When Patsy Reedy was asked to attend an Active Parenting Now class through SaintA’s Family Services, she was a bit insulted.
“I thought, ‘I don’t need no parenting class!’ And this was like being back at school!”
But then her case manager, Kimberly Moran, told her to just try it, that it might help her.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do anything I need to get my boys back, so I might as well do it,’” Ms. Reedy said.
It was not smooth sailing at first. When the topic of giving kids choices was raised, “I thought, ‘Who gives kids choices?’ That’s not how I was raised!… But as I listened, I said, H-m-m-m. This is logical. Then it began to make more sense, and it made parenting easier.”
Now Ms. Reedy sings the praises of this seven-session program to everyone around her – her granddaughter contacts her for advice now that, according to the granddaughter, Ms. Reedy is “perfect” — and it seems to be working well with the two boys she raised since infancy and for whom she is seeking to regain custody.
“I use what I’ve learned with the boys and we have a very close bonding. When they come here (for visitations), they don’t want to leave!”
Ms. Reedy was in the first Active Parenting Now class, which SaintA began offering last winter. It uses videos, activities and discussions to help parents raise responsible, cooperative kids.
“All our parents love their children; they may just lack really basic parenting skills,” said Jessica Goodman Schutz, who heads the SaintA program and who worked with Ms. Reedy. The class teaches things such as setting limits with a child, providing structure and the difference between discipline and punishment.
“And this curriculum fits well with our emphasis on trauma informed care,” Jessica said. “We spend time explaining it’s not just trying to stop a child from misbehaving, it’s understanding why the child misbehaved in the first place, to meet the child’s needs, to minimize some of that behavior.”
Unlike other parenting classes, all those in attendance at SaintA are in the child welfare system. So they are with their peers, which promotes honesty and removes stigma, Jessica said.
“There’s quite a bit of openness that you probably would not get with other groups. For instance, you’ll hear, ‘Yeah, I’ve had issues with addiction,’ or ‘I was overwhelmed and stressed out and I hit my child, and I shouldn’t have.’
“We realized, when we were considering starting a program like this that we did a lot for foster parents and less so for birth parents (or guardians). This enables reunification if we do it well, and it supports parenting that is safe and nurturing.”
The group that Ms. Reedy was in did not want the sessions to end when the class was finished, Jessica said. Everyone felt they learned something.
“One dad said learning active listening with his kids really made a difference,” she said. “This was a big, tough guy, and to hear him say that was really something.”
For Ms. Reedy, giving children choices really hit home, Jessica said. “This concept is powerful and it’s something a lot of our parents may not have experienced.”
Ms. Reedy chuckles when she shares an example. The oldest boy, who is 15, wrote a bad word in a book at school, but left out the vowels. He got caught.
“If you’re smart enough to leave out the vowels, you’re smart enough to know that’s wrong.” she told him. She explained that this deserved a punishment and asked the boy what he would choose. He told her not to talk to him on the next visit. When she asked how he thought that would make him feel, he said he didn’t know but wanted to try.
On the next visit, Ms. Reedy maintained silence. Things were not easy for either of them. When she finally asked the boy what he was thinking he said, “I don’t like this; it makes me feel you don’t love me!”
She explained that was, of course, not the case but that he had picked the punishment. That was the last time for the silent treatment.
The younger boy, who is 12, was disciplined for yelling and running in the school hallway. As is usually the case, the foster mother let Ms. Reedy know. At the next visitation, he told Ms. Reedy, “You probably got a call, so I might as well tell you myself.”
“‘Let’s back-track,’ I told him. ‘What would happen if you fell?’ ‘I’d hurt myself.’ ‘What would happen if you ran into another person?’ ‘I’d hurt them.’ ‘What would happen if you bumped into someone who pushed someone down the stairs?’ ‘Then we’d all get hurt.’ ‘What do you need to do?’ ‘Think before I do things like this.’
“I had to break it down for him and tell him, ‘You shouldn’t be mad at anyone but yourself.’ He said, ‘You know what? I was wrong.’”
Ms. Reedy is so convinced of the value of the Active Parenting curriculum that she pulls up its videos on her cell phone and shares them with the boys. She wants to order some and “have movie time with the kids. We’ll eat popcorn, and they can learn what I’ve learned, so we’ll all be on the same page.” She even wants to project the videos on a screen in her backyard, have a movie night, and share the messages with friends and family.
Her initial concern about the class was wrong, including a fear that, “they don’t know about minorities, they don’t know what we’re going through,” Ms. Reedy said.
“But we’re so stuck in how WE all were raised. And we’re losing our kids. To the system and to the streets…. This gives you a different way to think. It gives you an edge.
“It’s like I told my daughter about her kids, ‘You need to give that child time and attention. You have to relax and give that child the feeling that everything’s going to be OK.’”
Active Parenting Now is the product of parenting expert Dr. Michael Popkin