Life-size puppets are helping to turn around the bad behaviour of children in schools and specialist referral centres across north Wales. The scheme is proving so successful in improving pupil behaviour it could be adopted throughout Wales with a cash injection from the Assembly government.
The Incredible Years Cymru (IYC) project is given as an example of good practice in the Assembly's parenting action plan, launched this week by education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson.
The plan aims to raise the profile of parenting in Wales. Proposals include promoting greater parental involvement in schools, setting up a national bilingual helpline for parents, and additional funding for Cymorth, the Assembly's children and young people support fund. It also wants local education authorities and other agencies to work together on pilot projects developing more parent information points in primary and secondary schools.
Parenting information points are areas within schools dedicated to providing parents with advice on positive parenting and education through leaflets and referrals to specialist projects.
Ms Davidson said: "This is the first time all of the Assembly government's initiatives on promoting positive parenting have been brought together.
Through initiatives such as Cymorth we are making strikes forward in the provision and support for parents." The IYC project is based on the work of American academic, nurse and psychologist Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton, who focused on parent-child relationships and their effects in the classroom.
She found it was counter-productive to tell children directly what not to do, and that it was better to have a conversation with them through a hand puppet. Studies in north Wales recently revealed the behaviour of children taking part in the scheme has improved dramatically.
IYC does not receive any direct funding at the moment. But the Assembly is looking at financing a training programme at Bangor university to supply staff for expansion into south Wales.
Dr Judy Hutchings of Bangor university, who directs the project, said: "It would be fantastic to get Assembly funding, and I'm confident that will be available.
"It was great to have recognition in the action plan and know that the techniques used by Professor Webster-Stratton really can help parents who are struggling to control bad behaviour in children.
"If you tell a child what to do, he or she will probably not listen.
Talking to them via a puppet is a way of helping positive interaction. We now need to ensure there are more links with teachers to really make it more effective."