County schools to hold free parenting workshops

By Julie Fann
STAR Staff

The Carter County Board of Education will hold free workshops this year aimed at helping parents of at-risk youth. The workshops will be held in the board room of the county's board of education offices, according to Vanessa Petty, special education behavior specialist.
   "They will focus on improving parent-child relationships, and we will offer two separate classes; one for parents with children ages 7-12, and one for parents with children ages 13-18," Petty said.
   Petty said the school system is funding the program using a $75,000 federal grant from the Department of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Though Petty isn't sure when the courses will begin, she said they will meet every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
   The program is similar to one called Alternative to Suspension which the CCBE began late last fall, week-long couseling sessions geared toward helping students overcome behavior problems as an alternative to simply sending them home as punishment.
   Alternative to Suspension programs were held in six county schools last year and fall under the same federal grant funding.
   Teresa Varney, a clinical social worker contracted by the CCBE who will conduct the workshops, said the parent workshops will center around a program developed in the 1970s by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary D. McKay Jr. Parents will be given a handbook with exercises designed to help them change counter-productive parenting techniques.
   "The book takes more of an egalitarian approach to parenting that is more democratic. It doesn't focus on reward and punishment so much as on teaching consequences for irresponsible behavior and implementing punishment that is close to the occurrence," Varney said.
   As an example, Varney mentioned retracting driving privileges of a teenager who fails to adhere to a scheduled curfew. "That way, the punishment is close to the misbehavior. Rather than screaming and losing your temper, or saying 'you're grounded' or 'you can't talk on the phone for a week', you stick to a logical punishment that is close to what the child has done wrong," she said.
   Varney said the workshops will teach parents that there are four dominant reasons why children misbehave - to get attention, to obtain power, to seek revenge, or to express feelings of inadequacy.
   "Though parents don't cause misbehavior, they do reinforce it, and these workshops look at ways to destroy power struggles and help parents identify what they are feeling in a positive framework. The goal is to develop better parenting patterns."
   Varney and Petty said they want to keep the workshops small so that parents can share experiences without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by a crowd. "Approximately six to 12 parents would be a good size," Varney said.
   The workshop for parents with children ages 7-12 will be held for seven consecutive weeks, while the workshop for parents with older children will meet for nine consecutive weeks. The first workshop is titled "STEP" (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), and the second is titled, "Help! I Have a Teenager!"
   "We will have instructional videos for parents to watch, and vignettes for parents to practice parenting skills," Varney said.
   The handbook for the STEP program contains seven chapters that deal with various parenting issues. Chapter headings are as follows:
   - Understanding Yourself and Your Child
   - Understanding Beliefs and Feelings
   - Encouraging Your Child and Yourself
   - Listening and Talking to Your Child
   - Helping Children Cooperate
   - Discipline that Makes Sense
   - Choosing Your Approach
   According to Varney, parenting skills are vital in raising healthy, confident and caring children capable of making a contribution to society. "It's probably the most important job there is, yet there is no training for it. No one is really taught how to be a good parent," Varney said.
   For more information, contact Vanessa Petty at the Carter County School System, 547-4000.