New York (Reuters Health) - A program for older people caring for their grandchildren may help improve the children's behavior, according to a new study from Australia.
Researchers found families who had been through the program, designed to encourage better communication between generations and give grandparents a parenting "refresher" course, reported fewer behavior problems among children.
"The main reason we wanted to focus on grandparents is that there still aren't that many parents getting involved with parenting programs," James Kirby, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
That means children aren't benefiting from the techniques taught in those programs, Kirby said. He is a research fellow at the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
"Going through a channel such as grandparents is another way," he said.
That's because many older people provide some amount of care for their grandchildren.
The new program is an adaptation of the existing Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, which has existed for about 30 years. The version for grandparents lasts nine weeks and consists of seven group and two phone sessions.
The sessions focus on parenting, the relationship between grandparents and parents and unhelpful emotions - such as anxiety, stress and anger. The program takes about 15 hours to complete.
Kirby said there are some programs for older people who gain custody of their grandchildren. This program is the first to focus on regular child care, he said.
For the new study, the researchers recruited 54 older people who were providing at least 12 hours of care per week to grandchildren who were between ages two and nine.
Twenty-eight grandparents were randomly assigned to participate in the program. The others served as a comparison group.
All of the grandparents and parents periodically completed questionnaires about the children's behavior, their own parenting styles and confidence and the grandparents' adjustment.
At the beginning of the study, all of the children scored similarly on a scale that measures the severity of behavior problems between 0 and 36 and the frequency of those problems between 36 and 252. Higher scores indicate worse behavior.
The children whose grandparents participated in the program began the study with an average behavior severity score of about 13 points and a frequency score of about 122 points. Those fell to about 7 and 101 points, respectively, after the program.
Among children whose grandparents didn't participate in the program, behavior severity scores remained the same at about 11 points throughout the study. Scores reflecting frequency of behavior problems increased from about 116 points at the start to about 119 at the end.
None of the average scores for either group reached the cutoff for clinical significance, however. At that point, children should possibly be examined for behavior disorders or other conditions.
Grandparents who participated in the program reported improved confidence, better relationships with their own children and less depression, anxiety and stress, compared to those who didn't take part in the program.
"We're helping with the grandparents' own mental health," Kirby said. "And - at the same time - we're also helping to reduce the child behavior problems."
The researchers also write in Behavior Research and Therapy that many of the results observed at the end of the study held true six months later.
Kirby said that since completing the current study, the researchers have also tested the program in Hong Kong. Those results are being prepared for publication.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to create a shorter version of the program. But they're already in the process of turning the resources from their study into published resources for people to use.
"Don't undervalue the contribution of grandparents," Kirby said. "They can have a significant influence on the improvement of child behavior."
SOURCE: bit.ly/18R2hD4 Behavior Research and Therapy, online November 12, 2013.