Being and becoming a parent is one of the most complex and challenging roles a person takes on in life.
In our society, there is often less help and wisdom available to parents than there would have been in our natural environments, in which, as the saying goes, it took a village to raise a child. Without the assistance of our “village,” parents can sometimes feel at sea about how to address difficulties with a child.
All parents can run into difficulties with any child, and it can be extremely stressful for the whole family. Children with disabilities may pose particular challenges to parents and families.
Parenting can also be the most rewarding thing a person does in life, so it may be worth getting help when things are becoming stressful.
What is Triple P?
Triple P – or the Positive Parenting Programme – is an evidence-based therapy programme for parents in families of all sorts. It is effective in reducing problem behaviours in children and decreasing parental stress in families in both developed and developing cultures, from all walks of life.
A key concept of this programme is that warm, positive interactions between parents and children are essential for healthy child development and harmony in the home.
When parents are experiencing high levels of stress, or one or more children are misbehaving, it can be difficult to maintain these warm, positive interactions.
Efforts to re-establish good, friendly relations by “catching” your children being good, and letting them know that you like it when they are, or creating frequent opportunities for brief, pleasant, high-quality interactions, can rapidly re-establish peace in the home.
The Benefits of Positive Families
Other ways of keeping things positive include ensuring that children have a safe and entertaining environment in the house – kids who are occupied, are less likely to create trouble than kids who are bored.
Self-care for parents can also be essential to maintaining a positive atmosphere at home.
Triple P also includes specific strategies for dealing with problem behaviour, which are taught once the positive interactions have been solidly established – children are much more willing to follow a set of rules when they feel safe, loved and valued.
It is, however, essential to set appropriate limits for children for several reasons; being good at keeping friendships, staying in school and eventually maintaining employment all require that children can observe limits set by other people. Children are still learning about how the world works, and they can become easily overwhelmed by its complexity, but setting boundaries and limits on their behaviour helps them to feel safe and comfortable.
The specific strategies included in Triple P are intended to be used as a menu of interventions for parents, who will learn and choose the strategies that fit with their parenting styles and family circumstances. Parents are free to select and decline strategies as they see fit – after all, they are the experts on their family.
A central theme in applying the disciplinary strategies in Triple P is being clear and consistent with children. It is unhelpful to set a rule and then break it yourself, or to make a rule one day and change it the next. Under these circumstances, children will learn that your rules are optional, and they will choose when they want to observe them.
Consequently, careful consideration should be given to what rules are important, and a small number of rules should be selected, so that children are not overwhelmed.
Rules should be expressed positively, and children should be given clear instructions as to what is expected from them. For instance, rather than “Don’t nag me when I’m on the phone”, “Wait until I am off the phone and ask in a normal voice for what you want” would be recommended.
Praising children for good behaviour, and encouraging them in desirable behaviour is a key strategy.
Having swift, reasonable and logical consequences for breaking rules is often recommended. When children are struggling to regulate themselves and follow rules, a very brief quiet time may be helpful to calm them down and help them to remember the rules.
What if my Child has a Disability?
Stepping Stones Triple P is a version of Triple P designed for parents of children with disabilities.
In addition to the key themes of the programme – warm, positive, consistent parenting – Stepping Stones Triple P includes strategies to help children with disabilities to learn skills to develop independence and self-regulation so that they, too, can observe family limits and enjoy fulfilling, positive interactions at home.
Sanders, MR (2004). Every Parent (Second Edition). Australia: Penguin Books.
Sanders, MR; Mazzucchelli, TG, & Studman (2009). Facilitator’s Manual for Group Stepping Stones Triple P for Families with a Child Who Has a Disability. Milton: Triple P International.