The Incredible Years® is a series of interlocking, comprehensive, and developmentally based programs targeting parents, teachers and children.
The Incredible Years® programs have been evaluated by the developer and independent investigators in the United States and other countries. Evaluations have included numerous randomized control group research studies using independent observations with diverse groups of parents and teachers. The programs have been found to be effective in strengthening teacher and parent management skills, improving children’s social and emotional competence and school readiness, and reducing behavior problems.
For the past 33 years, Professor Emeritus Carolyn Webster-Stratton and her colleagues at the University of Washington’s Parenting Clinic have worked to develop and evaluate parent, teacher and child training programs for families with children with conduct problems and ADHD. She has also evaluated prevention versions of the parent, teacher and child programs with high risk families.
Gerald R. Patterson’s theoretical work on childhood aggression strongly influenced the development of the training programs. Patterson’s social learning model emphasizes the importance of the family and teacher socialization processes, especially those affecting young children. His “coercion hypothesis” states that negative reinforcement develops and maintains children’s deviant behaviors and the parents’ and teachers’ critical or coercive behaviors. The parents’ or teachers’ behaviors must therefore be changed so that the children’s social interactions can be altered. If parents and teachers can learn to give more attention to positive behaviors than negative behaviors and manage children’s misbehavior with proactive discipline and appropriate problem-solving, the children can develop social competence, emotional regulation, and reduce aggressive behavior at home and at school.
Bandura’s modeling and self-efficacy theories form the basis for the training which is based on principles of live and video modeling, rehearsal, self-management, cognitive self-control, and self-reflection.
Bowlby’s attachment theory has elucidated the importance of the affective nature of the parent-child relationships. The foundation of the Incredible Years® programs focuses on building warm and nurturing parent-child and teacher-child relationships through child directed play, social and emotion coaching, praise and incentives.
Evidence of Effectiveness
The Incredible Years® program was selected as a model “Strengthening Families” program by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), as an “exemplary” program by the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and as a “Blueprints” program by OJJDP. The Incredible Years® program series have also been recommended by the Home Office in the United Kingdom as one of the evidenced-based interventions for antisocial behavior and by Sure Start as a recommended program for families with children under five years. As such, the series has been subject to quality reviews by independent groups of scientists, evidenced excellent effectiveness in multiple randomized control group studies, and attained high overall consumer satisfaction ratings.
Parent Program Evidence: Evidence of Parent Program Effectiveness as a Treatment Program with Clinic Populations of Children Diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD (ages 3-8 years):
Eight randomized control group trials (RCTs) by the developer and six RCTs by independent investigators of the parenting series with diagnosed children have indicated the following significant findings:
- Increases in positive parenting including child-directed play, coaching and praise and reduced use of criticism and negative commands.
- Increases in parent use of effective limit-setting by replacing spanking/hitting and harsh discipline with proactive discipline techniques and increased monitoring.
- Reductions in parental depression and increases in parental self-confidence.
- Increases in positive family communication and problem-solving.
- Reductions in conduct problems in children’s interactions with parents and increases in children’s positive affect and compliance to parental commands.
- 2/3 of children in normal range at 3-year and at 10-year follow-up.
Evidence of Parent Program Effectiveness as a Prevention Program with a Selective Population of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Families of Children (ages 2-12 years):
Four RCTs by the developer and six RCTs by independent investigators of the parenting series with high risk populations (e.g. Head Start and Sure Start) indicated significant improvements in positive parenting interactions, reductions in harsh discipline with children, reductions in aggressive behavior problems and increases in child social competence.
Teacher Program Evidence: Evidence of Teacher Classroom Management Program Effectiveness by Developer with Clinic Populations of Children Diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ages 3-8 years):
One RCT by the developer of the teacher training with diagnosed children indicated significant:
- Increases in teacher use of praise and encouragement and reduced use of criticism and harsh discipline.
- Increases in children’s positive affect and cooperation with teachers, positive interactions with peers, school readiness and engagement with school activities.
- Reductions in peer aggression in the classroom.
Evidence of Teacher Classroom Management Program Effectiveness by Developer and Independent Investigators with Selected Populations of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Children (ages 3-8 years):
Two RCTs by the developer and five RCTs by independent investigators of the teacher training series with high risk populations indicated significant improvements in positive discipline and proactive management skills and decreases in classroom aggression and increases in children’s pro social behavior.
Child Program Evidence: Evidence of Child Dinosaur Treatment Program Effectiveness by Developer and Independent Investigators with Clinic Populations of Children Diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD (ages 4-8 years):
Three RCTs by the developer and one RCT by an independent investigator of the small group dinosaur child treatment series with diagnosed children indicated significant:
- Increases in children’s emotional language, social skills, and appropriate cognitive problem-solving strategies with peers.
- Reductions in conduct problems at home and school.
- Reductions in hyperactivity and inattention.
Evidence of Child Dinosaur Classroom Program by Developer with Selected Populations of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Populations (ages 3-8 years):
Two RCTs with Head Start families and Primary grade classrooms indicated significant improvements in school readiness, emotional regulation and social skills and reductions in behavior problems in the classroom. Summaries of this research can be found in the following two review chapters.Read the Article (A Multifaceted Treatment Approach for Young Children) Read the Article (A School-Family Partnership) View the comparative graphs (pdf)
Five Steps to Fidelity of Implementation
Identification and selection of the Incredible Years®, an “evidence-based,” “empirically validated,” or “best practices” mental health program is only the first step in service delivery. To obtain similar results to those published, attention must be given to supervising the quality of the implementation of the program.
The Incredible Years® Parent, Teacher, and Child Training Programs have been proven in numerous randomized control group studies to be effective for promoting positive parent and teacher interactions and relationships with children, strengthening children’s emotional literacy and self regulation, social competence and problem solving skills, and reducing behavior problems in both prevention and clinic populations.
To obtain similar outcomes it is important to assure that the program is delivered with the highest degree of fidelity possible. Fidelity means that the program is delivered in its entirety, using all the recommended components, therapeutic processes and number of sessions.
Our core training methods and supervision ensure replication of the Incredible Years® programs with fidelity. We offer five steps to success:
- standardized and comprehensive intervention materials (manual, books, DVDs)
- standardized training workshops for clinicians by certified mentors and trainers
- ongoing supervision, coaching and mentoring support
- fidelity monitoring
- agency organizational support
Information for Grants Agencies
If you are planning to use any of the Incredible Years® programs as part of a research grant we strongly recommend your leaders become certified as group leaders and that one of our certified trainers is involved in training your staff and providing ongoing consultation. We ask that you let us know about research projects and send us copies of the research results.Read more about program implementation
Please see the PDFs below for various research presentations that have been given regarding Incredible Years®