Does Setting Goals Enhance Parenting Intervention Effects? A Field Experiment

Behav Ther. 2021 Mar;52(2):418-429. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2020.05.004. Epub 2020 Jun 1.


People who pursue approach goals (i.e., desired outcomes to be reached) tend to be more likely to achieve their goals than people who pursue avoidance goals (i.e., undesired outcomes to be prevented). We tested this premise in a brief preventive parenting intervention targeting parental praise to reduce disruptive child behavior. We also tested whether goal setting effects depend on behavior change phase (initiation versus maintenance) and parents' regulatory focus (high versus low promotion and prevention focus). Parents (N = 224; child age 4-8) were randomized to one of four conditions: an approach goal-enhanced or an avoidance goal-enhanced intervention condition, a no-goal intervention condition, or a waitlist control condition. Outcomes were parent-reported and audio-recorded positive parenting and disruptive child behavior. Results show that goal setting had very limited effects. Setting avoidance goals, not approach goals, improved self-reported positive parenting. However, goal setting did not enhance effects of parenting intervention on observed (i.e., audio-recorded) positive parenting and disruptive child behavior. Furthermore, goal setting effects depended neither on the phase of change, nor on parents' regulatory focus. This field experiment suggests that setting approach goals does not enhance the brief parenting intervention to improve parent-child interactions.

Keywords: approach and avoidance goal setting; behavior change; disruptive child behavior; parenting intervention; positive parenting.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting
  • Parents
  • Problem Behavior*