J Child Fam Stud (2007) 16:321–330DOI 10.1007/s10826-006-9088-z


An Evaluation of a Parenting Class Curriculum forParents of Young Children: Parenting the Strong-WilledChild

Nicola A. Conners · Mark C. Edwards · April S. Grant

Published online: 5 December 2006C© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Abstract Young children with high levels of acting out behaviors present a challengefor families, caregivers, and the childcare system. The Parenting the Strong-Willed Child(PSWC) parenting class curriculum program is a 6-week, group based parent educationprogram designed for parents of children with noncompliance problems (ages 2–8). ThePSWC program was offered at no cost to parents enrolled in 8 Head Start centers, and parentswere invited to participate in a program evaluation study. Seventy-one families enrolled inthe study and completed at least one PSWC session. From pre- to post-test, parents reportedsignificant improvements in both the frequency and intensity of child behavior problems.Parents also reported significant reductions in parenting stress, as well as improvements intheir parenting behaviors, including a reduction in the use of lax discipline techniques andemotional reactivity in the context of discipline encounters. All improvements were sustainedsix months later. These preliminary results are encouraging, and point to the need for a morerigorous, controlled evaluation of the PSWC parenting class curriculum.

Keywords Behavior problems . Parent education . Child intervention . Parenting

Young children who present with high levels of acting out behaviors present a challengefor families, caregivers, and the childcare system. These children may display a varietyof behaviors, including tantrums, defiance, noncompliance, aggression, and destruction ofproperty. Studies suggest that anywhere from 7 to 20% of children meet the diagnosticcriteria for oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. In low-income welfare familiesthese rates may be as high as 35% (Webster-Stratton & Hammond, 1998). Among preschool

N. Conners (�)University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Partners for Inclusive Communities, 2001 Pershing Cir,Suite 300, North Little Rock, AR 72114, USAe-mail:

M. Edwards · A. S. GrantDepartment of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, LittleRock, AR, USA


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children, studies indicate that as many as 13% of children are described by their parents asdifficult to control (Campbell, 1995).

A critical issue with preschool-age children is that without intervention, conduct problemsmay progress to a more serious behavioral disorder in later childhood. While many children‘outgrow’ their problems, there is evidence that many preschool children with conductproblems, especially those with persistent, multi-faceted, and severe problems, will continueto have some degree of problems as adolescents and adults. Longitudinal studies, somebeginning with children as young as 2 or 3, suggest that approximately 50% of youngchildren with disruptive behavior problems will continue to have some form of difficultiesinto school age or adolescence (Campbell, 1995; Lavigne et al., 1998; Richman, Stevenson, &Graham, 1982).

Research has long shown that therapeutic parent management training (PMT) programsevaluated with clinical populations can produce meaningful changes in child behavior, aswell as perceptions of parents toward their acting-out child (Karoly & Rosenthal, 1977). PMTprograms are some of the most frequently and rigorously studied of the interventions forconduct-disordered children (Alvarado, Kendall, Beesley, & Lee-Cavaness, 2000; Chamblesset al., 1996). Helping the Noncompliant Child (McMahon & Forehand, 2003) is a PMTprogram that has been identified by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Preventionand the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (Alvarado et al., 2000), as a program with thehighest quality of evaluation. In numerous controlled studies conducted by the developersand independent investigators, HNC was shown to be effective in producing both short andlong term improvements in child behavior (see McMahon & Forehand, 2003 for a reviewof research supportive of HNC). PMT programs, as well as HNC, were designed to beimplemented by a trained clinician with individual families with children with identifiedconduct problems disordered child (indicated population).

Several parent education programs have adapted the principles and procedures of PMTprograms for use with groups of families with children at-risk for conduct problems (selectedpopulation). Parent education programs can be implemented by a trained paraprofessionaland have the promise of preventing the development of conduct disorders in children withrisk-factors. An abbreviated version of The Incredible Years was evaluated as a group inter-vention in a setting with children at-risk for conduct problems (Webster-Stratton, Reid, &Hammond, 2001). The parent education component to this program consisted of 8–9 weeklymeeting (2 hr each session). This program was evaluated to have positive benefits on parent-child interactions and child behavior. Additional Research is needed to evaluate the effective-ness of parent education programs adapted from PMT therapeutic interventions with youngchildren at-risk for behavior problems.

The Parenting the Strong-Willed Child parenting class curriculum (Long & Forehand,2002a, 2002b) is a 6-week, group based parent education program designed for parents ofchildren with noncompliance problems (ages 2–8). This parenting class curriculum uses thebook Parenting the Strong Willed Child, which was written for parents, as its guide. ThePSWC program is based on the principles and procedures of the Helping the Noncompli-ant Child individual therapeutic program. The program teaches parents a series of skillsdesigned to disrupt coercive interactions by increasing positive attention for good behav-ior, ignoring minor inappropriate child behavior, providing clear instructions to the child,and providing appropriate consequences for compliance and noncompliance. The PSWCprogram was developed to address the shortage of parent education programs for use withchildren at-risk for the development of behavior problems. The developers have conductedtwo uncontrolled pilot evaluations of the parenting class curriculum. The first evaluation(Long & Forehand, 2000) involved 24 parents who participated in the six-week program.


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The second evaluation (Long & Forehand, 2002a, 2002b) involved 54 parents who partici-pated in the program. Both evaluations found significant decreases in parent reports of childproblem behavior using a modified version of the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory andhigh parent satisfaction with the program. However, no independent evaluation has beenconducted.

Head Start, the federally sponsored preschool program for low-income children, providesan excellent context for implementing parent training programs and other prevention andearly intervention programs (Webster-Stratton & Hammond, 1998). Head Start provides anavenue to reach low-income children and parents, which is important because many of thefamily and child risk factors related to behavior problems are present at elevated rates inlow-income families. In a recent study focused on Head Start families, Webster-Stratton andHammond (1998) reported that 35% of the families had three or more major family riskfactors (e.g. depression, psychiatric illness, single parenthood), and that more than 40% ofHead Start mothers displayed high rates of harsh or physically negative discipline, which isalso a major risk factor for child behavior problems. Because Head Start uses a comprehensiveapproach to foster healthy child development, parent education is an important componentof the program. However, implementing empirically validated parent education programscan be challenging for Head Start staff that may lack the necessary training or resources.Leaders in the field have called for a stronger emphasis on the use of validated approaches tohelp parents and teachers address the behavioral needs of Head Start children (Yoshikawa &Zigler, 2000).

The purpose of our study was to assess immediate and short-term effects of the Parentingthe Strong Willed Child program on child behavior, parenting practices, and parenting stressin a population of families enrolled in Head Start. It was hypothesized that parents whocompleted the program would report significant improvements in child behavior, parentingpractices, and parenting stress. In addition, it was hypothesized that parents would reporthigh satisfaction with the program.



A total of 71 parents were enrolled in the PSWC program over a two year period. As seenin Table 1, among the 71 parents that enrolled in the study, most were married (69.6%), andnearly all had completed high school (86.4%). Half of the parents were Caucasian (50.7%),while 40.8% were African-American, 4.2% were Hispanic, and the remaining 4.2% were amix of other ethnic groups. Less than half of the parents who attended (42.4%) were employedthemselves, though the employment status of the other parent is unknown. On average, the‘target child’ for the class was 4.8 years old. Of those that enrolled, 63 completed the class,with completion status defined as attending at least 4 of 6 classes and making up the missedmaterial (89% retention).


From 2002 to 2004, the PSWC parenting class program was marketed to all families (about200 each year) with children enrolled in one of 8 Head Start centers in a southern state.The classes were marketed by a full-time parent educator who utilized a variety of strategiesto recruit families, including mailings, flyers, announcements at monthly Head Start parent


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Table 1 Sample description (N = 71)

GenderMale 52.1%Female 47.9%

RaceAfrican American 40.8%White 50.7%American Indian 1.4%Hispanic 4.2%Other 2.8%

Marital statusMarried 69.6%Single 24.6%Divorced 5.8%

Not enrolled in school 81.8%Full or part time student 18.2%Years of education

Less than high school 13.6%High School or GED 37.9%Some college 48.5%

EmploymentFull-time 21.2%Part-time 21.2%Unemployed 48.5%Other 9.1%

Monthly income≤ $800 48.1%$1000–$1500 17.3%$1550–1950 9.6%$2000–2500 19.2%> $2500 5.8%

Average age of child (age of child at start of class) 4.8 years (SD = 1.2)Parenting Stress Index

Child domain mean score at intake 105.5 (SD = 28.2)Percent above cutoff on Child domain (score >115) 37.1%Parent domain mean score at intake 115.1 (SD = 28.6)Percent above cutoff on parent domain (score >147) 11.9%Total Stress Domain Mean Score at Intake 220.6 (SD = 52.1)Percent above cutoff on total stress (score >257) 25.4%

Eyberg child behavior inventoryMean score intensity scale 115.2 (SD = 6.4)Percent above intensity clinical cutoff (score >131) 32.9%Mean score problem scale 11.4 (SD = 8.0)Percent above problem clinical cutoff (score >14) 36.4%

meetings, referrals from Head Start staff, and personal invitation. The parent educator alsoutilized behavioral screening data obtained from teacher and parents to identify families forrecruitment. Once identified, parents were recruited by the parent educator for the PSWCclass, and were invited to participate in the evaluation study. There was no cost for participa-tion. In order the address time and resource constraints, the classes were offered at differenttimes, child care was provided, and families received weekly and graduation incentives. Toassist with transportation costs, each family received a $10 gift card for each class attended.


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In addition, in order to address retention, a $30 gift card was provided to each family thatsuccessfully completed the program.

The evaluation of the PSWC parenting class program was part of a larger service project.The evaluation used a one-group, repeated measures design, with a pre-test, post-test, and6 month follow-up. An experimental design would have provided a more rigorous evaluationof the PSWC program; however, the service orientation of the project and budget constraintsprecluded this. Informed consent was obtained prior to the first assessment. The pre-test tookplace prior to the start of the first parent training session and the post-test took place afterthe last session, six weeks later. Intake data was collected from 71 parents, post-test datafrom 64 parents. A follow-up visit was planning with the families approximately 6 monthsafter the end of parent training. Eight families were not time eligible for the 6 month follow-up visit at the time the study ended. Because of budget constraints, a part-time researchassistant made efforts to locate families primarily by phone, and was unable to engage inextensive tracking efforts to locate families that could not be reached by phone. Assessmentswere completed with 42 of the 63 eligible families (66.6%). The pre- and post-tests tookplace at the Head Start Center, while the follow-up assessments took place at whateverlocation was most convenient for the families (usually the Head Start center or the home).A trained research assistant handed out the assessment packets, gave instructions, and wasavailable to answer questions and assist parents. Most parents completed the paper and pencilquestionnaires on their own; although the research assistant read the questionnaires to twoparents with low literacy levels. Subjects were provided with a $10 gift card as an incentivefor completing each assessment. Data were collected on parents’ personal background,parenting practices, parenting stress, child’s behavior, and satisfaction with the parent trainingsessions.


Data were collected on parents’ personal background, parenting practices, parenting stress,child’s behavior, and satisfaction with the parent training sessions:

Eyberg child behavior inventory (ECBI)

The ECBI is a rating scale that assesses the current frequency and severity of disruptivebehaviors, as well as the extent to which parents find the behavior to be a problem. The ECBIconsists of 36 short statements of common behavior problems, and results in two scales:Intensity Scale and Problem Scale. The Professional Manual provides normative data andinformation on the psychometric strength of both instruments. The ECBI has demonstratedhigh internal consistency and significant test-retest reliability, as well as convergent anddiscriminant validity (Eyberg & Pincus, 1999). In the present study, the intensity domainyielded a coefficient alpha of .95 and the problem domain an alpha of .91.

The parenting scale

This 30-item rating scale is designed to measure discipline practices in parents of young chil-dren. In addition to a total score, three scale scores can be computed (laxness, overreactivity,and verbosity). The Lax Discipline scale measures the extent to which the parents notice, butdo not address misbehavior in their children. The Over-reactivity scale measures emotionalreactivity (raising voice, being upset) in the context of discipline encounters. The Verbosity


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scale assesses the extent to which parents respond to behavior problems with coaxing, beg-ging, or inappropriately lengthy explanations. All scales have been shown to have acceptableinternal consistency (with alpha coefficients ranging from .63–.84) and test-retest reliabilitylevels (.79–.83) (Arnold, O’Leary, Wolff, & Acker, 1993). In the present study, the lax scaleyielded a coefficient alpha of .85; the overreactivity scale yielded a coefficient alpha of .84,and the verbosity scale an alpha of .35. As a result, the verbosity scale was dropped fromfurther analyses.

Parenting stress index

The PSI is used to gauge the stress a person is currently functioning under as it relates toparenting. The PSI generates several subscale scores as well as a Child Domain, ParentDomain, and Total Stress scores. The PSI was normed on a large and diverse sample, andhas been used extensively in studies of at-risk families. Acceptable reliability and validityinformation is reported in the manual (Abidin, 1995). In the present study, the child domainyielded an alpha coefficient of .94, the parent domain an alpha coefficient of .94, and thetotal scale an alpha coefficient of .96.

Parent training satisfaction survey

This brief 4 item questionnaire was developed for this project to assess the degree to whichparents are satisfied with the quality of information presented, usefulness of informationpresented, and their overall satisfaction with the class. The survey is administered on the lastday of class. Items are rated on a 10 point scale.


The Parenting the Strong-Willed Child parenting class curriculum is a group-based parenteducation program based on the principles and procedures of the Helping the NoncompliantChild (McMahon & Forehand, 2003) program, which is a more intensive therapeutic pro-gram targeting individual families with young children with conduct disorders. The PSWCparenting class curriculum consists of six two-hour weekly sessions. The format of each classincluded didactic instruction, discussion, and role playing. Each class consists of discussionand modeling of a child management skill and a parenting topic (see Table 2). Parents aretaught five child management skills designed to disrupt coercive interactions by increasingpositive attention for good behavior, ignoring minor inappropriate child behavior, providingclear instructions to the child, and providing appropriate consequences for compliance andnoncompliance. Parents are encouraged to practice the skills in the home through weeklyhomework assignments.

The PSWC parenting class curriculum has a training manual (Long & Forehand, 2002a,2002b) and a book for parents (Forehand & Long, 2002). The parent educator attended aone-day training workshop conducted by the developers. Fidelity of the intervention wasmaintained through use of the training manual for each class and monthly supervision withthe developer.

Analysis approach

Paired t-tests were used to examine the change in mean scores from the pre-test to the post-test, and estimated an effect size to assess the magnitude of the change. Second, to assess


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Table 2 Parenting the strongwilled child parenting classcurriculum: skills and topics bysession

Session Topics

1 Understanding strong-willed behavior problemsDoes my child have ADHD?Skill 1: Attending

2 Skill 2: RewardsCreating a more positive home

3 Skill 3: IgnoringImproving communication skillsHelping your child solve problems with peers

4 Skill 4: Giving directionsDeveloping more patience

5 Skill 5: Time-outBuilding positive self-esteem

6 Integrating parenting/behavior change skillsAddressing specific behavior problems

how well the initial changes were sustained, we used paired t-tests to assess the change fromthe post-test to the 6 month follow-up (though not all families were eligible for follow-up atthe time the study ended). For the second analysis, we hope to find that were no differences(that is, that the initial improvement was sustained). Finally, we used the recommendedcut-off scores on the Eyberg to determine whether the percentage of children with clinicallyelevated problems was reduced over time.


Child behavior

As shown in Table 2, from pre- to post-test, parents reported significant improvement intheir children’s behavior problems as reported on the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory, bothin terms of the number of problems, t(54) = 3.03, p = .004, and the intensity of thoseproblems, t(59) = 4.96, p < .001. The effect size values for the change in both the problem(d = .52) and intensity (d = .42) scales from the pre- to post-test suggest a ‘medium’sized effect (Cohen, 1988). Those results were sustained six months later, as there was nosignificant change in scores from the post-test to the six-month follow-up. Among childrenwith a behavior problem score in the ‘clinical problems’ range at the pre-test, 75% (15/20)moved below the clinical range by the time of the post-test, χ2 (1, N = 54) = 7.5, p = .006.

Parenting behavior

From pre- to post-test parents reported improvements in their own parenting behaviors,reporting significantly less use of lax or permissive strategies, t(60) = 4.8, p < .001, andless emotional reactivity in the context of discipline encounters, t(60) = 4.0, p < .001. Theeffect size values suggest a ‘medium’ size effect for change in scores on the Lax Disciplinescale (d = .46), and a ‘medium’ to ‘large’ size effect (d = .67) for the Over-reactivity scale(Cohen, 1988). These results were sustained six months later, as there were no significantchanges in scores for the post-test to the six-month follow-up assessment.


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Table 3 Mean scores on parent and child outcome measures

Short term change (N = 61) Six -month change (N = 40)Pre-Test Post-Test Post-Test 6 Month Follow-up

Eyberg problemscale

11.9 (SD = 7.9) 8.6∗∗ (SD = 8.1) 8.0 (SD = 8.0) 6.6 (SD = 6.5)

Eyberg intensityscale

115.7 (SD = 34.1) 99.2∗∗ (SD = 29.5) 99.7 (SD = 24.9) 99.0 (SD = 28.7)

Parenting scale—over-reactivity

28.6 (SD = 11.1) 23.8∗∗ (SD = 9.6) 25.0 (SD = 9.2) 25.8 (SD = 8.1)

Parenting Scale—lax 31.8 (SD = 11.6) 24.5∗∗ (SD = 10.3) 24.8 (SD = 10.0) 25.3 (SD = 9.3)Parenting

Stress—total score221.0 (SD = 51.0) 212.4 (SD = 45.5) 212.5 (SD = 47.2) 208.3 (SD = 48.0)

∗p < .05; ∗∗p < .01.

Parenting stress

As seen in Table 3, there was a marginally significant trend toward improvement in totalparenting stress from pre-test to post-test, t(60) = 1.9, p = .06. The effect size value forthe change in total stress (d = .18) suggests the effect was ‘small’ (Cohen, 1988). For totalstress, the change in scores from the post-test to the six-month follow-up was non-significant.There were no significant changes in scores on the Child Domain or Parent Domain.

Satisfaction with training

Parents seemed very satisfied with the classes, rating the overall quality of the classes areeither ‘good’ (48.3%) or excellent (51.7%). Similarly they ranked the usefulness of the classesas either good (38%) or excellent (58.6%). Over half of parents (62.1%) rated informationgiven in classes as being excellent while all others ranked information as good.


The results of our study provide preliminary support for the short-term effectiveness ofthe PSWC parenting class curriculum in improving child behavior and parenting practices.Parents who completed the program showed moderate improvement in self-reported childbehavior. Parents also reported at least moderate improvement in parenting practices (i.e.,less reactive and less lax). Only small improvements were seen in self-reported parentingstress. Improvements were sustained up to six months following intervention. In addition,support was shown for the social validity of the PSWC parenting class curriculum, withreports of high satisfaction with the program.

The results of our study should be considered preliminary due to limitations in the studydesign. Although the parents self-reported improvements, the absence of an appropriatecomparison group precludes attributing those improvements to the PSWC program. Suchfactors as time and measurement bias are potential threats to the internal validity of the study.In addition, the attrition at the six-month follow-up assessment was higher than optimal.However, the results of this study do suggest that the PSWC parenting class curriculumshows promise as a program to prevent the development of conduct problems in childrenat-risk for behavior problems. The relatively brief length of the PSWC parenting class


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curriculum has the potential to increase accessibility for preventative interventions due tothe ease of implementation and dissemination relative to programs of longer duration orclinical intervention. This study showed that parents from a selected population can behighly satisfied with the PSWC parenting class curriculum.

With the relatively high rate of behavior problems in the preschool population, thereis a need for effective prevention programs that can be widely disseminated. However,community-based implementation of effectiveness-based programs presents many chal-lenges. Dedicated resources are needed to effectively implement such programs, includingresources to develop and implement a social marketing plan to recruit families into theprogram and inclusion of strategies to address the time and resource constraints that presentbarriers to parental attendance. This study demonstrated that with appropriate marketing ef-forts and incentives, parents of at-risk children can be recruited and retained in a multi-sessionparent education class at a reasonable rate.

Additional research using an experimental design and additional measures of outcome notdependent on parental report are needed to validate the PSWC parenting class curriculum.In addition, future studies will need to include a sample size sufficient to investigate childor family characteristics associated retention and improved outcomes. Furthermore, thePSWC parenting class curriculum is a behavioral, skills oriented program, similar to TheIncredible Years program. Future research should compare such behavioral programs withother programs which focus on cognitive variables.


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