Remember when you first rode your bike without training wheels? You were taught, you practiced, you watched others, you fell down and brushed yourself off but eventually you did it. You were wobbly at first, but with practice, it became second nature.
The principle of practice makes perfect is just as true for parents as it is for beginning bikers. Most parents come with parenting “training wheels:” our innate ability to care for a child’s basic needs. But what about when the four-year-old stomps his foot and shouts “NO!” when it’s time to leave the park, or when you constantly have to remind the older child to pick up her toys, or when the teen breaks curfew? Where does that fine parenting balance between kindness (which shows respect for the child) and firmness (which shows respect for ourselves) lie? How can a parent learn to go on without their training wheels?
Attending parenting groups are a great way to learn to lose those extra wheels. They provide consistent information and step-by-step guidance for parents wanting to learn more effective ways of raising responsible, respectful, independent children. Participating in these groups not only acknowledges the skills parents already possess, but provides them with additional parenting tools. These tools include: understanding the child’s temperament, personality and behaviour, using encouragement instead of praise, effective communication, how and when to use consequences and so on.
Equally valuable is the experience of meeting and connecting with other parents who face similar challenges. Where better to talk about your six-year-old’s bedtime struggles than with a group of parents who’re going through the same thing? Facilitated by trained, experienced parenting educators, parenting classes provide non-judgmental, inclusive group settings that offer not only education, but solidarity, too. In response to the question “What was especially helpful or meaningful to you?” One course evaluation given out at the end of a parenting series found that what the majority of parents found most ‘helpful or meaningful’ was this opportunity for talking with other parents with similar challenges.
Each class in a series is designed to address specific topics: language of encouragement, communication, goals of behaviour, routines/chores, consequences, sibling rivalry and more. The facilitators send parents home at the end of each class with new tools to use and try out. When parents return the following week, they can share their successes or challenges with other parents in the group. As they gain new tools each week, parents often notice how the increase in the number of tools actually makes the job easier, rather than more overwhelming! After the first week of one series, a father of a ten-year old told the class that after learning about temperament and personality and how they relate to behaviour, he recognized how similar his and his daughter’s temperaments were. “We both dig our heels in when we’re feeling upset. I’m less quick to anger when she has her stubborn moments now; I know what it feels like.” During the opening exercise in week three, a single mother told the group how intrigued her seven-year-old daughter appeared to be by the changes in this mother’s approach toward her. “I don’t know what you’re learning at those classes,” said the seven-year-old, “but you’re different. We don’t fight now.” Another mother shared a tale of newfound parenting and culinary success: “When my 12 year-old son asked me if he could bake cookies for his class, I cringed at first. I could see it all now! My kitchen would never be the same. I took a deep breath and told my son that I had confidence in him to bake cookies on his own and to also put the kitchen back as he found it. To my surprise and delight he succeeded in both tasks and I didn’t have to remind him at all!” These parents’ experiences show that by taking parenting classes and learning new, efficient ways of dealing with children and their behaviours, children flourish. The more parents practice and refine their skills, the more confidently they can set reasonable boundaries and limits, and the more effective they can be at encouraging their children to be responsible, respectful, independent and contributing members of the family. These courses are an investment into one of the most important things in our lives: our children. Why stay dependent on only the training wheels? Venture out on two wheels, refine your skills and feel the excitement and joy of navigating the road with confidence and ease. Feel the wind in your hair! Experience the joy in parenting!