Background Emotional and behavioural problems in children under 3 years of age have a high prevalence, and parenting practices have been shown to be strongly associated with their development. A number of recent systematic reviews have shown that group-based parenting programmes can be effective in improving the emotional and behavioural adjustment of older children (aged 3–10 years). The aim of this review was to establish whether there is evidence from controlled trials that group-based parenting programmes are effective in improing the emotional and behavioural adjustment of children less than 3 years of age, and their role in the primary prevention of emotional and behavioural problems.
Methods English and non-English language articles published between January 1970 and July 2001 were retrieved using a keyword search of a number of electronic databases.
Results Five studies were included and two meta-analyses were conducted, the first combining data from parent reports and the second combining data from independent observations of children's behaviour. The combined parent reports showed a non-significant difference favouring the intervention group, while the combined independent observations showed a significant difference favouring the intervention group.
Conclusion It is concluded that this review points to the potential of parenting programmes to improve the emotional and behavioural adjustment of children less than 3 years of age, but that there is insufficient evidence from controlled trials to assess whether the short-term benefit is maintained over time, or the role that such programmes might play in the primary prevention of emotional and behavioural problems. This review points to the need for further primary preventive research on this important public health issue.