Critical Discussion of the Incredible Years


Emotional intelligence and communication skills are becoming more significant as the field of cognitive psychology and pedagogy advances. Therefore, social-emotional learning programs are becoming extremely important. One such framework is the Incredible Days, which was developed in the United States in 1984. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the objectives, advantages, and disadvantages of the program. The Incredible Years is an effective program for improving parent-child and teacher-child relationships and should be accessible to all families and teachers around the world.

Discussion of the Program

Children’s mental well-being is a significant determinant of their health and success when they grow up. Despite the advancements in healthcare and economics, children have become more prone to aggression and are often diagnosed with the oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) (Neal et al., 2020). Noncompliance and aggression have unfavorable implications – such disorders often lead to drug abuse, despair, and limited social activity (Leijten et al., 2017).

In turn, these outcomes may lead to violence and crime activities during adulthood. To address these concerns, Dr. Webster-Stratton and her team developed the Incredible Years training series. She began her work in the early 1980s and published the first version of the Incredible Years in 1984 (LaForett et al., 2019).

Since then, she and her colleagues have made adjustments, have added additional material to address more concerns, and have provided teachers and parents with the ability to learn more about the program and its implementation through books and presentations (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). The Incredible Years was developed in the United States but has been implemented in many countries around the world, including Canada, the UK, Russia, Australia, Sweden, and New Zealand.

The program’s founders drew motivation from the prevalence of ODD and conduct disorder (CD) in children of young age. The primary goal was to decrease the number of children diagnosed with ODD, CD, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). Therefore, the program was created with the help of current knowledge available about these mental and psychological issues. Current scientific evidence suggests that the majority of mental illnesses that appear during adulthood are rooted in individuals’ social and emotional states when they are children (Weeland et al., 2017).

Therefore, it is not possible to mitigate the impacts of mental issues such as ODD and ADHD immediately. Accounting for this fact, the founders designed the program to pursue short-term goals to achieve long-term aims. Short-term objectives include improving parent-child relationships and making teacher-child communication more effective (Murray et al., 2018). In the long run, improvements in these two areas are believed to reduce the number of cases of ADHD, ODD, and CD (Leijten et al., 2018). In turn, this reduction will decrease the crime rates, substance abuse among adolescents, and solve the issue of academic and professional underachievement.

SEE programs are generally aimed at children and their social-emotional well-being. The Incredible Years, however, is intended for both children and their parents and teachers (Ford et al., 2019). The primary goal of the program is to reduce child behavior problems and treat ADHD. Besides that, the Incredible Years addresses many areas of children’s activity, such as academic readiness, emotional intelligence, social competence, and positive thinking. In order to prevent misconduct and violence when children become adults, the program includes activities to reduce aggression (Reinke et al., 2018).

The creators of the Incredible Years acknowledge the significance of child-parent, teacher-parent, and child-teacher interactions for children’s success and well-being. Therefore, the program can be logically separated into three parts. The first part addresses the concerns of children, the second part deals with child-parent interactions, and the last part promotes teacher-parent partnerships (Thompson et al., 2017). Training is conducted accordingly – separate training programs exist for children, parents, and teachers. Such an approach may have many benefits because targeted delivery is much more effective than the holistic dispersion of the material.

The Incredible Years is delivered in the form of three distinct programs. Parent training is comprised of basic and advanced sections and is targeted for parents whose children are between 0 and 12 years old (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). In total, the parent program can be completed in around 70 two-hour sessions that are conducted weekly (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). They take place in the form of group meetings with 10-14 participants and 2 group leaders (Gardner & Leijten, 2017).

The list of activities includes discussions, skills training, setting goals and identifying obstacles, cognitive thought training, role play, group brainstorming, homework, and weekly individual calls with a group leader. Materials used during the program include the Incredible Years book, handouts, DVDs with vignettes, and refrigerator notes (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). During the program, parents learn how to listen to their children and understand their needs, learn how to balance power, and to coach. Also, parents learn about the principles of positive parenting and practical communication skills. The basic program is divided according to the age of children, and parents may need to bring their babies with them.

For teachers, it is not necessary to divide the program into weekly sessions. Instead, the training can be delivered in six full-day workshops, during which, teachers learn to build positive relationships with students and their families and to motivate children to succeed both in academics and personal life (Gardner & Leijten, 2017). The method of delivery is similar to the parent program. Alternatively, teachers may choose to complete the curriculum in 21 two-hour sessions.

To access the programs, one may purchase the required materials from the creators, train to become a group leader or a mentor, and conduct training. Each type of program has its own materials that should be purchased on their own (The Incredible Years, 2020). For instance, the parent program is comprised of several subprograms, all of which are sold separately. The developers provide assistance to prospective trainers, and a convenient price list and consultation before one decides to make a purchase (The Incredible Years, 2020). There are accreditation programs for peer coaches, mentors, and trainers (The Incredible Years, 2020).

These are delivered in the form of intensive workshops that make use of materials provided the creators of the Incredible Years. Alternatively, one may use the services of accredited professional leaders. Currently, there are nine certified trainers and 50 mentors across the globe (The Incredible Years, 2020). The program is available in a variety of languages, including English, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, Russian, Spanish, and French.

The efficacy of the Incredible Years has been assessed multiple times since the program was first published in 1984. Almost all studies showed positive results, proving the effectiveness of the program. For instance, there have been more than nine randomized control trials to see whether or not the Incredible Years parent training positively affects the ODD/CD (Ford et al., 2019). The results indicate that around 70% of children previously diagnosed with these mental problems and whose parents received training did well in the follow-up assessments (Ford et al., 2019).

It means that by improving parent-child relationships through the delivery of the Incredible Years training, it is possible to reduce the number of children diagnosed with ODD/CD. In cases when teacher and child training was conducted, the results were significantly better – the majority of students improved their peer interactions and school behavior.

Treatment of mental issues is only a part of what the program is set to achieve. According to the program’s creators, the Incredible Years may be used to prevent problems in school and at home for children in risk groups, such as children living in communities with high poverty rates (The Incredible Years, 2020). Several randomized trials were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in preventing conduct problems, child maltreatment at home, and social-emotional negligence (Leijten et al., 2017). The results show an increase in nurturing parenting and parents’ involvement in school. In turn, maltreatment decreased, and the rates of academic success increased (Leijten et al., 2017). Therefore, the Incredible Years can be used not only to solve problems but also to prevent them from taking place.

High success rates of the program can be explained by its strong theoretical foundation. The Incredible Years draws significantly from the cognitive social learning theory. In particular, the developers emphasized the significance of Patterson’s argument about the coercion process (The Incredible Years, 2020). Patterson believed that aggression originates in parent-child relationships in which parents use coercion as the primary means of controlling their children (The Incredible Years, 2020).

The Incredible Years promotes a different manner of parenting, in which parents attempt to balance powers and use encouragement effective communication skills to build positive relationships with their children (The Incredible Years, 2020). The design of the educational materials was based on Bandura’s social learning theory. Bandura stated that social learning is a combination of behavioral, cognitive, and environmental observation (The Incredible Years, 2020).

Therefore, the Incredible Years uses observation and behavior modeling during group sessions. The program’s goal is to enforce a child’s cognitive development. This objective is motivated by the theories of Jean Piaget, a famous psychologist. He claimed that cognitive development should be the ultimate objective of all child development programs (The Incredible Years, 2020). He also proposed an effective way of teaching – he believed that interactivity, role play, and language are the key drivers of successful education.

There are many advantages of the Incredible Years in terms of efficacy and target population. Unlike many other SEE programs that target specifically Hispanic or African American children and parents, the Incredible Years is aimed at a diverse community. This statement is supported by the fact that the program has been successfully used in many countries across the world. These countries are located in North America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, which means that children from all backgrounds can benefit. Another significant advantage of the program is its strong theoretical foundation.

The Incredible Years is not based on random adventuristic theories but sound principles of cognitive learning, psychology, and pedagogy. The founder, Carolyn Webster-Stratton, is a clinical psychologist and a professor with many years of experience. The program takes a thorough approach for improving parent-child relationships – there are books for providing the necessary knowledge and homework assignments to reinforce the learned material. Inclusion of teachers is also a benefit – a child’s social-emotional development continues in classroom settings.

Among the disadvantages is the steep learning curve for the prospective trainers and mentors. It is challenging to become an accredited mentor or trainer to be able to lead parent and teacher groups. There are few certified trainers around the world, which makes the program less accessible. Furthermore, if one wants to become a trainer, he or she needs to make substantial investments as the program and materials are costly to purchase. Considering the fact that children that are prone to be aggressive are from poor households, it is challenging for an ordinary family to afford this program. In terms of the provided material, however, there are no disadvantages. The Incredible Years succeeds in meeting its most significant objectives.

The necessity to have a certified trainer to be able to benefit from the program material is a significant drawback. Therefore, it would be much more beneficial for parents if there were a program that they can pass on their own. It would increase the likelihood of the material being used by households that cannot afford such expensive programs. The developers of the Incredible Years should make a section on their website dedicated to individual families and a separate subprogram for parents that are not able to participate in in-class sessions. For instance, the creators may provide individuals with a version of their book for parents and assignments for reinforcement.


There are many SEE programs, but the Incredible Years is distinct from all of them because it can be applied to all children and parents indifferent to the racial and economic background. Its efficacy has been proven by numerous scientific studies, and it can be considered a suitable program for addressing issues such as misconduct, aggressiveness, academic underachievement, and miscommunication. While there are some shortcomings, they are not related to the program’s contents and the way of delivery. Therefore, the Incredible Years is a sound program for parents, children, and teachers.


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ChalkyPapers. "Critical Discussion of the Incredible Years." February 1, 2022.