Empowering Families through Positive Parenting – The Incredible Years Programme in Estonia

Ministry of Social Affairs in collaboration with other institutions implement postive parenting programme

While research shows that corporal punishment negatively affects children’s health and development, the fact that many parents continue to use corporal punishment shows that there is a need to support parents in finding alternative strategies and approaches to raising their children.

In 2014, the Ministry of Social Affairs in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Development and other institutions implemented the positive parenting programme ‘Incredible Years’, a group-based programme originally developed in the United States which has been adapted to the Estonian context. This programme aims to support parents to improve their parenting skills, improve their relationship with their children, and to support the development of their children’s self-regulation and social skills.

Registration to the programme for parents, caregivers, and foster parents can be done through a referral by the child protection specialist either directly or through a kindergarten teacher.

The Incredible Years programme is mainly targeted at families who are socially and economically marginalised and considered to be at high risk of violence. However, parents and caregivers who have good parenting skills and are interested in improving these are also welcome.

The programme covers different themes such as how to build a relationship with a child, how to teach the child to regulate his/her emotions, and how to use praise and incentives to encourage cooperative behaviour. The programme also includes positive discipline, stress management, how to establish routines, set rules and limits, and how to handle misbehaviour.

The parenting programme is led by two trained group leaders who work with 10-14 parents in a group. The sessions take place weekly for two hours each and the organisers provide childcare, food and transportation if needed. 

Two variations of the programme are offered for parents: a 16-week basic programme for parents of children aged between 2-8 years old, and a 10-week advanced follow-up programme for parents of children aged between 4-12 years old.

The programme leads to measurable improvements of skills and behaviours among parents

Among the measurable and significant results of the programme, parent’s improved skills and behaviours include:

  • increased communication skills;
  • calmer behaviour;
  • confidence in their role as a parent;
  • understanding of their children’s behaviour;
  • communicating more effectively with their children.

Research has found that the Incredible Years programme can lead to a decline in corporal punishment and that this, in turn, is a key factor to the programmes’ success in addressing disruptive and aggressive behaviour in children.

The programme is used nationally and internationally

As of 2022, the basic programme is implemented in almost all municipalities across the country and is funded by the state budget. Since 2016, a continuation of the basic programme is being offered by child mental health centres in Estonia.

The programme has been used in other countries in the Baltic Sea Region and beyond, including in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and has been shown to work with many different cultures and socio-economic groups.

Watch our interview with Kärt Kase, certified mentor in the Incredible Years programme in Estonia:
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