A new study argues that children with behavioural problems and their parents can benefit from an internet-assisted parent training program.
The study involved 464 sets of parents from southwestern Finland whose 4 year-old children exhibited behavioural problems for at least six months prior to the study. The parents were asked to participate in an 11 week training program consisting of web-based instructional videos and exercises on developing stronger parenting skills along with weekly telephone sessions with a parenting coach. The parents then completed follow up assessments six and twelve months after the training, with results showing significant improvement in the child’s behaviour post-training program.
“The findings indicate the effectiveness of a parent training intervention that incorporates interactive web technology to provide a personalized and sustainable intervention for the public health system,” say the study’s authors, a group composed of researchers in child psychiatry and family mental health from Finland, Canada and Norway.
Children with disruptive behavioural problems exhibit a range of “externalized” symptoms from aggressive behaviour to anxiety, sleep problems and difficulty getting along with others. Children with externalizing behaviour are a high risk group, as studies have shown that half of children with disruptive behaviour disorders end up developing serious mental and social health problems as adults. But the evidence shows that parent training is an effective way to respond to and treat a child’s disruptive behavioural problems, by helping to develop skills in reducing conflict, managing the trials of daily events, encouraging prosocial behaviour and strengthening the parent-child relationship.
The problem is that parental training is resource intensive, hence the turn to internet-assisted programs which can reach a large audience at a fraction of the cost. For parents, internet-based training proves to be more convenient and accessible and avoids the potential discomfort and perceived stigma attached to enrolling in face-to-face group programs.
The parent training program used in the study is based on research conducted at the Strongest Families Institute, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based not for profit offering programs to children and families dealing with mental health issues. Founded by Drs. Patrick McGrath and Patricia Lingley-Pottie, the Institute offers free programs and training to families in Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador as well as in parts of Alberta and Ontario.
In a recent interview with CTV News, Dr. Lingley-Pottie spoke of the Institute’s child behavioural program, saying, “This is a program that has a long term impact because we’re teaching families and children life skills they can use long after the program is over.”
Dr. Lingley-Pottie states that the web-based and e-health aspects of the Institute’s programs have reported more than 85 per cent approval by participants and, remarkably, a less than 10 per cent drop out rate. “That is really unheard of because generally dropout rates in child mental health are anywhere between 40 and 70 per cent,” she says. “Parents and kids are sticking with it probably because we’re making it so accessible.”
In Canada, an estimated 16 per cent of children suffer from behavioural disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), severe anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder.
The study was published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.