Last month, representatives from two of our partner organizations in India traveled to Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon. While in Eugene, the visiting social workers gained an overview of the programs and services offered by local parenting organization and long-time Holt partner, Birth To Three/Parenting Now!. Here, Sylvia – a social worker from Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT) in Bangalore – shares about her time at Parenting Now! and how she plans to apply the practices she learned once home in India.
The Birth To Three/Parenting Now! experience was truly different for me because this was the first time I was in training for parenting groups. Very basic things like how you welcome a group, use the right words and thank parents for making it to the group made so much sense. Just by recognizing their presence, you actually make them feel they are welcome and important in the group.
We often feel it is not important to acknowledge their presence. I think it sure makes a difference.
During the training, it was an eye-opener for me to learn better ways to manage children’s behavior. When they have their meltdowns, instead of losing our tempers, we can use alternative techniques such as giving them positive attention. We all like to be appreciated; acknowledging positive behavior, in turn, encourages positive behavior. We can provide positive attention by giving children special time and showing approval. Special time is time that you set aside each day to spend alone with your child. The time should be regular enough for the child to count on it, and centered on the child’s needs or wants.
Or catch children doing something good and show approval, giving a reason why the behavior is important. The purpose of showing approval is to encourage your child to continue a particular behavior. Also at times, we can divert their attention to other things and sometimes even ignore the behavior so as not to reinforce it with attention – be it positive or negative.
Discipline is most likely the most challenging task of parenting. The range of behaviors children present are unlimited. It is the task of a parent to sift through all the possibilities and develop a strategy that will work for their family. If we have a toolbox of discipline techniques, we can handle much of our children’s difficult behavior.
The central goal of discipline is to help our children learn to discipline themselves. Through training at Birth To Three/Parenting Now!, I learned several prevention tools that parents can use, such as communicating clear expectations. Children need to know what behaviors the parents expect and should be told in very simple language – language that the child can understand. Tell them why the behavior is important. Reducing boredom is also effective. Some children get into trouble when they are bored. Involving them in an interesting activity will redirect their energy. Or offer a choice between two alternatives, such as whether they want to wear a nightgown or pajamas to bed. Giving children a choice helps them feel they are in control of their lives and it helps in gaining their cooperation.
Back home in Bangalore, India, my organization – Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT) – works with various groups, including prospective adoptive parents, foster parents, children and families in our sponsorship program, and teachers in different schools.
In February 2011, VCT’s executive director, Mary Paul, and associate director, Sherly Thomas, attended a parent education training hosted by Holt and led by Minalee Saks, director of Birth to Three/Parenting Now!, in Pune, India. While there, Minalee taught Mary Paul and 18 other social workers how to use Parenting Now!’s “Make Parenting a Pleasure” (MPAP) curriculum, a group-based program for parents that stresses positive techniques for raising their children.
At VCT, Mary Paul regularly leads sessions on parenting for prospective adoptive parents in India who are preparing to adopt a child in care. Prospective parents always appreciate this subject, as it gives them a lot of insight and helps them develop realistic expecations of their child. Since the training with Minalee, Mary Paul has incorporated some of the exercises she learned, such as Parenting Now!’s suitcase activity. In this activity, the parents are supposed to fill a suitcase with all the intangible things that they would want for their child, such as love, care, good self-esteem, education, compassion, etc. The especially love this one.
After attending this same training myself in Eugene, I realized that we could modify the Parenting Now! curriculum for the many different groups we serve – not just prospective parents, but parents with biological children, teachers at school, foster mothers and parents of children in our educational sponsorship program. In the mentoring sessions, as I spoke to my trainers, I became really interested in working with school teachers especially. They can make such a huge impact with the children that they work with, and it would certainly help them to know their students better.
I particularly liked the discussion on discipline. Sometimes people misunderstand how best to enforce discipline and end up using methods that are harmful to the child. People do not realize that punishments only hurt children. By screaming, yelling, spanking, you will only bring down the child’s self-confidence and humiliate the child. That can never be positive parenting. I think we have to encourage positive behavior, and to do that, we have to start noticing it.
As I learned during the training at Parenting Now!, we can encourage positive behavior using these steps from the MPAP curriculum:
*Notice: When you recognize positive behavior, it is more likely to continue.
*Give attention up close: Physical closeness shows that approval is personal.
*Make good eye contact: Face your child directly and let your child know that you are talking to him in particular. This action tells your child that he/she is special and what you have to say is special and important only for him/her.
*Smile: It’s important to reinforce what we are saying with an appropriate facial message like a smile.
*Compliment the behavior, not the child: Children need to know why they are being acknowledged, and what they have done to deserve the attention. For example: “I liked the way you picked up the toys and put them in the basket” rather than “You are a good boy.”
* Be affectionate: Your child will feel recognized, rewarded and appreciated when you give him/her a hug, pat on the back, or a kiss.
* Repeat the message in a different way: It helps them keep the message fresh, new and clear.
I also especially liked a home visit that I went to with Joanna, a staff member from Parenting Now!. In this home, the mother is 18 years old and in school, and lives with her partner and her 24-month-old son. While at the home, Joanna introduced activities designed for a 24-month-old, in particular for eye and hand coordination. A few laminated, coloured fishes on a wooden stick descended from a thread, which had a magnetic tip. The boy had to reach out to the magnet to pick it up. Joanna involved herself, the mother, me and the 24-month-old boy, who enjoyed this activity. As the mother is in school until afternoon, Joanna gave her some simple reading material on discipline. When Joanna observed that the mother was correcting her child, she communicated to her that she has to be firm when she is correcting him and not say sorry and confuse the child. This was useful to see, as it was a very practical example of how to work with families during a home visit.
Back home at VCT in Bangalore, we visit our foster care families every day. If we can do something like this with our families – using similar activities and materials – it would surely help the foster mothers in many ways. It will surely help in building relations and also in handling children in a better way.
At the groups I visited in Eugene – be it the infant group, parents, teen parents, or various preschools – it was always remarkable to see how well-organized the Parenting Now! staff were in their work, their methods, the activities they used with different groups. They always knew what to use. It was also great to see the parents feel so comfortable as they talked and shared, and to find support in their group. It was good to hear stories from the people attending various Birth To Three/Parenting Now! programs, and how coming to these groups has changed their lives.
Well I do also want to mention that everyone – be it Minalee, Kris, Leslie, Annette, Katie, Dianne, Anna Maria, Jake or Maria – each took the time to talk to us, answer our questions, clear doubts and help me understand better the tools and resources I now bring home with me to India.