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The Incredible Years

Ages 2-10

Rating: Level 1


The Incredible Years series features three comprehensive, multifaceted, and developmentally based curricula for parents, teachers, and children. The series is based on Patterson’s social learning model, which emphasizes the importance of the family as well as teacher socialization processes, especially those affecting young children. It argues that negative reinforcement develops and maintains children’s deviant behaviors and parents’ and teachers’ critical or coercive behaviors. The parents’ or teachers’ behaviors must therefore be changed so the children’s social interactions can be altered. 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 and reduce aggressive behavior at home and at school.

The parent training series includes three programs targeting parents of high-risk children and those displaying behavior problems. The Basic program emphasizes parenting skills known to promote children’s social competence and reduce behavior problems, such as knowing how to play with children, helping children learn, using praise and incentives effectively, and using limit-setting and strategies effectively to handle misbehavior. The Advance program emphasizes parent interpersonal skills such as effective communication skills, anger management, problem-solving between adults, and ways to give and get support. It is offered to groups of parents who have completed the Basic programs. 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 six comprehensive group discussion and intervention programs for teachers, school counselors, and psychologists who work with children ages 4 to 10. Each program concentrates on strengthening teacher classroom management strategies, promoting children’s prosocial behavior and 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.

The child training series, the Dina Dinosaur Social Skills 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 leader’s manual, children’s and parents’ handouts, children’s books, detective home activities manuals, games and activities, and nine videotapes.


All three program components have been extensively evaluated in randomized control group studies with children diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct problems. The evaluations have included home and school observations by unbiased evaluators, along with teacher and parent reports on standardized measures. These findings have been replicated in four randomized studies by independent investigators with different ethnic populations and age groups in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Finally, all three components have been adapted for use as prevention programs and have been evaluated with Head Start families, with preschoolers, and with toddlers and teachers in daycare facilities through two randomized control group studies. A summary of the evaluations is provided below.

Basic and Advance Parent Training Programs
The Basic program was evaluated first as a treatment program in a series of randomized studies. In the first study, 35 nonclinic families were randomly assigned to Basic parent training or to a waitlist control group. A second study randomly assigned 35 clinic families (with children having conduct problems) to one of three groups: 1) one-on-one personalized parent therapy, 2) videotape-based group therapy (Basic), or 3) a waitlist control group. These clinic families were at high risk because of the large number of single parents, the low socioeconomic status, the low mean education level, the high prevalence of child abuse, and the deviant nature of the children. A third study was conducted to ascertain the most efficient and effective component of Basic training. Parents of 114 conduct-problem children, ages 3 to 8, were randomly assigned to one of four groups: 1) individually (or self-) administered videotape modeling (IVM), 2) videotape-based group therapy (Basic), 3) group therapy alone, or 4) a waitlist control group. A fourth study was conducted to determine how to enhance the effectiveness of the self-administered videotape therapy while maintaining its cost effectiveness. Parents of 43 conduct-problem children were assigned to one of three groups: 1) IVM, 2) IVM plus therapist consultation, or 3) a waitlist control group. A fifth study examined the effectiveness of Basic training as a universal prevention intervention with a sample of 362 Head Start mothers and their 4-year-old children. Eight Head Start centers were randomly assigned to two groups: 1) an experimental group in which parents, teachers, and family service workers participated in the intervention or 2) a control group in which parents, teachers, and family service workers participated in the regular, center-based Head Start program. A sixth study (Webster–Stratton, 1994) examined the effects of adding the Advance intervention component to the Basic intervention. Parents of 78 children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder/Conduct Disorder received the Basic parent training and then were randomly assigned to either Advance training for 12 weeks or no further contact. Families were assessed at 1 month, 1 year, and 2 years after treatment through parent and teacher reports of child adjustment and parent distress (i.e., depression, anger, and stress) and direct observations of parent–child interactions and marital interactions such as discussing a problem. All the families attended more than two thirds of the sessions, with the majority attending more than 90 percent of the sessions.

Teacher Training Programs
A seventh study examined the effectiveness of the Basic plus Advance programs and the teacher training programs with a sample of 272 Head Start mothers and 61 teachers. Fourteen Head Start centers were randomly assigned to two groups: 1) an experimental condition in which parents, teachers, and family service workers participated in the prevention programs (Basic plus Advance plus Education and teacher training) or 2) a control condition in which parents, teachers, and family service workers participated in the regular center-based Head Start program (control). The combined Basic plus Advance plus Education program was a 16-week, 2-hour weekly parent program offered by Family Service Workers. The 12-week Basic program was offered to parents in the Head Start year, and a 4-week abbreviated version of Advance plus Education program was offered in the kindergarten year (based on problem solving with partners and teachers, promoting reading and academic skills, and peer coaching). All teachers and aides received 6-day workshops sequenced over the year (monthly), which concentrated on classroom management skills, relationship building with students and parents, and ways to promote social and emotional competence in the classroom. Those in the control Head Start centers received their usual services.

Child Training Programs (Dina Dinosaur Curriculum)
An eighth study evaluated the Dina Dinosaur Curriculum for children in a randomized trial with 4- to 7-year-olds who had conduct disorders. Families of 97 children with early-onset conduct problems were randomly assigned to one of four groups: 1) child training only, 2) parent training only (Basic plus Advance), 3) combined parent and child training intervention, 4) or a waitlist control group.

A final study evaluated the entire Incredible Years Teacher Training Program in a randomized trial with 133 children who had early onset conduct problems. Families were randomly assigned to one of six groups: 1) parent training (Basic plus Advance) only, 2) child training (Dina Dinosaur Curriculum) only, 3) parent training (Basic plus Advance plus Education) and teacher training, 4) parent training (Basic plus Advance plus Education), teacher training, and child training, 5) child training and teacher training, or 6) a waitlist control group. The Basic plus Advance parent training consisted of 22 two-hour weekly sessions. The parent training condition that included teacher training also included the Education program, a parent training component related to helping parents promote children’s academic skills through effective reading skills, homework routines, and enhanced collaboration with teachers. The teacher training component consisted of four full-day workshops offered monthly and a minimum of two school consultations in which the parent and group leader met with the teacher at school to plan an individual behavior plan. Regular calls were made to teachers to support their efforts and inform them of the progress of the child at home.


Six randomized control group evaluations conducted by the developer and several independent replications by other investigators have revealed that the parent training significantly

  • Increased positive family communication and problem-solving
  • Increased parent use of limit-setting using nonviolent discipline
  • Reduced conduct problems in children’s interactions with parents
  • Reduced parental depression and increased parental self-confidence
  • Increased parents’ bonding and involvement with teachers and classrooms
  • Increased parents’ positive emotional response (e.g., increasing praise) and decreased the use of criticism, harsh discipline, and negative commands

Two randomized control group evaluations of the teacher training indicated significantly

  • Increased teachers’ bonding with parents
  • Reduced child and peer aggression in the classroom
  • Decreased teacher use of criticism and harsh discipline
  • Increased children’s positive cooperation with teachers
  • Increased children’s positive compliance with parental commands
  • Increased use of praise and encouragement and proactive classroom management strategies by teachers
  • Increased children’s positive interactions with peers, school readiness, and engagement in school activities

Two randomized control group evaluations indicated that the child training series significantly

  • Reduced conduct problems at home and school
  • Increased children’s social competence and appropriate play skills
  • Increased children’s appropriate cognitive problem-solving strategies
  • Increased children’s use of prosocial conflict management strategies with peers

The Incredible Years series has been evaluated and found successful with children from various ethnic groups—including Hispanic, Asian-American, and African-American—and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in parts of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Maternal depression
  • Pattern of high family conflict


  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school

Protective Factors


  • Religiosity / Involvement in organized religious activities


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • NIJ: What Works
  • OJJDP/CSAP: Strengthen Families
  • HHS: Surgeon General
  • Department of Education


Webster–Stratton, Carolyn H. 1981. “Modification of Mothers’ Behaviors and Attitudes Through Videotape Modeling Group Discussion Program.” Behavior Therapy 12:634–42.

———. 1982a. “The Long-Term Effects of a Videotape Modeling Parent Training Program: Comparison of Immediate and 1-Year Follow-Up Results.” Behavior Therapy 13:702–14.

———. 1982b. “Teaching Mothers Through Videotape Modeling to Change Their Children’s Behaviors.” Journal of Pediatric Psychology 7(3):279–94.

———. 1984. “A Randomized Trial of Two Parent Training Programs for Families With Conduct-Disordered Children.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 52(4):666–78.

———. 1985. “Predictors of Treatment Outcome in Parent Training for Conduct-Disordered Children.” Behavior Therapy 16:223–43.

———. 1989. “Systematic Comparison of Consumer Satisfaction of Three Cost-Effective Parent Training Programs for Conduct-Problem Children.” Behavior Therapy 20:103–15.

———. 1990a. “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Self-Administered Videotape Parent Training for Families With Conduct-Problem Children.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 18(5):479–92.

———. 1990b. “Long-Term Follow-Up of Families With Young Conduct-Problem Children: From Preschool to Grade School.” Journal of Clinical Child Psychology 19(2):144–49.

———. 1991. “Annotation: Strategies for Working With Families of Conduct-Disordered Children.” British Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology 32(7):1047–62.

———. 1992. The Incredible Years: A Trouble-Shooting Guide for Parents of Children Ages 3–8 Years. Toronto, Canada: Umbrella Press.

———. 1994. “Advancing Videotape Parent Training: A Comparison Study.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62(3):583–93.

———. 1997. “Early Intervention for Families of Preschool Children With Conduct Problems.” In Michael J. Guralnick (ed.). The Effectiveness of Early Intervention: Second Generation Research. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Company, 429–54.

———. 1998. “Preventing Conduct Problems in Head Start Children: Strengthening Parent Competencies.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 66:715–30.

———. 2000. “The Incredible Years Training Series.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Webster–Stratton, Carolyn H., and Mary A. Hammond. 1990. “Predictors of Treatment Outcome in Parent Training for Families With Conduct-Problem Children.” Behavior Therapy 21:319–37.

———. 1997. “Treating Children With Early-Onset Conduct Problems: A Comparison of Child and Parent Training Interventions.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 65(1):93–109.

Webster–Stratton, Carolyn H., and Martin Herbert. 1994. Troubled Families–Problem Children: Working With Parents: A Collaborative Process. Chichester, England: Wiley and Sons.

Webster–Stratton, Carolyn H., Terri Hollinsworth, and Mary Kolpacoff. 1989. “The Long-Term Effectiveness and Clinical Significance of Three Cost-Effective Training Programs for Families With Conduct-Problem Children.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57(4):550–53.

Webster–Stratton, Carolyn H., Mary Kolpacoff, and Terri Hollinsworth. 1988. “Self-Administered Videotape Therapy for Families With Conduct-Problem Children: Comparison With Two Cost-Effective Treatments and a Control Group.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56(4):558–66.


Carolyn H. Webster–Stratton, Ph.D.
The Incredible Years
1411 Eighth Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119
Phone: (888) 506-3562
Fax: (888) 506-3562
Web site: