Parenting classes

Why they can be a lifeline and source of support

In early 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron announced proposals that parents should be encouraged to sign up for state-backed parenting classes to learn how to communicate, discipline and play with their children. The Prime Minister wants to make it "normal" and "even aspirational" for people to take up parenting courses, but the move drew predictable criticism of nanny-state interference.

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Family Lives has run parenting classes for over 30 years and we believe seeking additional support and sharing ideas and experiences with other parents is a positive step. Parents often tell Family Lives that they want information and help so that they can be calm and confident in raising their children. In our experience parents value and benefit greatly from the opportunity to talk things through. Parenting classes provide opportunities to learn, develop and enhance parenting skills, often before problems arise. By taking part in face to face or online parenting courses, we believe all families can benefit in terms of parent/child relationships, school attendance and attainment, confidence and the reduction of challenging behaviour

A large majority of the volunteers who work for Family Lives have received help with their own families before becoming motivated to help others. "A lot of our volunteers have been there and done that, they're not standing there in judgement," says Suzie Hayman an author, relationship counsellor and trustee of Family Lives. She says: "There is still an assumption that parenting classes are seen as something that are used as a last resort and that there's going to be someone standing at the front doling out ‘one size fits all’ instructions. We are finding that parents and adult carers are going of their own accord, to seek help and advice about one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs on the planet. We've had parents who say this has transformed their family because they feel so much more capable and confident.”

She believes parenting classes should be universal. "They should be offered to everybody. Every school should have these classes for parents. If we started offering them to every parent, word would soon spread about how good they were.  After all, we take lessons in many other aspects of life – and what's more important than learning how to raise our children? We don't expect to drive a car without taking lessons and passing a test," she points out. "We don't have parenting tests – but we do have the learning. We want to say to people: 'asking for help is a sign of strength."

Liz Dunford* from North London attended a parenting class recently. Speaking of her experience, she said: “I had already been thinking of what I could do to help my son grow up in this day and age, to keep him safe and well-rounded and this course was the perfect opportunity.  There were a variety of courses to choose from and this online course one was best for me. It was a combination of online modules and group Skype sessions. I had the opportunity to take part in a parenting course where I could study in my own time and fit it in my busy week. I discovered a new world and I realised that having a structure in your parental style makes a difference.  Often people have the perception that the moment you become a parent you know what to do or the knowledge comes to you somehow... but this is far from being real… My parenting course was mind-opening and so important for both me and my child.  I think all parents need guidance and support. They need to know that around them there are tools and simple techniques they can introduce to the child's life that will help them both: becoming closer to one another, communicating more and growing together.  I am so glad I took this course, I have learned a great deal about being a parent and it was so worth it! I will treasure all the advice and I will definitely practice how to give clear instructions. I will pay more attention to my child's feelings and I will do my absolute best to teach my child the skills they need throughout life.” 

Mide* was very late to parenthood, becoming a Dad aged 50. His new baby quickly became a toddler and Mide was in need of some support. He decided to join a course run by Family Lives for dad’s which ran over three evenings. At first Mide was worried that the other dads there would be shocked by his age, but he found there were dads of all ages. Before the first session, the group were asked to bring a fatherhood challenge they were facing, to share with the group. Mide had been having a difficult time with his three year old. Although he enjoyed a good relationship with his daughter, her challenging behaviour (although normal for her age) was presenting difficulties for him that he felt he needed to address. He felt he didn’t have the right skills, confidence and techniques to respond effectively and he feared things would escalate if he didn’t do something about it. Mide said: “The reason I decided to contact Family Lives seems a small thing in comparison to the problems I thought other parents may be facing, but getting help early, to prevent problems from escalating, and the advantage of intervening early, has really helped me to develop age appropriate responses to support my child as she makes sense of the world and her surroundings and asserts her independence as toddlers often do! I found that all the dads were able to share their experiences of being parents and a bond emerged between the group.”

Providing universal support for parents and their children at an early stage helps to reduce longer-term problems and promotes positive emotional health and wellbeing.  We know that the majority of parents seek some form of antenatal support and we believe that there should be a greater emphasis on learning how to parent after your children have been born. Whilst we recognise the importance of the early years, there must also be a continual commitment to supporting  parents of teenagers; as a family may suddenly find that as their child reaches their teens the relationship has changed and they need a whole new set of parenting skills.

Jeremy Todd the Chief Executive of Family Lives comments that “asking for help is always a sign of strength as it both builds confidence and knowledge to address issues as they arise. Nobody likes being told what to do which is why the approach Family Lives takes is so important as we listen to people’s shared experience and then work together to establish a response that can literally change the dynamic and atmosphere in a family home”.

Family Lives believes we must change the culture across the country so that seeking out parenting ideas and advice is seen as a positive and practical step. The Prime Minister’s commitment to family relationships will start the ball rolling.

Parents wishing to seek family support and parenting advice can call or visit www.canparent.org.uk to register their interest in attending online and face-to-face classes.

*names and locations have been changed

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