Background: Controlling, uninvolved, and rejecting parenting in early childhood are strong predictors of later disruptive behavior disorders. However, there have been no evaluations of non‐targeted groups for parents of very young children, despite their potential advantages.
Methods: We randomly assigned 79 mothers of 12‐ to 36‐month‐olds to an 8‐session parent training program (called ‘COPEing with Toddler Behaviour’) or to a waiting list control condition. We investigated the immediate and short‐term impact on parent‐reported child behavior problems, observed parent–child interaction, and self‐reported parenting behavior and parent functioning.
Results: In an intent‐to‐treat design, the program yielded significant effects on child behavior problems, positive parent–child interaction, and parental overreactivity and depression but not observed negative child behavior or parental laxness. Most effects were significant at both post‐test and 1‐month follow‐up and effects sizes were small to medium for the intervention group and inverse to small for the control group.
Conclusions: The potential of the program to prevent later behavior problems is supported by improvements in six of the eight outcomes. As part of a community strategy, groups such as COPEing with Toddler Behaviour may promote positive parent–child interaction and children’s mental health.