Let’s just come out and say it- parent training is probably one of the most rewarding parts of our job. When we see a family that was once struggling to make it day-to-day transform into a thriving family, – there are no words to describe how wonderful that is. Through parent training, we support families in improving their quality of life, teach parents to generalize skills to home life, and help families establish routines and consistency. Equipped with a powerful toolbox of behavioral strategies, we are ready to jump in. However, families are dynamic. They evolve and include many interacting contingencies, both between family members and across environments. This can make it challenging to provide services that produce systemic, meaningful changes for families.
As a provider, it is often difficult to navigate a comprehensive and systemic parent training approach. We are working with children and their parents to address goals, ensure what we teach shows up where it matters, and coordinate with other service providers. No master plan exists for parent training, nor do we receive comprehensive training on this during our graduate coursework.
As a parent, it is difficult to consistently participate in parent training, because parents are busy by their very nature. They are constantly prioritizing, re-prioritizing, and addressing the most urgent need first. Often, this means parent training focuses on immediately problematic behavioral patterns or routines, and/or parent training sessions become delayed, infrequent, or simply do not occur.
Navigating a Comprehensive and Systemic Parent Training Approach
Commonly, behavior analysts approach parent training using parent-centered interventions similar to behavioral parent training (BPT). Hieneman and Isley (2016) define BPT as “focusing on directly teaching parents to identify, define, and record child behavior; teach basic skills, and manage contingencies” (p. 7). As a behavior analyst, you read that and think, “Yes, that’s what we do!” But, did you know that BPT, as a stand-alone parent training model, is not as effective as it may sound? Though it is demonstrated effective in some studies, (Chacko et al., 2016; Shaffer, Kotchick, Dorsey, & Forehand, 2001), a high rate of attrition occurs both prior to and during BPT intervention (Chacko et al., 2016; Kazdin, 1996). These studies on attrition span 20 years, meaning that parental attrition rates have not significantly improved in 20 years of practice and publication. Attrition remains a persistent challenge for practitioners. Additionally, parents of children with behavioral challenges often do not experience benefits from behavioral parent training alone (Hieneman & Isley, 2016).
Check out this infographic to learn how you can improve outcomes by adding Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) to traditional behavioral parent training (BPT).
4 Ways to ‘Level-Up’ Your Parent Training:
Allowing parents to access content at any time or place that is convenient for them will unlock the full potential of clinician-led, parent-reinforced care. When parents have this flexibility and the instruction is built around the needs of each individual’s’ goals and their network, it allows you to augment and extend service delivery.
All too often, parent education involves conceptual discussions about behavioral principles and concepts, and then a jump to coaching or direct practice of the concept. Offering a journaling opportunity for parents to reflect on the lessons and apply them to their everyday lives is a great way to engage parents. They can then bring this “homework” to their next parent-provider meeting to discuss. This practice of reflection, application, and extension provides parents with a much more comprehensive and integrated parent education experience.
- While teaching parents about behavior-analytic concepts is an important part of parent training, parent support, or skills training, has been shown to achieve better results than parent education alone (Bearss et al., 2015; Chacko et al., 2016). Instead, provide families with comprehensive parent training, that establishes general knowledge about concepts related to parenting and verifies application of these concepts within the family’s life.
- Empowering parents through lessons in four areas: Parenting 101, ABA Basics, Advocacy, and Values. This combination of content establishes the parent as, first and foremost, a parent. Basic parenting lessons included in Parenting 101, offer parents effective parenting strategies. Lessons within ABA Basics and Values equip them with tools to become an informed consumer and advocate of services for their child and family. Advocacy lessons equip parents with strategies, processes, and resources to advocate for their child(ren) effectively. Finally, lessons within Values remind clinicians that they must support parents and family members in identifying their own unique set of values, and then integrate those values into treatment goals and the implementation of those goals.
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Parent Training curriculum should be comprehensive, holistic, and empower parents through the combined approach of parent education and training. CentralReach’s Parent Training curriculum offers practitioners accessible resources to create a purposeful parent training experience--one that extends beyond a singular parent training session to a series of sessions with continuity and comprehensiveness that meet the “in the moment” demands as well as long-term family goals.
Kristin Smith, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA
CentralReach, Instructional Designer
Kristin Smith, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA is a Licensed Behavior Analyst, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She began her career in the field of behavior analysis in 2002 and received a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Washington. Kristin has experience implementing and designing intervention programs across a variety of contexts, with learners ranging in age from 18 months to 40 years. She works with a wide variety of learners, including, but not limited to those with autism, chromosomal deletions, cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, social-emotional and/or behavioral problems, significant challenging behavior, blindness, and children with multiple disabilities. Her areas of expertise include Precision Teaching, instructional design, assessment, and data analysis.
Chacko, A., Jensen, S., Lowry, L., Cornwell, M., Chimklis, A., Chan, E., Lee, D., & Pulgarin, B. (2016). Engagement in behavioral parent training: Review of the literature and implications for practice. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 19(3), 204-215. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-016-0205-2
Derguy, C., M’Bailara, K., Michel, G., Roux, S., & Bouvard, M. (2016). The need for an ecological approach to parental stress in autism spectrum disorders: The combined role of individual and environmental factors. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(6), 1895-1905. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2719-3
Estes, A., Munson, J., Dawson, G., Koehler, E., Zhou, X.-H., & Abbott, R. (2009). Parenting stress and psychological functioning among mothers of preschool children with autism and developmental delay. Autism, 13(4), 375–387. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361309105658
Hieneman, M. & Isley, S. (2016). Family Foundations Program. Blueprints.
Hock, R., Kinsman, A., & Ortaglia, A. (2015). Examining treatment adherence among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Disability and Health Journal, 8(3), 407-413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2014.10.005
Kazdin, A. E. (1996) Dropping out of child therapy: Issues for research and implications for practice. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 1, 133-156. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359104596011012