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Parenting Education



Parents play a key role in children’s development. Scholarship on the parent-child relationship almost invariably points to two fundamental components of parenting that are consistently related to child and youth outcomes: (a) a supportive component, including warmth, affection, and involvement, and (b) a controlling component, including provision of structure to the environment, limit setting, monitoring, and supervision (see B. K. Barber, Stolz, & Olsen, 2005, for a review). Specifically, Amato and Fowler (2002) suggest that children and adolescents do best when parents support them, spend quality time with them, avoid harsh punishment, and emphasize communication. Although the research literatures typically refer to these dimensions as support and control, the lay parenting literatures often label them nurture and guidance, respectively. Overall, there is much evidence that higher levels of parental support or nurture combined with higher levels of behavioral control or guidance are related to more positive outcomes for children and families.
Heidi E. Stolz
Parents play a key role in children’s development. Scholarship on the
parent-child relationship almost invariably points to two fundamen-
tal components of parenting that are consistently related to child and
youth outcomes: (a) a supportive component, including warmth, affection,
and involvement, and (b) a controlling component, including provision of
structure to the environment, limit setting, monitoring, and supervision (see
B. K. Barber, Stolz, & Olsen, 2005, for a review). Specifi cally, Amato and
Fowler (2002) suggest that children and adolescents do best when parents
support them, spend quality time with them, avoid harsh punishment, and
emphasize communication. Although the research literatures typically refer
to these dimensions as support and control, the lay parenting literatures
often label them nurture and guidance, respectively. Overall, there is much
evidence that higher levels of parental support or nurture combined with
higher levels of behavioral control or guidance are related to more positive
outcomes for children and families.
Although 60 years of parenting research clearly identifi es the important
role of parents in promoting children’s well-being, effective parenting is not
easy. Children and adolescents are faced with opportunities and sometimes
pressures to select harmful behaviors. According to the 2005 national Youth
Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2005), during a specifi ed 30-day period, 9.9% of high school students
reported driving a car after drinking alcohol, 18.5% had carried a weapon,
43.3% had drank alcohol, 23.0% had smoked cigarettes, and 20.2% had
used marijuana. In addition, during the 12 months preceding the survey,
35.9% of high school students had been in a physical fi ght and 8.4% had
attempted suicide. Overall, 46.8% of high school students reported having
had sexual intercourse, and 37.2% of those sexually active high school stu-
dents had not used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter.
Parents are charged with protecting children from these and many other
risks and to do so amid the pressures that accompany changes in the work-
force, in family structures, in media messages, and in cultural values, to
name just a few. Given that parents are in a key position to positively affect
children, yet face signifi cant challenges to daily, positive parenting in our
complex and ever-changing society, it makes sense that they would need
and benefi t from help. In an effort to meet this need, the number of parent-
ing education programs in the United States designed to inspire, inform,
and train parents has increased.
To develop some perspective on the topic of this chapter, let’s fi rst briefl y
consider the history of parenting education. Parent education in the United
States has existed in some form since at least the early 19th century. The
movement began in the 1800s with mothers who met in discussion groups
and was expanded in the 1820s through the formation of associations to
teach parents how to instill religious and moral values in their children
(Croake & Glover, 1977). At the beginning of the 20th century, parent edu-
cation efforts gained momentum. Family professionals initiated publica-
tions and programs to disseminate parenting information (Doherty, 2000).
Government responses included the fi rst White House Conference on Child
Welfare in 1909 and the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which began the Cooperative
Extension Service. A survey conducted by the U.S. Offi ce of Education in
1930 revealed that almost 400 organizations were conducting some form
of parent education (Croake & Glover, 1977). The fi eld of parent educa-
tion has continued to grow, and currently more than 250,000 professionals,
paraprofessionals, and volunteers are serving as parent educators in the
United States (National Parenting Education Network, n.d.). Thus, there
is a long history of parents both needing and receiving help with their
Parenting Education 193
parenting, and over time, both the level of need and the number of people
and programs working to meet the need have increased.
Before we can consider various efforts to educate parents about parenting,
it is useful to fi rst explore the end state that parenting education hopes to
promote. In other words, what do parents need to believe, know, and do
to positively affect their children?
Positive Parenting Dimensions and Behaviors:
The Scholarship of Parenting
One body of information that helps us better understand what behav-
iors parenting education programs should strive to promote is published,
peer-reviewed scholarship on parenting and the parent-child relationship.
Specifi cally, in this chapter, we will consider two research-supported par-
enting frameworks that specify the salient components of parenting. First,
Baumrind’s (1971; see also Maccoby & Martin, 1983) typological framework
has occupied a central role in the research literature. From this perspec-
tive, two dimensions of parenting are considered key—responsiveness and
demandingness. These two dimensions are then used to identify four basic
types of parenting, which is why this is labeled a typological framework.
Much research suggests that the authoritative style or type of parenting,
characterized by high responsiveness and high demandingness, is asso-
ciated with positive child and youth outcomes in a variety of domains
(Baumrind, 1991; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991).
A second parenting framework that sheds light on important aspects
of parenting emerged from the early work of Schaefer (1965) and Becker
(1964), as well as the later work of Barber and colleagues (B. K. Barber
et al., 2005) and Steinberg and colleagues (Steinberg, 1990). This frame-
work suggests that three key dimensions of parenting—support, behavioral
control, and (avoidance of) psychological control—each predict specifi c
aspects of youth functioning (B. K. Barber et al., 2005). This is considered a
dimensional framework because the dimensions are considered separately
rather than being combined to create types of parenting. When we consider
these two infl uential frameworks, we fi nd two agreed-upon components or
dimensions of positive parenting (responsiveness/support and demanding-
ness/behavioral control) and one additional dimension specifi ed only by
the second framework (avoidance of psychological control). Given that
these three parenting dimensions are supported by decades of research, it
is important to briefl y consider the parenting behaviors that comprise each
dimension and the extent to which parenting education efforts emphasize
each dimension.
Responsiveness/support. First, much research supports the notion that con-
sistent, stable emotional connection between parents and children affords
children a solid foundation for the development of important social skills.
This connection is often measured by perceptions of how supported chil-
dren or adolescents feel they are by their parents. This overarching con-
struct of parental support covers a number of more specifi c constructs such
as attachment, warmth, nurturance, and involvement. Thus, Baumrind’s
(1971) notion of responsiveness is quite similar to the support construct in
the dimensional frameworks. Perceived support from parents has been pre-
dictive of school performance (Eccles, Early, Frasier, Belansky, & McCarthy,
1997; M. R. Herman, Dornbusch, Herron, & Herting, 1997), self-esteem
(Bulanda & Majumdar, 2009), and social competence (B. K. Barber et al.,
2005) in childhood and adolescence. Many parenting education models,
as well as specifi c programs and curricula, attempt to teach parents to
increase their levels of support and responsiveness by communicating love
and affection for their children.
Demandingness/behavioral control. Second, both identifi ed parenting
frameworks reviewed above (Baumrind’s typological framework and the
dimensional framework suggested by Barber and Steinberg) specify the
role of parental behavioral control or demandingness, including supervi-
sion, monitoring, and rule and limit setting (Dishion & Loeber, 1985). When
parents provide structure around their offspring’s behaviors, youth learn to
self-regulate and are therefore less likely to engage in antisocial behaviors
(Maccoby & Martin, 1983). In addition to active monitoring, overall parental
knowledge of how and with whom school-aged children and adolescents
spend their time has also been linked to more positive behaviors (see Kerr
& Stattin, 2000). Research on youth of various nationalities has indicated
that a high level of parental behavioral control, including monitoring and
knowledge of adolescents’ friends and activities, has a “specialized relation-
ship” (B. K. Barber et al., 2005, p. 57) with decreased antisocial behavior,
suggesting that it is the most effective intervention target (with regard to
antisocial behavior) at the parental level. As was the case with parental sup-
port, many parenting education programs also explicitly seek to teach par-
ents how to develop or maintain an appropriate level of behavioral control.
Parenting Education 195
This is understandable and appropriate, given that many parents seek par-
ent training programs due to the “acting out” behaviors of their children,
and research supports this relationship between parental behavioral control
and children’s externalized problem behavior.
Psychological control. A third important component of parenting is specifi ed
by the dimensional framework discussed above. In effect, this framework
suggests that to understand parenting, it is helpful to separate the construct
of control into two different dimensions. Thus, behavioral control, as dis-
cussed above, is quite similar to Baumrind’s (1971) idea of demandingness
and is generally positive and helpful for children. However, psychological
control includes parental controlling behaviors involving shame, guilt, love
withdrawal, and other manipulative forms of discipline that are harmful
for children and adolescents. Much scholarly work has demonstrated the
existence and negative effects of psychological control, which is defi ned as
“control attempts that intrude into the psychological and emotional devel-
opment of the child (e.g., thinking processes, self-expression, emotions,
and attachment to parents)” (B. K. Barber, 1996, p. 3296). Although there
is widespread acceptance in the scholarly literatures of the negative effects
of psychologically controlling parental behaviors, this parenting dimension
perhaps plays a less central role in parenting education programming.
Take a moment to refl ect on these three dimensions of parenting that
have been supported by decades of research. Consider the parenting you have
personally experienced. Did you feel supported? Were appropriate limits set
and enforced? Did you have the freedom to express your thoughts and feelings
even if they differed from those of your parents? It is hoped that considering
these dimensions of positive parenting with regard to your own life helps you
see the real-world usefulness of this research and empowers you to help par-
ents with whom you might work take steps toward more positive parenting.
Priority Practices for Parents: The National Extension Parent
Education Model (NEPEM)
On the basis of parenting frameworks and research as well as extensive
experience with programs for parents, professionals with the Cooperative
Extension Service created the National Extension Parent Education Model
(NEPEM), a model specifying “critical” or “priority” parenting practices
(Smith et al., 1994). This model offers another opportunity for us to better
understand the aspects of parenting that are critical to children’s well-being
and should therefore be targeted by parenting interventions. According to
NEPEM, the six priority parenting practices and their descriptions are as fol-
lows (Smith et al., 1994, p. 14):
Category Priority Practice
Care for self Manage personal stress.
Manage family resources.
Offer support to other parents.
Ask for and accept support from others when needed.
Recognize one’s own personal and parenting strengths.
Have a sense of purpose in setting child-rearing goals.
Cooperate with one’s child-rearing partners.
Understand Observe and understand one’s children and their development.
Recognize how children infl uence and respond to what happens around them.
Guide Model appropriate desired behavior.
Establish and maintain reasonable limits.
Provide children with developmentally appropriate opportunities to learn
Convey fundamental values underlying basic human decency.
Teach problem-solving skills.
Monitor children’s activities and facilitate their contact with peers and adults.
Nurture Express affection and compassion.
Foster children’s self-respect and hope.
Listen and attend to children’s feelings and ideas.
Teach kindness.
Provide for the nutrition, shelter, clothing, health, and safety needs of one’s
Celebrate life with one’s children.
Help children feel connected to family history and cultural heritage.
Motivate Teach children about themselves, others, and the world around them.
Stimulate curiosity, imagination, and the search for knowledge.
Create benefi cial learning conditions.
Help children process and manage information.
Advocate Find, use, and create community resources when needed to benefi t one’s
children and the community of children.
Stimulate social change to create supportive environments for children and
Build relationships with family, neighborhood, and community groups.
Developed by Charles A. Smith, Dorothea Cudaback, H. Wallace Goddard, and Judith A.
Myers-Walls in collaboration with Extension professionals throughout the United States. This project
was supported by the Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Cooperative
Extension Service, Kansas State University, under special project number 92-EXCA-2–0812.
Parenting Education 197
Overall, the reviewed parenting frameworks, scholarship, and NEPEM
suggest that parents need to fi rst be in a position to learn parenting (e.g.,
be able to care for themselves and understand children’s development),
and then they would benefi t from learning how to support and encourage
children (including responding to and motivating children) as well as how
to guide children (including limit setting and provision of structure) with-
out exerting control on their thoughts and feelings. Last, beyond learning
improved parenting behaviors, parents would benefi t from learning how to
identify, create, and use resources outside of the family for the benefi t of
their children. Parenting education, broadly defi ned, includes all efforts to
instill in parents a desire to parent well and to provide the knowledge and
skills (specifi ed above) deemed necessary to do so.
Having reviewed scholarship on positive, effective parenting and con-
sidered the priority parenting practices specifi ed by the NEPEM, we now
have a better understanding of the predispositions, knowledge, and behav-
iors that parenting education programs should attempt to shape and teach,
in order to improve the lives of children and adolescents. Although effec-
tive parenting programs generally do target one or more of the constructs
reviewed above, the specifi c parenting behaviors or dimensions empha-
sized, as well as the mechanisms thought to be responsible for behav-
ioral change, differ, based in part on the theoretical underpinnings of the
parenting program. Given that these theoretical models shape the content
and focus of parenting programming, six theoretical models that inform
parenting education are reviewed below, with examples provided of pro-
grams stemming from each model. Most of these models are also reviewed
succinctly by Myers-Walls (2007) along with a scenario-based quiz to help
parenting educators identify which model(s) best refl ect their beliefs about
Attachment models. Bowlby’s (1969) theory of attachment suggests that
attachment to a caregiver is a primal and fundamental form of behavior
where people seek the comfort and security of a consistent, attuned, and
responsive individual. Parenting education programs grounded in this the-
ory tend to focus on helping parents develop positive forms of attachment
with their children by increasing awareness and knowledge about chil-
dren’s emotional needs. Thus, these programs tend to focus primarily on
the supportive dimension of parenting, and they tend to focus on infants
and young children, given that the early years represent a sensitive window
for secure attachment. From this perspective, a solid parent-child attach-
ment provides the foundation for other positive parent and child outcomes.
One parenting education program that is grounded in attachment theory is
Steps Toward Effective, Enjoyable Parenting (STEEP; Egeland & Erickson,
2004). STEEP attempts to help parents recognize the connections between
their past and present relationships and also better understand their infant’s
feelings. By promoting a secure attachment between infant and parent,
STEEP parent educators hope to affect parent-child interactions and rela-
tionships into the future.
Behavior modifi cation models. Programs that are grounded in behavioral
theories tend to focus on modeling, reinforcement, and punishment. Parents
are instructed to identify a goal and establish a reinforcement and/or punish-
ment schedule to shape the child’s behavior toward the goal. Thus, parent-
ing education programs grounded in this model tend to focus on parental
control more so than support, and they tend to downplay the role of internal
states (e.g., children’s feelings or motives). Although there is some indica-
tion that punishment is ineffective in the long run, and there is concern that
these approaches result in behaviors that are externally produced rather than
internally motivated, these types of programs have been shown to be effec-
tive in two distinct populations—children with learning disabilities (Gates,
Newell, & Wray, 2001) and youth engaging in high-risk behavior (Stolz,
Vargas, Clifford, Gaedt, & Garcia, 2010). Myers-Walls (2007) suggested that
both Assertive Discipline and Confi dent Parenting are parenting education
programs grounded in behavior modifi cation. Another parenting education
program grounded in the behavior modifi cation framework is Parent Project
(Fry, Johnson, Melendez, & Morgan, 2003), a 10- to 16-week parenting pro-
gram for self- and system-referred parents of at-risk or out-of-control youth.
The program targets parents whose adolescents exhibit behaviors such as
running away, drug and/or alcohol use, poor school attendance, or vio-
lence. Parent Project facilitators teach parents to infl uence their children and
motivate them to change their own behavior via positive strokes, positive
consequences, and negative consequences. Parent Project facilitators also
teach parents to consider and inquire about the “5 Ws” (Fry et al., 2003, p.
30), representing “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “Why” about their
Parenting Education 199
adolescents’ activities, and to occasionally “Spot Check” (p. 30) to see if their
adolescents are doing what they claimed to be doing.
Democratic models. Democratic parenting education models are rooted in
Adlerian psychology (Adler, 1927) and in the work of Dreikurs (1964).
As such, they emphasize the importance of understanding children’s per-
spectives by refl ecting on their cognitive and internal motivation pro-
cesses. These programs de-emphasize parental power and focus instead on
warmth, acceptance, and parental perspective taking. Parents are encour-
aged to try to understand children’s motivation for misbehavior and pro-
vide children with explanations about the logical consequences of their
behavior. Despite the fact that many well-established parenting programs
are grounded in this model, Goddard, Myers-Walls, and Lee (2004) question
both (a) the ability of the limited motivational options (attention, power,
revenge, inadequacy) to explain the causes of misbehavior as well as (b)
the ability of parents to diagnose children’s motives, especially in the con-
text of a stressful parenting moment. Myers-Walls’s (2007) description of
parent education approaches indicates that Systematic Training for Effective
Parenting (STEP), Parent Effectiveness Training (PET), Active Parenting, and
the Nurturing Program are all grounded in the democratic parenting model.
Another parenting program grounded primarily in the democratic model is
Parents’ Toolshop (Pawel, 2000). This program combines elements of sev-
eral established programs to create a hybrid, democratic approach. Parents’
Toolshop teaches a decision-making model as well as problem prevention
skills, problem ownership steps, and tools for addressing both “child” prob-
lems and “parent” problems.
Social consciousness models. Another parenting education model identifi ed
by Myers-Walls (2007) is the socially conscious parenting model. Programs
based on this model are sensitive to the larger social and ecological envi-
ronment in which parenting occurs and emphasize “social change, empa-
thy, and respect for self and others” (Myers-Walls, 2007, p. 4). Nonviolence,
acceptance of diversity, and planned simplicity are values stressed by these
programs. Because this framework downplays the role of parental power,
these programs tend to focus on parental support more so than behav-
ioral control. Some programs emerging from this framework also suggest
and support parenting behaviors that avoid parental psychological control
(attempts to control children’s thoughts and feelings). Myers-Walls includes
Teaching Peace in her list of parenting programs based on this model.
Teaching Peace (Arnow, 1995) attempts to help parents foster children’s
self-esteem, which, in turn, is thought to reduce confl ict and prejudice.
Counseling and/or communication models. Another basic theoretical model
from which parenting education programs have emerged is the counseling
or communication model. Parenting programs based in this philosophical
approach focus on empathy and open communication. Thus, they tend to
encourage behaviors contributing to the dimensions of parental support,
and they discourage the use of psychological control. Perhaps the most
well-known program based on this model is Faber and Mazlish’s (1999)
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Based on
Ginott’s (1965) work, this program helps parents cope with their children’s
feelings, express their own feelings, and use alternatives to punishment.
Developmental models. Last, many parenting education programs are
grounded in a developmental theoretical model (Myers-Walls, 2007). These
programs are often considered to emphasize children’s “ages and stages.” As
such, the focus is not on parenting behaviors so much as on parental knowl-
edge of children’s development. Programs grounded in this model are based
on the assumption that if children’s developmental needs are met, parents
will be faced with fewer problematic behaviors. One well-established devel-
opmental parenting program is Parents as Teachers (PAT). PAT is designed
to help parents understand their child’s development and their role in facili-
tating their child’s learning from infancy to kindergarten. To accomplish this
goal, they provide home visiting services to educate parents and conduct
vision, hearing, and developmental screenings of young children.
The six theoretical models reviewed above differ with regard to the par-
enting behaviors targeted and the explanations for how, exactly, changing that
targeted parental behavior will, in turn, change children’s lives for the better.
Although parenting programs stemming from these models are different and
sometimes even contain contradictory messages, all of the approaches have
been shown to be effective under certain conditions with certain popula-
tions. That points to one of the challenges in parenting education—there is
really no “one-size-fi ts-all” approach to teaching parents. Thus, it is important
match each parent to a program with a compatible philosophical foundation
(for suggestions and tools, see Heath, 1998; Myers-Walls, 2007).
Having a solid understanding of the theoretical foundations of parenting
programs helps us to sort programs based on philosophies, assump-
tions, and goals, thus enabling us to select a program that is theoretically
Parenting Education 201
sound and an appropriate match for our audience and outcomes of
interest. However, regardless of the theoretical basis of a program, it is
unlikely to be optimally effective unless it is delivered by a competent
parent educator. Thus, in this section, we will explore what we know
about the characteristics and qualities of an effective parenting educator.
It has been diffi cult to develop a set of agreed-upon standards or compe-
tencies of parenting educators because people working in this capacity
have varied educational backgrounds (both in terms of academic disci-
pline as well as level of education) and work in a wide range of settings
(e.g., for profi t, nonprofi t, schools, hospitals, community service orga-
nizations; for a discussion, see Cooke, 2006). Despite these challenges,
several individuals and entities have nonetheless attempted to identify
the core competencies of parenting educators (i.e., the agreed-upon set
of required attitudes, skills, and knowledge) as a fi rst step toward creat-
ing professional development opportunities leading to standardized cre-
dentials. Two such efforts, reviewed in detail by Cooke (2006), will be
described below. If you have a passion for helping others improve their
parenting, these are the skills and attributes you might want to consider
developing through your coursework, practicum placements, or paid or
volunteer work.
Texas Registry of Parent Educator Resources (ROPER). Texas ROPER,
in conjunction with the Center for Parenting Education at the University of
North Texas, gathered data from 400 professionals across the state of Texas.
From these responses, a framework was developed specifying 10 areas that
are central to the work of parenting educators (Center for Parent Education,
2004). Within each of these 10 areas, specifi c attitudes, knowledge, and
skills have been identifi ed that are thought to play important roles in par-
enting educators’ ability to effectively train and support parents. The 10
identifi ed areas are as follows:
1. Child and Lifespan Development
2. Dynamics of Family Relationships
3. Family Life Education
4. Guidance and Nurturing
5. Health and Safety
6. Diversity in Family Systems
7. Professional Practice and Methods Related to Adult Learning and
Family Support
8. School and Child Care Relationships
9. Community Relationships
10. Assessment and Evaluation
Texas ROPER provides free assessment tools for organizations to use to
evaluate their areas of relative strength as well as their training needs with
regard to attitudes, knowledge, and skills within each of the 10 areas. The
assessment tools, as well as other available online resources, are of use to
professionals and family service organizations interested in identifying and
improving parenting educator competencies.
National Extension Parent Education Framework (NEPEF). After creating
NEPEM, a framework for understanding critical parenting practices that make
up the content of parenting education, faculty members working within the
Cooperative Extension System expanded the framework to also include also
include the processes that are central to parenting education. The two com-
ponents together (content and process) comprise the National Extension
Parent Education Framework (NEPEF; DeBord, Bower, Goddard, Kirby,
Kobbe, Myers-Walls, et al., 2002). According to the NEPEF, the content areas
that parent educators should be knowledgeable about are those discussed
above as priority practices of parents—care for self, understand, guide, nur-
ture, motivate, and advocate. Thus, there is a planned parallelism given that
the areas of knowledge that are thought to be at the core of parental compe-
tence are also the areas that parenting educators must thoroughly understand
before they can effectively educate parents. The NEPEF model then goes
beyond specifying the knowledge-based competencies of parenting educa-
tors to describe the process-related competencies, or skills, required of par-
enting educators. Six process-related skills are identifi ed as follows (DeBord,
Bower, Goddard, Kirby, Kobbe, Myers-Walls, et al., 2002, p.7):
Grow: refers to personal growth as a professional; knowing yourself
and understanding how this affects the way you relate to others;
Frame: refers to knowing theoretical frameworks that guide practice in
the fi eld of parenting education;
Develop: refers to planning and marketing programs to educate parents,
and developing evaluation processed that are part of a total educa-
tional effort;
Embrace: refers to recognizing and responding to differences in
ethnicity, family type, and belief systems among populations being
Parenting Education 203
Educate: refers to being an effective teacher; knowing how to use vari-
ous delivery methods, helping parents learn, and challenging them
to higher parenting goals;
Build: refers to reaching out to build professional networks; being a
community advocate; and connecting with organizations to expand
the fi eld of parenting education.
Overall, it is important to recognize that parent educator competencies
include (a) broad and deep knowledge of theory and research related to
children, families, and parenting; (b) an attitude of tolerance, sensitivity,
and commitment to parents; and (c) instructional, relational, and profes-
sional skills. Once core competencies are further refi ned, it is believed that
comprehensive preparation based on those competencies, focused practice,
and opportunities for continuing professional development will increase
the quality (Heath & Palm, 2006) and the effi cacy (Campbell & Palm, 2004)
of parent education.
In addition to understanding the assumptions and goals of a parenting
program (e.g., the theoretical foundation, the targeted parenting dimen-
sions) and the characteristics of the individual responsible for delivering
the material, it is also useful to consider the mode of delivery itself. Parent
educators use a range of techniques (e.g., seminars, group programs, in-
home programs, newsletters, hotlines, referral services, magazines, books,
pamphlets, CDs, downloadable MP3s, DVDs, text messaging, and videos)
to communicate parenting information to parents. Some techniques focus
on information provision, others on support provision, and still others on
skills training. Below we briefl y consider several general modes of informa-
tion delivery, along with the evidence of effectiveness of each.
Home visitation. One effective technique for reaching parents is the in-
home parent education program. This approach involves a trained indi-
vidual observing and assisting with child and family issues in the home
environment. This technique is often used to work with parents of very
young children, and families are generally visited one to four times per
month. Home visitation programs have provided parenting education to
families who are at risk for certain negative outcomes (Duggan et al., 2000)
and parents with intellectual disabilities (Llewellyn, McConnell, Russo,
Mayes, & Honey, 2002). According to the Council on Child and Adolescent
Health (1998), home visitation programs “offer an effective mechanism to
ensure ongoing parental education, social support, and linkage with public
and private community services” (p. 486). In addition, the council notes that
“home-visitation programs can be an effective early-intervention strategy to
improve the health and well-being of children” (p. 488).
Group parenting classes. Another proven effective technique is the in-person
group parenting program. In this approach, parents come together for a
specifi ed period of time and receive information regarding some aspect of
parenting ranging from how to help children deal with divorce (Shiffl ett &
Cummings, 1999) to how to care for an infant who was once critically ill (Pfander
& Bradley-Johnson, 1990). One group program, Common Sense Parenting,
led to signifi cant reductions in child behavior problems and improvements in
parental problem solving among low- and middle-income parents (Thompson,
Grow, Ruma, Daly, & Burke, 1993). Participants in another group program
in Australia reported short-term increases in parental competence and longer
term reductions in child diffi culty (J. G. Barber, 1992).
Newsletters. A newsletter is another technique used to effectively reach par-
ents. This type of parenting information is often distributed by an agency
to a particular population, such as single parents (Nelson, 1986) or parents
of adolescents (Bogenschneider & Stone, 1997). In a survey of 880 parents
in 10 states, Cudaback et al. (1985) examined the usefulness of age-paced
newsletters and found that a majority of parents believed the newsletters to
be useful in increasing both their self-confi dence and their knowledge of
child development. In addition, Bogenschneider and Stone (1997) surveyed
796 U.S. Midwest parents of 9th to 12th graders regarding the effects of age-
paced newsletters and reported closer parental monitoring by parents who
received a series of three newsletters (age paced or generic), as compared
to the control group.
Books. The sheer volume of books related to parenting that are available
in bookstores or through online book vendors suggests that many parents
get parenting information in this format. Unfortunately, there are no known
scholarly studies related to the effectiveness of parenting books in shap-
ing parenting behavior. However, one good resource for those who are
interested in using books to inform parenting is the Authoritative Guide
to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health (Norcross et al., 2003). While not
based on empirical studies, it includes professional assessments to help
both parents and parenting professionals distinguish high-quality self-help
resources (including those related to parenting) from those that are inac-
curate or even potentially harmful.
Parenting Education 205
Web-based approaches. Newer techniques for delivering parenting infor-
mation also show promise. For example, parents of young children with
disabilities reported that the website SPIES for Parents was “helpful, useful,
and responsive to their needs and time constraints” (Cook, Rule, & Mariger,
2003, p. 19). Of course, many other websites provide parenting information
as well. This approach has the advantage of being free of cost to anyone
with a computer and Internet access as well as free from specifi c time con-
straints. However, among the disadvantages are the fact that it is diffi cult
to determine the soundness of the information provided, the information is
often insensitive to the particular situation of an individual parent, and the
method does little to promote a social context for learning.
Again, as was the case with the various theoretical foundations of par-
enting education approaches, we have reviewed many options with regard
to delivery formats, and all of them have the potential to be effective in
certain situations with certain audiences.
Having considered the theoretical foundations of parenting programs, the
competencies considered necessary for individuals who deliver parent
training, and the various delivery formats that are used, we will now refl ect
on the populations for whom parenting education has been shown to be
effective. Certainly individuals with a variety of characteristics and needs
have had positive and benefi cial experiences in general parenting classes,
but sometimes enough parents share a particular, salient characteristic that
a targeted approach is warranted. One such shared characteristic is pending
divorce. Given that many states either encourage or require parent training
for divorcing parents, it is encouraging that Bacon and McKenzie’s (2004)
evaluation of 10 parent education programs for divorcing parents showed
signifi cant improvements on measures of parental confl ict across pro-
grams. In addition, programs designed for incarcerated parents have also
resulted in improved participant attitudes, better understanding of effective
discipline practices, and recognition of the importance of children’s play
(among incarcerated fathers; Maiorano & Futris, 2005) and improvements
in attitude, self-esteem, and interactions with children (among incarcerated
mothers; Harm & Thompson, 1997). Programs targeting teen parents have
demonstrated effectiveness in improving both mothers’ parenting behav-
iors and children’s developmental quotient scores (Deutscher, Fewell, &
Gross, 2006) and in reducing founded child maltreatment reports (Britner
& Reppucci, 1997). Also, programs designed for a specifi c racial or ethnic
group have also been shown to change important aspects of parenting.
For example, African American parents of teens who participated in an
Adlerian video-based parent education program “exhibited signifi cantly
more favorable perceptions of their children’s behavior” (Farooq, Jefferson,
& Fleming, 2005, p. 29) and developed more authoritative parenting views
when compared to those in the control group who did not participate in
the program. Programs specifi cally designed for fathers, court-connected
parents, and parents of children with disabilities have also been shown to
be effective.
Overall, there is widespread agreement that parenting behaviors affect chil-
dren in meaningful ways and that effective parenting behaviors can be
taught and learned (Britner & Reppucci, 1997; Reid, Webster-Stratton, &
Baydar, 2004). Bunting’s (2004) review of research on multiple programs
targeting a variety of audiences revealed that parenting programs have been
found to improve child behaviors and parent relationships, increase mater-
nal knowledge and self-esteem, decrease maternal depression and stress,
and improve mother-child interactions.
Parent training programs have been shown to increase parents’ feel-
ings of empathy and to help the parents establish better relationships with
their children (Barlow & Stewart-Brown, 2001). Several studies have found
that parent training resulted in a decrease in negative parenting behaviors
(Britner & Reppucci, 1997; Reid et al., 2004). Additional studies have found
fewer conduct problems for the children of parents who completed parent
training (McKenzie & Bacon, 2002). One longitudinal study (Reid, Webster-
Stratton, & Beauchaine, 2001) showed that, one year after the completion
of parenting classes, mothers in the intervention were observed to be more
positive, less critical, more consistent, and more competent in their parent-
ing than control mothers. Kaiser and Hancock (2003) noted that “there is
systematic evidence over the last 30 years that teaching parents specifi c
strategies to support their children’s development can be effective” (p. 9).
Although there is plenty of evidence that parenting education can
be effective, the vast majority of parenting interventions are not evalu-
ated. How can one easily fi nd evidence-based parenting programs and
curricula? Some indicators of evidentiary basis include positive program
evaluation results published in scholarly journals and/or a positive rating
Parenting Education 207
by an organization such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA) or the Offi ce of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). SAMHSA (2006) defi nes evidence-based
practice as “a practice which, based on expert or consensus opinion about
available evidence, is expected to produce a specifi c clinical outcome”
(p. 1) and lists qualifying programs in the online National Registry of
Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP). Similarly, OJJDP rates
programs that reduce juvenile involvement in the justice system as exem-
plary, effective, or promising (OJJDP, n.d.). There are several benefi ts
of using evidence-based parent education programs and curricula. First,
evidence-based programs have relatively high implementation fi delity
(SAMHSA, 2006), which may reduce variability in parental interpreta-
tion of presented information, thereby increasing the likelihood of suc-
cessfully altering negative parent behaviors and beliefs. Also, by using a
curriculum with documented effectiveness, parent educators reduce the
risk of inadvertently introducing harm to the family unit. Last, the use
of evidence-based curricula enhances the likelihood of receiving federal
funding (Wandersman & Florin, 2003).
A plethora of curricula and other resources exist to help parents improve
interactions and overall relationships with their children. This wide variety
of choices is likely dictated by the large number of variables that affect
parenting education, such as age of children, ethnic and racial diversity of
participants, differences in demographic characteristics of parents, and the
variety of problems that children may present (Heath, 1998). Although there
is no shortage of parent education resources and curricula available, it is
often diffi cult for parenting professionals to know what to consider when
selecting a curriculum or other materials. In this section, we draw heavily
from Cooke’s work (as presented in Stolz, Rector, & Cooke, 2009) to outline
steps for evaluating parenting education resources, integrating what we
have learned previously in this chapter about effective parenting and effec-
tive parenting education.
1. Consider the parenting outcomes targeted. What is the overall
purpose and specifi c goals of the program or materials? Are the targeted
parenting outcomes related to the research-based dimensions of parenting
(responsiveness/support, demandingness/behavioral control, avoidance of
psychological control) and/or the NEPEM critical parenting practices (care
for self, understand, guide, nurture, motivate, advocate)?
2. Consider the theoretical foundation. What is the theoretical orienta-
tion/conceptual basis for the program or materials? If it is diffi cult to identify
the theoretical foundation of a parenting intervention, is there a coherent
explanation of how change is expected to occur? Is the theoretical model a
good fi t with your basic beliefs about parenting?
3. Consider the parent educator competencies. There are two aspects
of this step. First, what are the qualifi cations of the authors of the materials?
Do they have professional preparation in areas related to parenting and
parent education? Second, what do the materials assume about the prepa-
ration of the parent educator? Do you have the competencies needed to
effectively use this particular resource?
4. Consider the delivery format. How will the material be communi-
cated to the audience? Is there reason to think this is an effective delivery
format given the change mechanisms specifi ed by the theoretical model,
the parenting outcomes targeted, and the needs of the audience?
5. Consider your audience. Does this resource match the needs of the
parent(s) with whom you will work? Is it targeted to parents with particular
characteristics? Do the reading level, analytic requirements, and teaching/
learning styles match the abilities and preferences of your audience?
6. Consider the evidentiary basis of the material. What documenta-
tion exists of the effectiveness of the material? If none, are other evidence-
based materials available that meet the goals and needs of the program and
7. Consider practical issues. How comprehensive is it? Does it include
materials that can be used over several sessions with the parent(s)? Is it easy
to obtain? How much does it cost? Can it be used multiple times?
Overall, both the need for parenting education and efforts to meet that need
have increased, and there is considerable consensus regarding the par-
enting outcomes that warrant intervention and assistance. Parent educator
Parenting Education 209
competencies (attitudes, knowledge, and skills) have been defi ned at
the general level. Parenting education programs differ in their theoretical
foundations, delivery approaches, and populations targeted, creating both
opportunities for programs that enhance and enrich parenting as well as
opportunities for mismatches between programs and participants. A small
percentage of parenting programs has identifi ed the resources necessary
for a quality evaluation, and many of those programs have been able to
document positive changes in parenting behaviors and/or child and youth
outcomes. So, where do we go from here?
First, we need to increase the preservice preparation, professional devel-
opment, and professional identity of parenting educators. Parenting edu-
cators (i.e., people whose paid or voluntary work includes helping others
improve as parents) are embedded in a wide range of settings (extension,
schools, family service organizations, churches, hospitals, private practice,
etc.) and have diverse educational backgrounds. As a result, they are often
isolated, diffi cult to identify, and underresourced. This notwithstanding,
they are the best venues for ensuring that parenting scholarship gets trans-
lated and applied in a way that results in measurable improvements for real
people. Thus, one key future challenge for the fi eld of parenting education
involves using the identifi ed core competencies to generate specifi c train-
ing and credentialing opportunities. Several states (e.g., Minnesota, North
Carolina, Texas, and more recently New York) have worked to advance this
goal, but most states offer no agreed-upon training system, credential, or
license for parenting educators. Also, recent research suggests that there is
strong support for a national parenting education credential (Stolz, Henke,
Brandon, & Sams, in press).
Second, once parenting educators are better prepared to work with
parents and better able to market themselves as parenting experts, it is
important that we work to identify, reach, and engage audiences. One
component of this goal involves altering the defi cit perspective of parenting
education and creating a culture in which parenting is valued and seeking
assistance with parenting is de-stigmatized and normative. Then, parent
and child characteristics need to be fully considered in identifying a general
model, a specifi c program, and a delivery approach that is likely to engage
parents in a meaningful refl ection on their role as parents and encourage
them to take positive steps. Although creative delivery approaches may be
important in this fast-paced digital age, we need to maintain the goal of
sustained contact with parents.
Third, professional parenting educators need a quality message to share
with parents. Now more than ever there is a belief that everything one needs
to know is just a click away on the Internet. While this democratization
of knowledge has many benefi ts, professional parenting educators need
to ensure that the information they share is theoretically sound, research
based, and, when possible, evidence based. There is an immense need for
more and better studies. Some very popular programs have poor evalua-
tions, some evidence-based programs may be good but not great, and some
wonderful programs may not be evidence based due to a lack of resources.
Improved and expanded parenting education evaluations, and centralized
access to the results thereof, will expand the choices available to profes-
sional parenting educators as they seek to engage their audiences.
1. Download the Core Knowledge Survey, Attitude Survey, and Skills
Survey from the Core Knowledge for Parent Educators and Professionals
Who Work With Families website sponsored by the Center for Parenting at
the University of North Texas (
Rate your own attitudes, knowledge, and skills as a parenting educator.
What are your strengths? In what areas would additional training or devel-
opment be helpful?
2. Interview a parent. Ask about his or her parenting philosophy and
goals. Have the parent describe several behaviors that he or she engages in
for each critical parenting practice suggested by the NEPEM (care for self,
understand, guide, nurture, motivate, advocate). Thinking like a parenting
educator, what do you think this parent’s strengths are? What would you
encourage him or her to consider or try? What theoretical model of parent-
ing education would be a good fi t for this parent if he or she was looking for
a parenting program?
3. Join the National Parenting Education Network listserv (http://www.; it’s free!) to network with parenting educators from across the
United States and Canada and better understand the questions and chal-
lenges facing professional parent educators.
Full-text available
Raising a child engages parents/caregivers in learning knowledge and skills needed for effective, healthy parenting. The field of parent and family education furnishes a variety of approaches and resources intended to assist and guide those raising and working with children. The Diffusion of Innovations Theory presents a clear framework for understanding how particular resources may develop and become more widely used in parent and family education. Among such resources, parenting newsletter interventions represent a unique and valuable approach to facilitating growth in parent/caregiver confidence, knowledge and skills. This paper provides an overview of the history and usage of newsletters in parent education in contexts including public health, extension and other settings. Further, it highlights key findings, challenges and future directions for parent newsletter interventions in the 21st century landscape of family life education.
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