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Incredibly good course extended

A new programme is keeping children and parents happy. Jill Tunstall reports

Wales may be looking forward to a new generation of well-behaved children and happy parents thanks to an innovative course.

The Incredible Years programme has proved so successful in a north and mid-Wales pilot scheme that the Assembly government has pledged pound;50,000 to make it more widely available. Incredible Years will form a central plank of the government's parenting action plan, with the additional cash funding another 120 trainers.

The US-developed parenting programme has been running in Wales for three years, through the Bangor child behaviour project at Bangor university.

"It is one of the best things I have ever done," said mother-of-two Charlie Wylie, of Betws-y-Coed. "It has given me much more confidence with Bea and Callum and they are happier too because I'm not shouting all the time.

"If every parent could do it, it would be fantastic. It's really simple and a lot of common sense."

Parents are taught how to praise, reward and play with their children as well as setting limits, ignoring them to the extent they give up bad behaviour, and the time-out method of removing them when they are angry.

Dr Judy Hutchings, Incredible Years Cymru director, brought the programme to Wales 10 years ago after being impressed by its founder Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton's work on preventing and resolving behavioural issues.

"We never tell a parent what to do. We share ideas with the parents and children, and practise skills with parents for them to put into practice at home."

She added: "Our research, and that of others, shows clearly that these programmes not only work but are cost-effective."

* A separate strand of the Incredible Years programme, where life-sized puppets are used to help pupils counter their bad behaviour, is being implemented in Gwynedd's 106 primary schools.

'I THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO LOOK AFTER MY BABY'

Dr Judy Hutchings has an abiding memory of being a new mum that embodies all she feels is wrong in teaching parents to look after their children. "I was in hospital with a day-old baby I thought would break if I picked it up," she recalls.

"In came the midwife, whisked him up and said, 'This is how you bathe your baby, mother'. I was left thinking I would never be able to do it. She totally undermined me."

Today Dr Hutchings is a clinical psychologist and mother-of-three, at the helm of a highly effective, three-stranded training programme for parents, children and teachers in Wales.

Last week, the Assembly government announced additional funding to expand the parenting side of her work - based on the Incredible Years programme developed by American Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton (see story above).

"I wish I had come across all of this when I was younger. I think I would have done a better job," says Dr Hutchings.

"It's basically learning to look at things from the other person's point of view. You might think your child is a monster, but can you look at him in a different way and learn why he is like that?"

Dr Hutchings is clearly passionate about her work. Despite being treated for breast cancer in the past 18 months, she has never had a day off.

"I was brought up by my grandparents because my parents had separated. My nanny was the only Labour councillor in south Devon so, at eight years old, I was going round pushing her leaflets through people's doors.

"My granddad was a bricklayer and my dad a coalminer who went on to further education and became a lecturer in maths. We were a working-class family that valued education, I was the first to get a university degree."

So, is she Wales's answer to Super Nanny?

"No," she wails. "The principles may be the same, but I reckon the children cotton on that they have to be good when that bloody woman's around and then stop when she's gone.

"With Incredible Years we work with the parents to give them the strategies and the confidence, and they put it into practice, so the children respond to them."

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