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A young Muslim mother wearing a hijab takes her toddler son to visit the pediatrician. The boy is sitting on his mother's lap. They are seated at a table and a male doctor is seated across from them. The child is smiling at the doctor. The mother is looking at her son.

Research shows that when parents practice positive parenting while their children are young, they can protect them from a host of emotional and behavioral issues down the road.

For families who already experience social and economic disadvantages, access to information and resources that can teach them about these practices and provide guidance are often unavailable until children enter the school system when they are five or six years old.

This lack of access to resources during the critical early years for a child’s behavioral development can leave families vulnerable to future behavior issues such as delinquency and substance abuse.

Photo of Abby Bailin and Sarah Kate Bearman

Abby Bailin (left) and Sarah Kate Bearman (right)

Sarah Kate Bearman, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Abby Bailin, a doctoral candidate in the school psychology program have created and are testing e-health intervention that can fill this gap in primary and pediatric care settings. It’s part of “Promoting Positive Parenting for Families in Pediatric Primary Care,” a project through the Leveraging Evidence and Advancing Practice for Youth Mental Health Services (LEAP) Lab.

The intervention is a seven-minute video, which is available in both English and Spanish. It is shown to parents and children while they wait in the exam room before seeing their pediatrician for a well-child visit.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans are required to cover well-child visits to primary and pediatric care facilities within the first few years of the child’s life, making clinics the perfect place to provide additional resources for families with the greatest need.

“We believe that pediatric primary care is a natural place to meet families in a setting they already trust. By creating an e-health intervention, we were able to take advantage of the time that families spend waiting in these clinics without requiring more from care providers in these clinics,” says Bearman.

Parents are shown examples of positive attending and brief mild ignoring – known as differential attention parenting strategies – that demonstrate how to encourage desirable behaviors with praise and discourage undesirable ones by removing attention. The video focuses on practices that prevent disruptive behaviors like child noncompliance and mild aggressive behaviors, which increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.

After watching the video, families are able to ask questions of their care provider about the techniques in the video and receive additional information that could benefit them after viewing the video or during their next appointment.

The intervention is currently being tested at four pediatric clinics in the Austin area where 63 percent of participating families are at or below the poverty line: CommUnity Care East, People’s Community Clinic, Seton McCarthy Community Clinic, and Del Valle Children’s Wellness Center.

Early results suggest decreases in parenting stress, an important predictor of family well-being.

“One of the key outcomes we’re focusing on is reducing parenting stress. When parents are given support in the important job of parenting, they may feel less overwhelmed and more able to connect with and enjoy their children—which is good for everyone in the family,” says Bearman.

Funding for the project was secured through the Seton Family Healthcare Partners, UT Center for Health and Social Policy, and the UT Office of the Vice President for Research.