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Solving problems in the early years

The Incredible Years programmes are the brainchild of Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton of the University of Washington in Seattle and have been developed over the past 30 years.

In September, the Welsh Centre for Promoting the Incredible Years Programmes opened at the University of Wales in Bangor, with Professor Webster-Stratton's support. It grew out of the Bangor Child Behaviour Project set up by Dr Judy Hutchings in 1995.

Comprising three linked programmes, for children, teachers and parents, it aims to prevent and treat conduct problems among two- to eight-year-olds and increaie their social competence.

The teacher training programme promotes effective classroom management skills, including use of teacher attention, praise, encouragement and incentives, building positive relationships with children and how to manage difficult or inappropriate classroom behaviour.

The group parenting programme of 12-14 weekly sessions emphasises the importance of play, ways to help children learn, effective praise, use of incentives, setting limits on behaviour and ways to deal effectively with misbehaviour.

The third element, the Dina Dinosaur social skills and problem solving curriculum, aims to promote social and emotional competence in children.

Topics taught include appropriate classroom behaviours, friendship skills, anger management and problem solving skills, school rules and success at school.

This school-based programme was developed as a two-year course covering children's first two years at school. It dovetails the teacher and parent programmes.

One mother of two says: "It was a rainy Monday, the first day of the course, and I felt like the worst mother in the world. I really did. I was in tears, actually.

"I had shouted at the children to try to get them dressed for school and I had to be at the course for 9.30am and I just thought, I'm going to be the worst mother there.

"I wasn't. Nobody made me feel like that.

"I think all of the mothers there felt that they were the worst mother in the world, and at the end of the course we realised that we were all pretty good actually and that we were all getting better. We were all right. And everybody supported each other.

"I was worried that people would think, 'Oh, she's hopeless'. Nobody thought that. And, of course, I'm not hopeless and I realise that.

"Everybody has problems and everybody has issues but generally you can get through them."

A father of three says: "I think it has made me a better father. I think I've got a good relationship with my children as a result of what I have learned."

A mother of four says: "Because of the course my son listens to me more. I know now what to say. Before, I used to get upset because he wouldn't listen to me. Now it's different, totally different. He respects me. We are a lot closer now. I would recommend it."

Another mother of two says: "Because of the course I got a lot closer to Corey. It has brought me down to her level, made me understand how what I was saying to her made her feel. At the end I felt closer to her, more like friends.

"At first I thought the course would be difficult, but it was so easy to get into. Your opinion mattered. It was more about how you felt."

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