Study Shows Group Therapy Is Beneficial for Parents of Difficult Toddlers

For years, I have joked that someone should start some sort of Baby Boot Camp -- a place where you send your 2-year-old off for a couple of weeks, and she’d come back potty-trained, binky-less, and with an understanding of the concept of time-out. I always figured it never happened because who would be the trainers?

Well someone has done it. Kind of. In a new study, researchers have found that parents of difficult toddlers can “benefit from group training sessions, where parents learn the skills needed to deal with temper tantrums and other disruptive behaviors alongside other parents.”


Ok, so it’s more like parenting boot camp than toddler boot camp, but still, this makes perfect sense.

For the study, they took 150 parents of unruly children ages 2 to 4, and put them in groups of six to 12 parents to receive training, or added them to a waiting list for the training.

The parents in training met for 10 weeks at a pediatrician’s office, where they were led by a psychologist or social worker who taught them behavior modification skills like reinforcing positive behavior and role-playing.

A year later, the results showed that the children of the “trained” parents showed less disruptive behavior than they had at the beginning of the study, but that there was no change in the behavior of the waiting list group.

Parenting “normal” toddlers is challenging enough, but when you’re dealing with particularly disruptive children, it’s hard to know how to manage them. Especially since these days everyone has to play the “I’ve had the most to overcome” sympathy card.

So the parents of sweet-natured little Suzy might be full of all kinds of helpful advice for the parents of wild child Lucy -- like "if you use a soft voice and say, 'No, no, no,' she’ll obey as long as you’re consistent.” As the parent of two awesome kids that have been affectionately nicknamed The Blonde Bomber and The Destroyer, I laugh in Suzy’s parents’ faces.

It takes a different kind of parenting for more active, inquisitive, temperamental kids, and sometimes we parents just need a little support to know we’re not alone. Banging your head on the wall using the same parenting techniques that will work for most children won’t benefit either you or your children. You are not a failure, and your kids are not bad.

If you feel like you have a particularly difficult toddler, know that there are other parents out there struggling too. And maybe someday Toddler Boot Camp will be a real thing.

Do you think you would have benefitted from group parenting classes?

Image via Stacy Brunner/Flickr

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