Families Make the Difference

Children need a safe and loving home to grow up happy and healthy. However, research and studies on violence against children has highlighted that the home is where children worldwide are most at risk of violence, and it comes from those closest to them. For boys and girls growing up amid poverty and crisis, the protective role of a parent is especially critical—and especially difficult. Supporting caregivers with alternatives to violent discipline helps keep children safe and lets them develop to their full potential.  

The Science Behind Parenting  

There have been over three decades of research on the effectiveness of parent training programs to improve child behavior, eliminate behavior problems, and prevent and mediate child abuse and neglect. Most of the research on parenting programs has evaluated the effectiveness of parenting training in order to decrease child behavior problems. There are several elements of parenting programs that are particularly effective in changing parenting behaviors and attitudes: teaching positive parent-child interaction skills; increasing emotional and empathetic communication skills; helping parents learn to be consistent when setting limits across settings; and teaching parents the correct use of time out. IRC used combined research with the experiences of parenting programs around the world to create the Families Make the Difference Program. The Parenting Curriculum builds on other training sessions developed and tested by the IRC in Burundi, Liberia and Thailand, and is informed by evidence-based programs such as the Nurturing Parenting Program and the Strengthening Families Program. The Parenting program has 7 core sessions and 3 optional sessions, which each revolve around these core concepts:  

Positive Parent-Child Interactions: Teaching parents how to positively interact with their children is one of the most effective components of parenting programs. Researchers have found that teaching parents to practice child directed play, to praise desirable behaviors, and to provide positive attention to children decreases aggression and other misbehaviors as well as increases parents’ self-efficacy. The Parenting Curriculum focuses on how parents can foster optimal development by creating positive, supportive, nurturing relationships with their children. 

Emotional/Empathetic Communication: This type of communication helps parents to listen actively as well as encourage young children to regulate and express their emotions appropriately. Empathetic communication helps children feel valued, which can decrease misbehavior due to frustration and anger. Through the program, parents will learn to manage their own anger and frustration in order to communicate more effectively with each other and their children.  

Supportive Guidance and Consistent Routines: Helping parents learn to be consistent as they follow through with developmentally appropriate expectations and limits is an effective component of parenting programs. When children understand what is expected of them at home, at school and in the community, they have a better chance of complying with rules and decreasing externalizing behaviors.  

Nonviolent Discipline: The Correct Use of Time Out: Time out is a discipline strategy that has been adopted by a number of evidence-based parenting programs including The Incredible Years, Triple P and Parent-Child Interaction Training. These programs represent 30 years of research with families from all over the world. The results overwhelmingly support the use of time out to decrease both aggressive and oppositional behaviors.5 When done correctly, time out teaches children to calm down and self-regulate—a lifelong skill children need in order to be successful in schools and in their communities.   

Cognitive and Social Skills: To help parents learn to give positive attention and praise for prosocial behaviors like sharing, cooperation and respect for rules. Parents will learn how to help their children develop language skills from a very early age, increase their memory and problem-solving skills, and prepare them to do well in school. It is important that cognitive and social skills are learned within the context of a supportive, positive parent-child relationship. These kinds of skills are best learned through play and games.   

 Recognising that children follow different developmental stages and that the parent-child relationship changes accordingly, the IRC has divided its parenting program into 3 main groups to provide specific and intentional attention to the different needs of young children, school aged children and adolescents.  The FMD program is therefore divided into   

  • a parenting program for parents of children aged 0-5 years, which focuses on establishing the strong bond between parent and child to support health brain development and a nurturing environment for young children.   
  • A parenting program for parents of children 6-11 years, which focuses on supporting children with growing independence, while providing supportive, guidance and encouragement.  
  • A parenting program for parents of adolescents aged 12-18, which focused on the changing needs of adolescents, their behavior and how to communicate effectively with adolescents, providing the careful balance of space and guidance and support as they transition to adulthood.  

Resource Info

Resource Type

Training Material


Published by

International Rescue Committee (IRC)


Child Development
Community Participation
Levels of Learning - Early Childhood Development