A new study from the U.K. finds that parenting interventions for children with behavior problems are just as effective in school-age as in younger children.

Findings from the Oxford University study run counter to the  view that interventions need to be applied early in life, when children’s brain function and behavior are thought to be more malleable

Indeed, investigators believe the research clearly shows that it is time to stop focusing on when we intervene with parenting, and just get on with helping children in need of all ages.

The study, recently published in the journal Child Development, is one of the first to test the age assumption. Parenting interventions are a common and effective tool for reducing child behavior problems, but studies of age effects have until now produced mixed results.

Professor Frances Gardner and her team analyzed data from over 15,000 families from all over the world, and found no evidence that earlier intervention is better. Older children benefited just as much as younger ones from parenting interventions for reducing behavior problems.

There was no evidence whatsoever for the common belief that earlier interventions are more powerful, and this was based on combining data from more than 150 rigorous trials.

What’s more, their economic analysis (based on a U.K. and Ireland subset of the data) found that interventions with older children were actually more likely to be cost-effective.

Said Gardner, “Where there is concern about behavioral difficulties in younger children, it is important that our findings are never used as a reason to delay intervention, as children and families otherwise will suffer for longer.

“With respect to common parenting interventions for reducing behavior problems in childhood, rather than believing ‘earlier is better’, we should conclude, ‘it’s never too early, never too late’.”

The study draws the conclusion that it makes sense to invest in parenting interventions for children at all ages showing signs of behavioral difficulties, as they are no more likely to be effective in younger than older children, at least in the pre-adolescent range, 2-11 years.

Of course, there’s more work to be done, according to researchers. The trials examined were limited to pre-adolescents, to shorter-term effects, and parent-reported assessment of child outcomes.

Future studies are needed that focus on adolescents, longer-term outcomes, and using multiple sources (e.g. observations; father reports) for assessing child behavior problems.

Source: University of Oxford