When it comes to parenting a significant responsibility assumed by a majority of people in their lifetime — everyone could periodically use a little extra training and support.
“Nobody has all the answers,” said Lori Wilson Honl, of Northwest Parenting, an organization that is co-sponsoring a six-week parenting program at The Heights Elementary School in Seaside.
The free, group-based program, also sponsored by the Seaside School District, kicked off Jan. 11. Using a curriculum called Active Parenting Now, Wilson Honl is leading parents and guardians in learning new skills and ways to promote their children’s success in school and life. The classes take place Thursday evenings, with dinner served at 6 p.m. and the class running from 6:30 to 8. Dinner and child care is provided for free.
About a dozen families are registered for the program, but newcomers can join through the third week. The information tends to build on itself and participants benefit from being part of a consistent, cohesive group, said Wilson Honl, who currently is a teacher at Head Start in Warrenton and has instructed parenting classes for more than 20 years.
She believes participation as a group creates an advantageous setting for parents to gain insight and support not only from her instruction, but from one another, as well.
“Being able to hear from other parents can be really valuable,” she said. Each person is “going to bring their own experiences and questions.”
The course features a mix of verbal instruction, educational videos and group discussion, geared toward the same philosophy: parenting, as with any job that’s rewarding and difficult, requires training and support. Parenting skills being addressed throughout the course include fostering strong relationships; using discipline to teach lessons; communication with children and co-parents; helping children express their feelings; developing self-care habits; and motivating children to build self-worth and personal power.
The end goal is to “protect and prepare our children to survive and thrive in the kind of society in which they live,” Wilson Honl said. As society changes, people have to change how they parent. They can help their children learn to make wise choices at a young age, when those decisions are easy and the repercussions are small, as opposed to large and life-threatening.
She selected the Active Parenting Now curriculum for the Seaside class because it is targeted toward parents with children who are elementary age or younger. Many of the participants at the first session were raising children between 3 and 7 years old.
When asked what they hope to get out of the class, several parents talked about finding a balanced approach to discipline, resorting less to negative emotion, learning how to deescalate conflicts with children and, in general, gaining exposure to new ideas and insights.
Being open to having old beliefs challenged or hearing new information “is critical when we’re trying to change some of our parenting habits,” Wilson Honl said. “There are constantly new challenges, and they just help us to keep growing.”
She emphasized that not all information presented in the program would be applicable or appropriate for every family in attendance, but they should keep an open mind, respect the opinions and experiences of other participants, and be patient with themselves and their co-parent.
A proponent of the idea that training is important for all parents, Wilson Honl said she works to dismantle the pervasive stigma that parenting classes are necessary only for parents of children struggling with serious behavioral issues or because there is a distinct “problem” in the family. She used the example of a violinist who was striving to become a virtuoso, explaining how there would be no negative perception if that person used education to improve technique and expand their skill set.
In the same way, taking a parenting course, she said, is a way for any parent to acknowledge, “‘I take this job so seriously, I’m willing to put in the time and effort to be even better.’”
Also, many of the skills learned through the program — such as fostering mutual respect, developing patience, taking time for self-care and communicating clearly and consistently — are transferable to other areas of life.
“Some people don’t realize how universal many of the basic skills are,” Wilson Honl said.
For more information about joining, contact Northwest Parenting at 503-325-8673, ext. 1 or The Heights Elementary School at 503-738-5161.