The impact of a behavioural parenting intervention on parental reflective functioning

Joshua Harwood

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Evidence suggests that parents are an important influence on their child’s behaviour, and when a child’s behaviour becomes problematic, research has shown that parenting interventions can help parents and caregivers manage the behaviour, through changing their own parenting practices. In their guidelines for managing antisocial behaviour, NICE (2013) recommend parenting interventions that are theoretically based on social learning theory, utilising modelling, rehearsal, limit setting and effective reward and discipline. Despite this recommendation, there is a growing evidence base highlighting the important role of parental reflective functioning (PRF - a parents ability to understand and be curious about the mental states, thoughts and feelings of their child) in various aspects of child development, including problem behaviour. This paper aimed to link these two theoretical areas by measuring PRF change in parents completing the evidence-based, Empowering Parents Empowering Communities, a parenting intervention that was not specifically targeting reflective functioning and that has traditionally been evaluated in terms of child and parent behaviour.
Sixty-two parents completed the intervention, answering questionnaires at the start and the end of the intervention. Forty-three answered questionnaires at the start, middle and end. The group was evaluated in terms of change in PRF, child behaviour and parent behaviour.
PRF significantly improved following the parenting group, as did child behaviour and parental discipline behaviour. The change in PRF was shown to be both a moderator and a mediator of certain aspects of child and parent behaviour change.
Given that PRF has been shown to improve during a parenting intervention that does not specifically aim to target it, and that improvement is shown to confer some advantage to parents managing the behaviour of their child, a trans-theoretical approach to parenting interventions is recommended, whereby parenting interventions are not developed and evaluated in “theoretical silos”. Ideas for future research are suggested.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Award date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Parenting
  • Parental reflective functioning
  • mentalisation
  • Child Behavior
  • attachment

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