First randomised trial of a parenting program in mainland China shows Group Triple P has a positive impact on children’s academic lives

shutterstock_276608939A paper published in the journal Behavior Modification explores whether the development of more westernised parenting practices in China over the past four decades would mean that western-developed parenting programs would be effective with Chinese families.

The randomised controlled trial of Group Triple P, the first RCT of a western-developed parenting program in mainland China, found that Group Triple P significantly improved dysfunctional parenting and parental adjustment, increased parents’ confidence and reduced child adjustment problems.

The introduction of Triple P to Shanghai parents of children from grades one to three who were worried about their child’s schooling also sought to find out if Triple P could have a positive impact on children’s academic lives.

The findings suggest that may be the case, with participation in Group Triple P leading to parents becoming more satisfied with their child’s academic performance and the children showing less problem behaviours related to learning, according to the parents.

All effects were maintained six months after the parents participated in the program.

Academic performance

Former PhD student of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland, Dr Mingchun Guo, said that improved parental satisfaction in academic performance may have been brought about because parents had adjusted their expectations of their children and had become more accepting of their academic achievement. Alternatively, there may have been an actual change in the child’s academic achievement.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to measure academic performance directly in this study, although a recent 15-year follow-up study in Western Australia indicated Group Triple P , when delivered to parents of children aged at 3 to 4 years, produced sustained improvements in children’s literacy and numeracy scores once at school.’’

The Chinese study was also a rare attempt to investigate parenting changes from the child’s perspective, with children reporting that their parents used significantly more positive parenting practices after participating in Group Triple P. However, Dr Guo cautioned that more research was needed to explore children’s views on changes in parenting practices.

The study found no change on children’s reports of corporal punishment in the home either at post-intervention or six-month follow-up, however, Dr Guo suggests this may have been caused by a floor effect due to the low average level of corporal punishment reported by parents in the study.

“Triple P encourages nurturing, engaging, consistent, and assertive parenting; hence, it coaches authoritative parenting,’’ Dr Guo writes. “As recent research has shown that Mainland Chinese parents endorse authoritative parenting and this is positively related to children’s social and school adjustment, it is not surprising that Group Triple P had positive effects on a range of parent and child outcomes in this study.’’

In introducing the study, Dr Guo places parenting in the context of the drastic changes in economy, education, family structure and family lives that China has experienced in the past four decades.

Confucian philosophy and filial piety

He said Confucian philosophy and values such as filial piety, or respect for one’s parents, had played a major role in Chinese parenting practices with Chinese parents typically depicted as emphasising the need for parental authority and obedience from children.

But such attitudes may have relaxed to some extent with suggestions that the one-child policy, for example, had led to Mainland Chinese parents becoming more indulgent with their children.

A recent empirical study also found that Mainland Chinese parents predominantly endorsed authoritative rather than authoritarian parenting, they emphasized egalitarian and the two-way parent-child relationship and were warmth-oriented rather than control-oriented toward their children.

Dr Guo writes that these findings on parenting styles were substantially different than those found in studies conducted one and two decades previously, suggesting Chinese parenting practices had become more similar to Western-style parenting.

In this context, it was likely that Mainland Chinese parents, particularly those in urban areas, would accept and use parenting strategies from a Western-developed program. This particular trial suggests that this may well be the case.