The Incredible Years

Program Goals

The Incredible Years aims to reduce challenging behaviors in children and increase their social and self-control skills.


Target Population

The program involves teachers, parents, and their children who are at high risk or diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).


Program Theory

The Incredible Years series features three multifaceted and developmentally-based curricula for parents, teachers, and children. The series is based on the following:


  • Cognitive social learning theory, and in particular Patterson’s coercion hypothesis of negative reinforcement developing and maintaining deviant behavior. The social learning model emphasizes the importance of the family as well as teacher socialization processes, especially those affecting young children. If parents and teachers can learn to deal effectively with children’s misbehavior and to model positive and appropriate problem-solving and discipline strategies, children can develop social competence, emotional regulation, and enhanced school readiness skills; they also can reduce aggressive behavior at home and at school.
  • Bandura’s modeling and self-efficacy theories, which have illustrated the power of modeling for children’s learning. All the programs make extensive use of DVDs to demonstrate appropriate interactions and behaviors, and use these to set up practice activities.
  • Piaget’s developmental cognitive learning stages and interactive learning methods, which emphasize the importance of children’s cognitive brain readiness to learn particular behaviors.
  • Cognitive strategies for managing anger and depression.
  • Attachment and relationship theories.

Program Components

The parent training series targets high-risk parents and children as well as those children displaying behavior problems. Program protocols include prevention and treatment versions of intervention with dosage adjusted according to family and child risk factors. There are three separate Basic programs for parents of toddlers (1–3 years), preschoolers (3–5 years), and school-age children (6–12 years) focused on developmentally appropriate parenting strategies known to promote children’s social and academic competence and emotional regulation and also to reduce behavior problems. Core topic areas include parents learning effective play interaction skills and ways to strengthen their relationship with children; academic, persistence, social, and emotion coaching skills; using praise and incentives effectively; setting up predictable routines and schedules; providing adequate monitoring and safety-proofing children’s homes; using limit-setting and proactive discipline strategies effectively to handle misbehavior; and teaching children to solve problems. The Advanced program emphasizes parent interpersonal skills such as effective communication skills, anger management, solving problems between adults, ways to give and get support, and family meetings. This is offered to groups of parents who have completed the Basic program. The Supporting Your Child’s Education program emphasizes parenting approaches designed to promote parental involvement in setting up predictable homework routines and children’s academic skills such as reading and building collaborative relationships with teachers. This program is implemented after the completion of the Basic programs because it builds on the behavioral principles regarding social skills that were introduced in Basic and applies them to academic skills.


The teacher training series consists of 6 full-day, comprehensive, group discussion workshops spread out over the year for teachers, school counselors, and psychologists who work with children ages 3 to 10. Each program concentrates on strengthening teacher classroom management strategies, promoting children’s prosocial behavior, self-regulation and problem-solving skills, school readiness (reading skills), and reducing classroom aggression and noncooperation with peers and teachers. The teaching concepts are illustrated with brief videotaped vignettes of teachers interacting with children in classrooms. Group leaders use the videotaped scenes (of teachers handling problem situations effectively and ineffectively) to facilitate discussion, solve problems, and share ideas among teachers. Group leaders also help teachers discuss important principles and practice new skills through role-playing and homework assignments. Every session works on developing behavior plans for students, building support networks, and discussing ways to partner with parents to achieve goals for students.


The child training series, the Dina Dinosaur Social Skills, Emotion, and Problem-Solving Curriculum, emphasizes training children in skills such as emotional literacy, empathy (or perspective taking), friendship, anger management, interpersonal problem solving, school rules, and how to succeed at school. The series materials consist of a group leader’s manuals, DVDs, children’s and parents’ handouts, children’s books, detective home activities manuals, games, and activities. There is a small group treatment version of the program offered to five or six children at a time who may be pulled out twice weekly for 1- to 2-hour sessions in schools or in mental health centers. There is a prevention curriculum offered by teachers two to three times a week to all children in the classroom, providing small-group circle time lessons paired with small-group practice activities.

Intervention ID: 
2 to 8

Study 1

Webster–Stratton, Reid, and Hammond (2004) used an experimental design with random assignment to evaluate the Incredible Years program for children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Participants were recruited from families with ODD requesting treatment at a university clinic. Only families with children ages 4 to 8 were included. Families entered the study in three cohorts of 50 to 55 families per cohort in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Random assignment to one of six groups was conducted by lottery after completion of baseline assessments in November of each year. The six groups were parent training only (31); parent training plus teacher training (24); child training only (30); child plus teacher training (23); parent plus child plus teacher training (25); and waitlist control (26).


The child training intervention included attendance at the clinic’s Dinosaur School in groups of five to six children for 2-hour weekly sessions over 18 to 20 weeks. The parent training included a 2-hour weekly meeting of 10 to 12 parents for 2-hour weekly sessions over 22 to 24 weeks. Teacher training included 4 full days of group training sequenced throughout the year concentrated on management strategies for handling misbehavior and for promoting positive relationships with difficult students. Additionally, teachers received regular phones calls and individual behavior planning meetings from child group leaders to coordinate the goals for children and to enhance methods used across settings.


Ninety percent of participants were boys, with a mean age of 71 months, and 79 percent were white. The mean number of behavioral problems according to the mothers’ reports was 21. Twenty-five percent of the families were single-mother families in which there was little or no contact with the father.


Data was collected from parents, teachers, and independent observers. Parent measures included the Parenting Practices Interview, the Daily Discipline Inventory, and the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory. Observers in the home used the Dyadic Parent–Child Interaction System—Revised, the Coder Impression Inventory.


Three main measures were used to gather information on school behaviors. They were the Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies to measure the frequency of child negative behaviors with peers; the Social Health Profile to measure poor authority acceptance; and the Classroom Atmosphere measure to rate general classroom atmosphere, disruptive behavior, and teacher responsiveness to students. The Dyadic Peer Interaction Scale was also used to rate the quality of the child’s play in a laboratory setting during a task with a playmate.


Teachers completed the Teacher Assessment of School Behavior and the Teacher Rating Scale of Perceived Competency in Young Children. At postintervention and follow-up, teachers and parents completed a brief inventory rating the effectiveness of the leader, the group dynamics, and the videotape vignettes.


Study 2

Miller Brotman and colleagues (2005) used an experimental design with random assignment of preschoolers at risk for antisocial behavior to two groups to evaluate The Incredible Years program. Families identified from family court records of youths adjudicated in Manhattan and the Bronx were eligible to participate if there was a preschool sibling of the adjudicated youth who was biologically related to or lived with the adjudicated youth for at least 1 year and whose caregiver also raised the adjudicated youth.


Court records of 6,909 youths were reviewed, and 1,228 families were identified with a preschooler in the home. After screening and contacts, 92 families completed assessments and were randomly assigned to the treatment group (47 families with 50 preschoolers) or the control group (45 families with 49 preschoolers). The prevention program followed The Incredible Years protocol, which included weekly 2-hour sessions for parents and preschoolers, biweekly home visits, and up to six additional family visits over a 6- to 8-month period. Groups for preschoolers incorporated elements from The Incredible Years Dinosaur Social Skills and Problem-Solving Curriculum. Leaders taught social skills, reinforced positive behavior, and provided consequences for negative behaviors. Home visits were designed to help parents implement skills at home. Nine female psychologists or doctoral candidates conducted seven parenting groups over a 5-year period.


The preschoolers’ average age was 3.9 years; 53 percent were girls; nearly half the parents had not completed high school; 61 percent were African American, 24 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent other ethnicities. Parents’ mean age was 36.3 years. At baseline, the groups differed on two variables: greater use of negative controls by intervention parents (assessed through observation) and greater use of praise by intervention parents (assessed through self-report). These differences were accounted for in the repeated-measures design.


Measures were


  • The Parenting Practices Interview (PPI)
  • Observation measures, the Dyadic Parent–Child Interaction Coding System—Revised (DPCIC—R), and the Global Impressions of Parent–Child Interaction (GIPCI), rated by two coders
  • Two composite scales of negative parenting using two PPI “harsh” subscales and the critical statements and harsh subscales from the (DPCIC—R)
  • A composite scale of Observer Positive Parenting, including individual items taken from the PPI, DPCIC—R, and GIPCI
  • Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment—Early Childhood version (which was used to assess stimulation for learning)
  • An Engaged Scale taken from three items on the Observed Peer Play in Unfamiliar Settings (OPPUS)
  • A Disruptive scale consisting of a single item from the OPPUS

Study 3

Webster–Stratton, Reid, and Stoolmiller (2008) evaluated The Incredible Years using a quasi-experimental design with random assignment of schools and student-level analyses. The study included children from160 Head Start classrooms from the Seattle, Wash., area Head Start and 14 elementary schools recruited into four cohorts over 4 years. Schools were matched on variables such as size, geographic location, and child demographics, and then matched pairs were randomly assigned to intervention or control conditions.


The sample consisted of 1,746 students nested in 160 classrooms, which, in turn, were nested under 119 teachers (40 teachers had 2 or more classrooms). Students at schools who served as controls in 1 year received the intervention the following year. Intervention and control elementary schools were comparable on key school and student variables such as percentage receiving free school lunches and achievement levels. The average age of students was 63.7 months; 50 percent were male; 27 percent were white, 20 percent were Asian, 18 percent were Latino, and 18 percent were African America; 31 percent did not speak English as their first language. A subsample (216) of moderate- to high-risk children were selected for more intensive assessment.


Pretests were conducted in early fall, and the intervention ran from November to April. Posttests were conducted in late spring. Measures used were Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies to code classroom interactions. Teacher scales rated positive reinforcement, critical statements, and interaction with students. Child scales rated conduct problems, percentage of time disengaged, percentage of time spent in solitary play, positive child interactions with teacher and peers, and percentage of time spent in peer involvement. Teacher Coder Impressions Inventory evaluated classroom management style into five summary scores (harsh/critical, inconsistent/permissive, warm/affectionate, social emotional teaching, and effective discipline). Coder Observation of Classroom Adaptation—Revised rated school readiness and conduct problems, and Classroom Atmosphere Measure assessed the classroom environment. The Teacher–Parent involvement questionnaire (a 20-item teacher questionnaire rating parent involvement) and the Wally Problem Solving and Feeling Test were used to assess the subsample of high-risk children.



Study 1

Negative and Positive Parenting

At immediate posttest, Webster–Stratton, Reid, and Hammond (2004) reported that mother’s negative parenting was decreased significantly, compared with controls for all five experimental groups. At immediate posttest, mothers’ positive parenting and fathers’ negative parenting were significantly changed in the expected direction in all but two (child training only [or CT] and child training plus teacher training [or CT+TT]) of the experimental groups. The significant results were maintained at the 1-year follow-up.


Child Conduct Problems at Home

At immediate posttest, all five treatment conditions, compared with the control condition, showed significant improvement in negative behaviors with mothers, while only the three groups with parent training (parent training only [or PT], parent training plus teacher training [or PT+TT], and parent training plus child training plus child training or [PT+TT+CT]) showed improvement in negative behaviors with fathers. These results were maintained at the 1-year follow-up.


Child Behavior at School and Social Competence With Peers

At immediate posttest, all five treatment conditions, compared with the control condition, showed significant improvement in behavior at school. The Teacher Assessment of School Behavior scores indicated significant clinical improvements relative to controls. Similar results were found for classroom observation of children’s negative behavior. At the 1-year posttest, all but one of these improvements were maintained—the school behavior of children in the PT+TT+CT group deteriorated from posttest to the follow-up.


Child Social Competence

Significant improvements in social competence with peers were found in two (CT and PT+TT+CT) groups, compared with the control group, with a trend to a significant improvement in social competence in the CT+TT group.


Teacher Classroom Management

At the immediate posttest, the three teacher training conditions and the child-only training showed significant treatment effects compared with controls. Only the PT group failed to show significant effects.


Clinical Improvements in Conduct

At immediate posttest, 84.6 percent of the children in the PT+TT condition improved on the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory (ECBI) intensity score completed by the mothers, compared with 40 percent of controls. In the CT+TT condition, 81.3 percent of children improved on this measure. On the Dyadic Parent Child Interaction System—Revised (DPICS—R) measure of child negative behavior, three treatment conditions showed clinically significant improvements: PT+TT (72 percent), PT+TT (85 percent), and CT (82 percent). At 1-year follow-up, ECBI scores indicated maintenance of improvements for the PT+TT condition, and DPICS—R scores increased for all groups that included child training. Classroom observation indicated that clinically significant aggressive behavior continued to improve from posttest to 1 year in all five treatment conditions, although ratings by the new teacher showed slight decreases except for the CT group.


Study 2

Parenting Practices

Miller Brotman and colleagues (2005) reported that negative parenting practices decreased in the intervention group, compared with the control group based on both parent ratings and observer ratings. No differences in positive parenting practices were found between treatment and control parents.


Stimulation for Learning

Stimulation for learning improved significantly in the treatment families but deteriorated in the control families.


Child Social Competence

Engaging behavior improved significantly in the treatment children, but deteriorated among control children.


Study 3

Improvement in Teaching Style

Webster–Stratton, Reid, and Stoolmiller (2008) reported that the Teacher Coder Impressions measure found that intervention teachers were significantly less critical, less inconsistent/permissive, and warmer and more affectionate and placed more emphasis on social emotional teaching than control teachers at posttest. Head Start teachers in the intervention group improved significantly in effective discipline compared with those in the control group. On the Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies measure, intervention teachers were significantly less critical than control teachers at posttest. Also, the more critical the teacher at baseline, the greater the improvement.


School Readiness

There was a significantly greater improvement in school readiness measured by the Coder Observation of Classroom Adaptation—Revised in the intervention group, compared with the control group. Also, individual differences were significant at the teacher level, and children with the poorest readiness scores at baseline improved the most.


Conduct Problems

There was no main effect for conduct problems as measured by the Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies scales. However, intervention children with higher levels of conduct problems at baseline improved significantly at posttest relative to their counterparts in the control group.


Parent Involvement

Intervention parents were rated as marginally more involved in school activities than control parents.


Classroom Atmosphere

There was a large improvement in classroom atmosphere in the intervention group relative to the control group.


Child Problem Solving

High-risk children in the intervention group showed significantly greater improvement in problem solving than those in the control group.