
parents goals? These cases help parents avoid over simplified
privately and in group dialogue
The question posing of Thomas (1996) was a stimulated recall procedure
generating a reflective dialogue with parents. She sees themes as
a potential avenue through which education might reach learners
deep-lying motivational and conceptual structures. Christopher et
al. (2001) had students critically reassess current perspectives
and think about whether current behavior was right for them. They
recommend more learner centered-approaches promoting student autonomy,
participation, reflection and collaboration. Robertson (1996) and
Jaffe et al. (1992) also recommended student reflection to gain
a new understanding about how social relations and culture shape
our beliefs and feelings. The parent education program described
by Tomison (1998) enabled students to reflect on the way they were
parented and to begin to think about how they wanted to parent.
how the learners behavior affects others
Taylor (1997) taught African American male students effective ways
of internalizing their behaviors and assessing how their behaviors
affect others. One way to do so is using think-aloud activities
asking questions such as 1) What is needed to solve
this problem 2) Things are not working out, should I try another
way? And 3) what assistance do I need to solve the problem? (p.
20). Jaffe et al. (1992) found that students after their intervention
advocated more efforts to make people aware of the effects of violence
on others. Christopher et al. (2001) demonstrated that students
after their intervention were more aware of how their health habits
affected themselves and their young children.
own experiences as children and family members
OConnor (1990) believes school pupils need to talk about their
own experiences as children and family members, and learn ways of
relating to other people in a variety of relationships. Any course
dealing with the sensitive area of parenthood should give pupils
the time and space to explore different ways of parenting, and to
build on knowledge they already have. Belsky (1984) found that looking
at ones own experiences in ones family of origin was
very important for parents. He found that a supportive marital relationship
served as a buffer if early experiences had been negative. Luster
& Okagaki (1993, Ch. 9) also cite the impact of developmental
pathways on parental competence. Tulloch & Omvig (1989) as cited
by Cooke support this method because adolescents may not be at a
stage where parenting issues are of concern to them. It is therefore
important for them to relate what is taught in child development
and parenting to their own past and present experiences as a developing
person and as a family member before beginning to have them think
about how what they are learning relates to their future parenting.
and participate in cooperative group work
Belenky et al. (1986;1997) demonstrated how collaborative group
work could help women cope with family history and move forward.
Taylor (1997) described the many benefits of cooperative group work
to facilitate the interpersonal skills of African American males.
Cooperative learning involves: Positive interdependence, individual
accountability, group processing small group/social skills and face-to-face
interactions. Cooperative strategies include: a common goal, a structured
task, a structured team, clear roles, designated time frame, and
a structured process.
Locate resources and seek assistance
Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) found male and female students had a
lack of intervention strategies and skills. They gave students information
about resources in the community to assist them in managing unfamiliar,
stressful issues in their relationships and to give them opportunities
to access community services. They used community-based hands-on
experiences in which males and female students were paired and practiced
solving hypothetical problems by involving their peer and community
resources. They found places in the community to receive help and
advice. Co-facilitators acted as consultants and made student approaches
to community persons realistic yet successful. The teen program
Tomison (1998) described engaged students in networking experiences
where they role-played being parents and seeking assistance. Students
learned of available supports in the hope that they would be likely
to use them when they became parents.
in group discussion
Powell (1990; 1998) in his evaluations of parenting programs has
found group discussion a successful method of parent education.
Discussion provides an opportunity for parents to digest new insights
in relation to their existing ideas. Brown (1998) found that group
discussions were more attractive to middle than lower socio-economic
status parents. Prout & Prendergast (1985) recommend that students
focus on feelings, attitudes and the affective domain rather than
the lecture method involving primarily a sharing of facts.
and develop stories
(1997) reported that student learned a great deal by reading and
developing stories. Reyes (1995-96) did a masterful job of demonstrating
how to use this tool effectively. Belenky et al. (1986; 1997) used
stories to empower women who lacked self-confidence and self-efficacy
as parents. Having their stories written down and listened to was
related positively to parent-child relationships and to the parents
remembering of past events and anticipating future actions-cognitive
et al. (1992) have demonstrated the value of parents using cognitive
distancing. This involves asking a child to remember past events
and use their imaginations to anticipate future actions. The parents
do this rather than just give them answers.
appraisal skills to situations and individuals
(1997) concludes in his analysis of child- rearing that the core
of effective parenting lies in how the parent appraises the child
and the situation and then resolves competing needs and notions
(p. 134). Thus, parents effectiveness lies more in the way
they go about handling the ongoing parent-child interactions than
the number of attributes they possess. Lerner (1993) added that
the important thing for parents is to be perceptive about the fit
that their child has with the context, to be able to assess what
demands are being imposed on the child, and to be able to assess
their childs individuality. If they can make these assessments
with the help of professionals, they will be
positive interactions with others and thereby enhancing the childs
conclude, one can readily see that the skills involved in effective
parenting are also useful for effective teaching. In modeling these
methods teachers can not only maximize learning, but they can help
students see what good parenting looks like. While this
list is by no means exhaustive it at least presents a core of best
practices for teachers today.
review of research on the most effective methods of parenting and
parenting education found the methods below to be positively related
to teacher effectiveness and student learning/success.
rehearse, and model positive interaction with children. Provide
reality-based learning experiences.
& Youatt,1989;Rickert, et al.,1988;Knapp & Deluty,1989;Gray
& Steinberg,1999;Tomison, 1998
patterns of parent-child interactions
& Youatt, 1989; Heath, 1995; Cooke, 1990
parent-child situations using videotapes. Have students produce
best practices videotapes.
& Teti,1997; Rickert et al., 1988; Thomas, 1996;Webster-Stratton,
1990; Matthews et al.,2001
for empathy, understanding, learning.
1998; Taylor, 1997; Knapp & Deluty, 1989
problem- solving skills; demonstrate flexibility in problem-
et al., 1987, Heinicke, 1995;Daro, 1998, Gaudin et al., 1991,1993a;
Chalk & King, 1998; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1998; Shure, 1974
personal and joint decision making skills, flexibly and spontaneously.
et al.,1993; Clabby & Elias, 1987; Elias & Clabby 92;Grusec
& Goodnow,1994; Gordon, 96
communication skills including empathic awareness, mirroring
, and sensitivity.
& Baker,1987; Feshback,1987; Laosa, 1978; Saarni 1985;Wekerle
& Wolfe, 1998; Cicchetti et al., 1988
& Wolfe,1998;Black & Teti,1997;Fry,93
stress management skills.
et al.,87;Wolfe,94;Alvy,94; Smith 94
self-management and self-monitoring
1997; Smith et al., 1994
child advocacy skills.
et al.,1994; Wolfe et al.,1997; OConnor, 1990; Wallerstein,1992;Jaffe
et al.,1992; Small 90
guide, and empower.
1998; Flaherty, 1999; Cochran, 1988; Christopher et al., 2001;Dunst,Trivette
& Deal, 88
planning, action planning and goal setting
et al., 1992; Jaffe et al., 1992; Christopher et al., 2001;
Heath, 1995; Tomison, 1998
in structured or open questioning.
& Williams, 1995; Thomas, 1996
privately and in group dialogue.
et al., 2001; Tomison, 1998; Thomas, 1996; Robertson, 1996;
Jaffe et al., 1992
possible conflicts/problems with children
1996, p. 194; Christopher, et al., 2001
Assess how a learners own behaviors affect others. Taylor,1997;Jaffe
et al.,1992;Christopher et al., 01
about ones own experiences as a child, youth, and family
1990; Luster & Okagaki, 1993, Ch.9; Taylor,1997; Belsky,1984;
Tulloch & Omvig,1989
and participate in cooperative group work
et al., 2001; Taylor, 1997; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1998; OConnor,
resources and seek assistance.
1998; Taylor, 1997; Wekerle & Wolfe,1998; Flaherty, 1999;
Dunst et al., 1988
in group discussion(s).
Prout & Prendergast,85; Powell, 98
and develop stories
et al., 86,97; Taylor,97; Reyes , 95-96
remembering of past events and imagining to anticipate future
actions (cognitive distancing).
et al., 1992
appraisal skills to situations and individuals
1997; Lerner 1993
*There are many studies and programs supporting the methods listed
above. The references listed have found helpful in working with
students, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Some Methods for Teaching Parenting to Adolescents:
et al. (2001) promote transformative learning where
students critically reassess current perspectives and think
about whether current behavior is right for them. This critical
self-reflection helps them look at things in fundamentally new and
different ways, examine actions they can take to change their lives
in essential ways and take actions based on new assumptions when
making important decisions (p.134). We need, the authors say
a learner centered-approach that promotes student autonomy,
participation, reflection and collaboration (Robertson, 1996)
& Williams (1995) strongly support the value of engaging children
in conversations via open questions (inquiry or question asking).
Many cognitive and educational psychologists are returning
to the thinking of John Dewey (1933), who realized that how we think
is often more important than what we think. We need to stress more
the teaching of how to ask questions, and how to ask the right questions
(good, thought-provoking, and interesting ones), and to stress less
the simple retrieval of the correct answers to whatever questions
we might pose (p. 262).
(1990), in speaking about students (teenage expectant and actual
parents) reported: Whilst they were interested in learning
about pregnancy, childbirth and child development, this was naturally
focused on their own feelings, anxieties and expectations of childbirth
and parenting. Nevertheless, they brought to discussions on these
subjects, a wealth of knowledge and attitudes based on their own
family experiences, community life, and information gleaned from
the media. Discussions were informal, negotiated on a need
to know basis that were related to the students expressed
School pupils need to understand how their bodies
work, how to keep them healthy and how to avoid pregnancy. They
also need to understand themselves, and to make some sense of their
pregnancy. They also need to make some sense of their own family
experiences. They need to talk about their own experiences as children
and family members, and to learn ways of relating to other people
in a variety of relationships. This means that any course dealing
with the sensitive area of parenthood, would give pupils the time
and space to explore different ways of parenting, and to build on
knowledge they already have. In addition to these principles of
valuing and building on students own experiences/feelings in this
area, it is also important that method, content and teaching materials
reflect the equal role of women, the multi-racial composition of
society and the changing nature of family life (p. 87). (See
full article for elaboration on whole school approach)
(1997) suggests teaching youth to internalize their behaviors and
assess how their behaviors affect others. One method to do so is
to use think-aloud activities (p. 19) involving asking questions
such as 1) What is needed to solve this problem 2) Things are not
working out should I try another way? And 3) what assistance do
I need to solve the problem? (p. 20).
of these approaches support empowerment where teachers act as coaches
and guides while students search for answers within and outside
of themselves. Flaherty (1999) describes this method: Coaching
is a way of working with people that leaves them more competent
and fulfilled so they are able to contribute to their families,
work and communities and find meaning in what they are doing
. It is not always just the events, or communications
from others that lead people to respond in destructive ways but
what interpretation or meaning people give to events
can help by providing a new language or way of talking about this
as well as practice in allowing this language to be a permanent
part of a persons interpretive structure (p.9).
might be as simple as a student thinking What are my options?
instead of I do not know what to do. Flaherty believes the goal
for those we work with is self-correction. We the coaches are not
indispensable. We just give others a new set of glasses allowing
them to assess their actions. We also hope for self-generation or
locating the resources within oneself and in relationships that
would allow for continuous growth. As a coach I cannot play in the
game but I can be a guide on the side providing information, support,
time for practice of new skills/language, time for reflection and
always encouragement and respect for efforts of those in my care
TO THEORY & RATIONALE INDEX