The Benefits of Emotionally Focused Parenting Programs

Parenting programs are designed to help parents cope with their children’s behavioral and emotional issues. Parents who get easily frustrated with their children or feel that their children have negative responses to discipline may struggle with maintaining a level of attachment and loving authority within their homes. The majority of existing programs that focus on meeting these needs of parents and children aim to teach parents strategies to respond to the maladaptive behaviors of their children. This is done through the use of time-outs and nonresponse to unhealthy emotional outbursts and actions. These programs are often delivered to children in school-based or community settings, after the child has reached the age of 5. But experts believe that the preschool years represent a critical time for child development. Teaching parents and children how to interact in an emotionally productive and accepting way during this time could help children develop positive behaviors and help parents gain empathy and understanding that would serve to transform the parent-child relationship.

Children who have strained caregiver bonds and unhealthy psychological reactions and behaviors are at increased risk for future mental health problems, including behavior problems, academic and social issues, and substance abuse. In an attempt to target children before they reach the age of 5, Turning to Kids: Emotionally Intelligent Parenting (TIK) was created. This novel program integrates parents and teachers in the therapeutic process as coaches and mentors for the child to use as emotional and behavioral models. By teaching the parents how to recognize behaviors as clues to the underlying feelings of the child, the parents can begin to address the emotional root of the aggressive, disruptive, or unproductive behaviors. Katherine R. Wilson of the Mindful: Centre for Training and Research in Developmental Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia recently led a study to determine the effectiveness of TIK.

For her study, Wilson evaluated 128 parents and their preschool children before and after a six-session TIK intervention administered in their community. She found that the parents in TIK were far less dismissing of their children’s feelings than those who were waitlisted. She also discovered that the TIK parents become much more physically and emotionally involved with their children, which directly impacts positive child development. Because this trial was conducted in the community, Wilson believes that the results show the viability of TIK in the general population. She added, “Findings were sufficiently promising to warrant further investigation of program outcomes in other, varied community settings where improving parents’ emotion socialization practices may benefit their children.”

Wilson, K. R., Havighurst, S. S., Harley, A. E. (2012). Tuning in to Kids: An effectiveness trial of a parenting program targeting emotion socialization of preschoolers. Journal of Family Psychology 26.1, 56-65.

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  • Celina


    April 9th, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    I ask you this: if a parent is not prepared to handle their own emotions, then how on earth do they think that they will be able to successfully raise a child?
    Part of being a parent is knowing when to use your emotions and feelings for the betterment of your child, and when to stifle those emotions so that your child does not see you react to things in a negative manner.
    You have to be able to tecah them when certain behaviors are appropriate and not, and if you cannot even manage this for yourself, then I have a hard time believing that you will be prepared to do that in a role as a parent.

  • monica


    April 9th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    I wonder if programs like this could be implememted thru a federal program like Head Start or something like that, so that the kids who are the most at risk, along with their families could be targeted to receive this kind of training and intervention. The preschool years are such a critical time for learning and development, and for parents this kind of training early on will make the adolescent years go a little more easily too.

  • Toni


    April 10th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    This is one HUGE reason why people need to wait until they are a little older before they have children. Younger parents have no idea how to manage all of the responsibilities that come along with parenthood, they just don’t. I know that there are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, it seems like those who are more educated and wait a little longer to have children have the best grasp on the things that are needed to provide for their children both financially and emotionally. I hope that programs like this can make some difference, as there always seems to be more and more youngsters deciding to start families, and at least if they have some kind of background like this, they will have some tricks to fall back on.

  • Larry


    April 10th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    I would have had a very hard time with my boys when they were growing up if I did not feel like they were listening to me or benefitting from the discipline that their mom and I employed. Parents can easily get frustrated with their kids anyway, but when you add to that that they are not responding to what you are trying to teach them and they are turning away from you then that must be pretty hard to take. I don’t know that I could have stayed sane if I had felt that way. I was pretty lucky and raised two pretty good kids, but we had our moments just like all parents and teens do. But behaind all of that there was always a love and respect that we abided to on both sides and that really helped us all to keep it together.

  • Gary M Unruh (@CounselorGary)

    Gary M Unruh (@CounselorGary)

    April 11th, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    Unleashing Parental LoveTM is a program similar to Wilson’s program. The focus is executing effective strategies and tactics to communicate about a child’s affective world. Feelings are validated and connected to behaviors, especially during discipline. Shame is all but eliminated and a child’s motivation to be good is noticeably increased. These affective reinforcement approaches significantly improve mental health. Gary M Unruh MSW, Author



    April 11th, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    “teaching the parents how to recognize behaviors as clues to the underlying feelings of the child”

    This is just sooo very imp! Many ‘rents jus don understand what a child s goin thro or what his behavior actualy means. This results in d child feelin neglected if u ask me!

  • The Mommy Psychologist

    The Mommy Psychologist

    April 16th, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    As a child psychologist, one of the things I always feel compelled to make clear is that attachment parenting is not the only form of parenting that allows parents to develop a secure attachment with their children. It is simply the name given to this form of parenting because it was based on attachment theory. The name is misleading. There are multiple ways to practice parenting that allow parents to develop a wonderfully close bond with their children.

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