Effectiveness of Child-Focused Interventions for Externalizing Behavior: a Rapid Evidence Review

Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol. 2022 Aug;50(8):987-1009. doi: 10.1007/s10802-022-00904-6. Epub 2022 Feb 25.


Parent behavior management training (BMT) is well established as an effective, evidence-based treatment for children with externalizing behavior. Despite the wealth of data supporting BMT, many community providers use a variety of child-focused and non-directive interventions to target behavior problems. There is lack of clarity as to whether the evidence supporting child-focused externalizing treatments is sufficiently compelling to support offering these treatments rather than or in addition to BMT. This rapid evidence review compares the effectiveness of BMT with several common child-focused interventions for externalizing behavior including cognitive behavioral (CBT), social skill (SS), and play/dynamic (PT) approaches. PubMed, PsychINFO, and Web of Science were searched for English-language articles from year 2000 onwards for each intervention type. Inclusion criteria were child age (12 and under), presence of a child-focused behavioral treatment condition, and externalizing behavior as an outcome variable. A total of 30 studies met inclusion criteria and were coded (13 CBT, 10 SS, 7 PT). Results supported social skills interventions with accompanying BMT as effective in improving externalizing problems, with generally moderate effect sizes. Individual social skills interventions were promising but needing further evaluation compared to treatment as usual. CBT treatments with and without accompanying BMT showed moderate effects over waitlist but produced less consistently significant effects compared to more robust controls. Play therapy approaches showed inconsistent effects and require further evaluation. This review supports social skills plus BMT treatments as a child-focused intervention with probable efficacy for child externalizing problems. Implications for policy and community practice are discussed.

Keywords: Cognitive behavior therapy; Evidence-based treatment; Externalizing behavior; Parent training; Rapid evidence review; Social skills.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Humans
  • Parenting* / psychology
  • Parents / education
  • Play Therapy
  • Problem Behavior* / psychology