A study, published on bmj.com, explains the benefits of the type of parenting classes which are led by peers. The study, done by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and which took place between January and December 2010, states that children who are unruly, and their parents, who were looking for help in disciplining their children, were helped substantially from these parenting classes.

The study took place in an area which has a high prevalence of kids with some type of mental health disorders, and also where there are many people who are in an ethnic minority.

The study explains that usually children who are recommended to go to mental health programs are those who do not follow rules and interrupt the normal things going on around them. The reason why they are referred to these clinics is because of the effects the child's behavior has on not only their own lives, but the lives of their families as well. Eventually, these behaviors can turn into worse behavior, such as acting out of control, bullying other kids, or becoming antisocial

The study suggests that the way a child is parented has a large impact on the quality of the child's mental health, however, many parents and families do not seek the necessary help because of a variety of reasons, such as their worries about what others may think, or simply the lack of time in the families' schedules. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Experience (NICE) recommends peer parenting classes and says that they help change bad behavior in kids.

To determine if these classes were helpful in disciplining children, the researchers observed a peer-led parenting intervention. They authors predicted that parents would make more of an effort to take part in peer-led classes because they are more personal. For example, they were close to home and in a setting that the parents were familiar with, and led by other parents, instead of a professional who, in some parents eyes, may not seem as connected to the families.

The classes, which were run by peer facilitators who had previously completed training and were supervised regularly, consisted of group-discussions, role-playing, times to share stories with others, lessons which demonstrated effective parenting techniques, and recommended home practice. The sessions took place once a week, for 2 hours each, in a group setting. The goals of the sessions were to help parents with their methods of parenting, fix or improve parent- child relationships, and strengthen how parents interacted with their children.

The parents filled out surveys in which they were asked various questions, such as what they believed their child's problems were, what they believed were their own problems in terms of parenting, and what gave them stress. The researchers measured all of these factors by the parents responses.

The parents who took part in the peer interventions reported effective changes in the way they parented and how their child's behavior improved. A group who was waiting to take the class, but had not yet gone through the teaching, had significantly different responses than the parents who had already taken the classes. Those who took the class also reported feeling less stress than they had prior to the classes. 92% of the parents who were involved in the classes stayed in the program for the entire 8 weeks and also said they were happy with the results.

The peer-led intervention, called Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities (EPEC), is said by the authors to be an effective way to improve parenting skills, child behavior and parent-child relationships - even with families who are prone to these types of parenting problems. Although peer-led interventions are now believed to be more effective than other types of teaching, the authors say more research is needed to determine if the benefits of these classes are long-term, and to look at the cost-effectiveness of the peer-led classes.

Written By Christine Kearney