Monday, January 17, 2011

Country-wide program in New Zealand teaches parenting skills

From The New Zealand Herald:

The Ministry of Education wants 12,000 parents to go through an 'Incredible Years' course by 2014.

One of the main lessons Nikki Bodde has learned from the Incredible Years parenting programme is not to use the word "but".

"When you tell your child you love them, there are no 'buts'," she says.

"If you say, 'You've done a good job tidying your room but you haven't picked up your dirty clothes,' the 'but' cancels out the positive.

"It's better to use positive language - not 'but', but, 'It's good that you've eaten your dinner, now let's brush your teeth'."

Nikki Bodde and her husband Andre, who share a real estate business as well as a home and two young sons in Ponsonby, are not the kind of family you'd expect to be on a programme aimed at parents of the 5 per cent of most at-risk children aged 3 to 8 in the country. (The family is pictured.)

But they were referred through 7-year-old son Sascha's school because Sascha is dyslexic. A year after starting school he still couldn't write his name.

"His behaviour was more like anxiety," Mrs Bodde says.

"If he hurt himself he would scream, he would throw tantrums, he was just over the top."

The parents tried everything they could think of. They took him to a paediatrician, who said he had "inattentive attention deficit disorder" (ADD) and prescribed Ritalin.

The drug worsened his anxiety and he stopped eating.

The paediatrician wanted to double his Ritalin, but the Boddes took him to another paediatrician who was less keen on drugs.

They found that he was intolerant to gluten and to too much milk. They changed his diet and the anxiety stopped.

They have also learnt new techniques from the Incredible Years.

Developed in Seattle 30 years ago, the Incredible Years was chosen by Auckland University's Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health in 2004 as the best parent management system for New Zealand because it performed well in random control trials, matching parents who did the programme against similar parents who didn't.

An expert Advisory Group for Conduct Problems weighed it up in 2009 against other programmes that had also done well in trials, but recommended continuing with Incredible Years because it was backed by Werry Centre trainers and was already being widely implemented in special education and in child and adolescent mental health services.

It recommended piloting the programme at two sites in the North Island and one in the South Island, comparing outcomes in families that went straight on to the programme with others who had to wait a few months for a place.

It was a trial system that was considered to be ethical because noeligible families would be turnedaway.

However, without waiting for trials, the Education Ministry announced in December 2009 that the programme would expand from 1000 parents to 3000 a year within three years as part of a plan to tackle misbehaviour in schools.

Special Education group manager Brian Coffey says still only 1000 parents did the programme through the education system in 2010, but that is expected to rise to 1900 this year.

All parents have been taught by resource teachers of learning and behaviour and other Special Education staff, but the ministry plans to contract non-government agencies to take up some of the load.

Mrs Bodde's course was for two hours one evening a week for three months with a group of other parents.

"A lot of them had children that they were finding difficult," she says. "Some others had children with ADD and dyslexia, and they were some of the coolest parents I've met. Everyone was down to earth and real and we all supported each other."

"We've seen a big change with our boys, they're a lot calmer and happier," Mr Bodde says.

"So we have a happier family, and a more balanced family. I recommend it to anyone."

Learning to parent is like learning to ride a bike - you cannot learn it from a book unless you have already done it in practice.

That's the view of Michelle Ball, a therapist who trained to teach the Incredible Years programme and ran a similar Triple P parenting programme when she was clinical director of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children in Otahuhu.

She dropped both programmes as she found they did not work for the neediest families who did not have the basic requirements for "riding a bike".

The problem, she said, is that many of the parents in most need never "attached" as infants to their own parents, because their parents were abusive, inconsistent or had addiction or mental health issues.

Having their own children often brought back the terror or heartache of those miserable childhoods.

Ms Ball believes such parents need to understand their relationship with their children. She uses a programme called Circle of Security and shows parents a DVD of a trip to the beach.

"The first time they are shown it, there's lovely classical music and sunshine," she said. "The second time there is the theme from Jaws, so by the time you get down to the beach you really don't want to swim in that water.

"When children do things it triggers your own internal theme music. When you teach parents to understand why that shark music is happening, and why their child needs that physical comfort and closeness at home, then they start to change their behaviours."