Evidence based theory

Why is it important?

“It is one thing to know what methods work, quite another to understand why. Without understanding why they work we are most unlikely to use them effectively.” Geoff Petty, Evidence Based Teaching (2006) 

Evidence-based parenting programmes are underpinned by sound theoretical principles that have been supported by a substantial amount of research in the field of child development. While a variety of models have informed the development of parenting programmes, four core theories underpin the majority of them:

  • social learning theory
  • attachment theory
  • parenting styles theory
  • the model of human ecology

Social learning theory is based on the assumption that children’s behaviour will improve when appropriately reinforced - good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is either ignored or appropriately sanctioned.

Social learning theory-based programmes teach parents strategies for dealing with child misconduct, such as time out and withholding privileges, and encouraging positive behaviour through proactive reward systems, such as sticker charts and point systems.

Attachment theory is based on the notion that an infant’s ability to form a strong emotional bond with their primary caregiver is a natural part of its development. The security of this bond, also known as attachment security, is largely determined by the parent’s ability to respond sensitively and appropriately to their infant’s bids for attention. Programmes based on attachment theory therefore aim to improve parental sensitivity by increasing parents’ understanding of their children’s needs and attachment related behaviours.

Parenting styles theory is based on research that suggests children’s behaviour is directly related to their parent’s child-rearing practices. Parents who combine high levels of parental warmth with high levels of supervision are more likely to have children who are more confident, more autonomous and more socially responsible.

This parenting style is often referred to as an authoritative style of parenting, as it recognises the child as an individual in his or her own right and promotes personal responsibility. For this reason, many parenting programmes include elements which encourage parents to allow their children to take risks within a family environment amidst high levels of supervision.

The model of human ecology assumes that a child’s development is determined by his or her interaction within the nested environments of the individual, family, school, community and culture. Each of these environments contains elements (also known as protective and risk factors) which can either improve a child’s life outcomes or place them at risk for adversity. Every family is unique in terms of the risk and protective factors influencing it. Programmes based on this model consider ways to strengthen protective factors in order to reduce or remove any ongoing risks.