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Reducing disruptive behaviour in children

22 March 2018

Parent disciplining a child

Research co-led by Cardiff University has revealed effective strategies to reduce disruptive behaviour in children.

The work was conducted by Dr G J Melendez-Torres of Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, in association with researchers at the University of Amsterdam, University of Oxford, and Utrecht University.

Researchers found differences in what works best according to whether or not children already showed behaviour problems, based on more than 150 studies of parenting programmes.

“We found that when severely disruptive behaviour had already emerged in children, a combination of teaching parents how to manage behaviour along with relationship-building strategies was more effective than just teaching parents how to manage behaviour,” explained Patty Leijten, assistant professor of child development at the University of Amsterdam.

“However, when disruptive behaviour had not yet emerged as a problem, teaching parents both strategies was not more helpful than teaching behaviour-management strategies alone.”

Severely disruptive behaviour was defined as openly uncooperative and hostile behaviour, including frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, and deliberate attempts to annoy or upset others.

Behaviour-management strategies include praise to increase positive behaviour and negative consequences like timeouts to reduce disruptive behaviour. Relationship-building strategies include encouraging parents to be sensitive to their children’s needs.

Policymakers and service providers should be aware that different families may need different strategies to reduce disruptive behaviour in children. Programs designed to prevent severe disruptive behaviour and to treat severe disruptive behaviour may require different approaches.

“Adding relationship building behaviour management may benefit children who have not yet developed severe disruptive behaviour in other ways, such as encouraging better overall communication between parents and children, but it doesn’t help reduce disruptive behaviour in these children. However, for children who have already developed severe disruptive behaviour, adding relationship building to behaviour management is key to reducing these problems.”

Researchers looked at 156 studies on the effectiveness of parenting programmes for reducing disruptive behaviour in children aged two to 10. The studies involved more than 15,000 families from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in 20 countries.

The study was funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation and the Research Institute of Child Development and Education of the University of Amsterdam.

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