09/18/09 — Incredible Years - parenting classes

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Incredible Years - parenting classes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 18, 2009 1:46 PM

Stacy Donahue was a frustrated mother. Two-year-old son Randal wouldn't listen to her and experienced frequent tantrums and meltdowns, she said. So when her daughter Kelsey, then in a More at Four classroom, brought home a brochure about a program to help parents of children with "challenging behaviors," she leapt at the opportunity.

"It helped a lot," she says now. "Instead of just telling him 'no' all the time, they told me to explain why and to point him in another direction."

Those were just some of the ideas she received from the free 14-week class the Partnership has offered since obtaining a grant last year.

"We have five group facilitators, all who can lead this class," said Valerie Wallace, early care and education director."We started the program in February 2008. Since then, we have had five classes and two parent reunions. We invite them to come back and let us know how things are doing, what areas they're still working on, what areas they're still struggling with."

Mrs. Donahue has become one of its biggest proponents.

"I didn't miss a session," she said. "I was there. I met with a bunch of other mothers and got a bunch of tips."

Classes are offered in a group setting, explained Ms. Wallace. While parents gather in one room, children are cared for in another classroom.

The premise is simple -- moms and dads talking about their week and engaging in discussions, being given assignments and homework.

"It's a lot of interaction between group facilitators, husbands and wives, parents sharing their experiences and us trying to get them to pull out better ways to do it," Ms. Wallace said. "We actually get to demonstrate -- role-play being the parent, role-play being the child."

It's all very informal, said Shannon Weeks, program specialist.

"As the group goes along, we hope the parents are given a relationship with each other so that they can be honest," she said. "I think it helps parents to know they're handling it the same way and to figure out a better way to handle it."

To ensure confidence, participants are asked to pair up with another parent for moral support.

Before even starting, though, moms and dads are advised that it is a process.

"Take baby steps," Ms. Wallace said. "There's not going to be any change right away. Coming in, they think they're going to change the child. A lot of it is developmentally appropriate. We're offering the techniques, giving them additional ways of handling it."

Mrs. Donahue cringes at the memory of where she was before taking the class.

"I was doing a whole lot of yelling and spanking," she said.

Now-3-year-old Randal's behavior was compounded by the fact that he is speech- and hearing-impaired, so his mother's frustration -- and yelling -- surfaced often.

Patience was hard to come by, but exactly what she was advised to work on.

"It didn't happen right away," Mrs. Donahue said.

Since children don't come with an owner's manual, the accompanying book for "Incredible Years" was a godsend, the young mother said.

"I read the book like five times. It's been a bible, really," she said.

Efforts have paid off, as Randal's antics have improved.

"The tantrums did stop, the yelling did stop, the screaming did stop," Mrs. Donahue said. "We still have challenges but it's gotten 100 percent better. I can sit down and relax and watch TV without them fighting. It's just better, a whole lot better.

"Now we can play together, we can talk together, we can have our alone time. My husband's gotten involved. It's a never-ending process."

There is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, the officials say, but at the very least there are techniques and suggestions.

"It might not work right away, but the tools -- we have given you tools in your toolbox. You're going to have to decide which one to use in this behavior," explained Ms. Wallace.

"We're not the experts," said Ms. Weeks. "We don't have all the answers but what we hope is that through all the different things that we do in the group, that you'll get some of the answers that will."

While the program may target children with challenging behaviors, it's really more about training parents.

"I think a lot of times parents have a lot of behaviors they're trying to work on (with their kids) -- talking back, spitting, temper tantrums. It's just overwhelming to the child," Ms. Wallace said, adding, "A lot of the behaviors are so normal."

So, much of what the class does is provide encouragement and support.

"We always talk about barriers to things -- people work, there's not a lot of time, you might be going to school -- it doesn't take a lot," Ms. Wallace said. "We don't ask them to play for hours on end. Play for 10 minutes, just 10 minutes with you and your child. ... We always start with what we want parents to do more -- play, praising, less use of time-outs.

"When you start building that relationship with the child and praise them instead of looking for negative things, that relationship becomes stronger."

Some of those very basic concepts may be challenging for some parents, Ms. Weeks said. Especially if they did not receive good parenting themselves.

"There are some, I don't think they have ever gotten praise," she said. "They just have a hard time taking it themselves. As they do it with their child, it gets easier and feels more genuine."

Incredible Years accepts an average of 12 to 16 participants per session. The classes are free and the only criteria is that parents must have a child between the ages of 2 and 5, not yet in kindergarten.

"This is not income-based," Ms. Weeks explained. "If you have a child 2 to 5 years old, then you're eligible."

"We have had about 75 people go through and complete the class," Ms. Wallace said. "It's not limited to single parents, grandparents, aunts raising children. It covers a wide range."

Sessions recently began, with another series scheduled to start in January.