KINGSBURG – If you’ve ever come home from a hectic day at work, rushed to get dinner ready and then exploded at your children when they’ve made a mess, forgotten their homework or squabbled with their siblings, session leaders at series of parenting workshops want you to know you’re not alone. If you’d like to you’d like to rethink some parenting practices, there is a series of workshops you can take advantage of for free.
“This isn’t bad parents anonymous, but actually to take good parents and make them great,” Jodi Zapata said. She’s a fourth-grade teacher at Reagan Elementary, and has been teaching the sessions for the past 12 years.
“We all have something to bring to the class and we all have something we can gain from attending.”
The parenting workshops are based on David and Patty Bunker’s “Practical Tools for Positive Parenting,” and touches on such topics as communication, creating structure, discipline, teens and academic success.
Zapata was among workshop leaders at the Oct. 23 session at Roosevelt Elementary. The workshops are 6-8 p.m. and run every Tuesday through Nov. 13. Free child care and a light dinner are provided. No registration is required. Workshops are also offered in Spanish.
Zapata said she realized she’d like to learn more about the topics when her daughter was 1 year old. Now that she’s 13, Zapata said each stage of development brings new challenges. Since some parents have taken the workshops multiple times, they return and share their experiences and say they learn something new each time.
It’s the second week of the workshops and while they’ve discussed parents’ qualities and experiences, this week they focused on how to build confidence in your children by building their identity, using positive words, creative visions for their future, monitoring technology and bullying and building a constellation of support.
Trish Olson, a health aide at Rafer Johnson Junior High, was co-teaching the workshop and used a skit to show the difference the way we talk to our children can make.
“As parents, we have the ability to tear down or build up our children’s sense of self,” she said starting the demonstration.
While one participant sat in a circle holding a paper heart, others stood in around saying phrases many parents will admit have slipped from their lips:
“That’s stupid. I can’t believe you did that!”
“Never mind, I’ll do it myself. Why are you always so slow?”
“I’ve told you a 1,000 times to pick up your room. I’m not going to tell you again.”
“When you hear those things, it’s one negativity after another,” Olson said. “Because it’s so concentrated, it wakes you up and we realize we’ve all said some of those things. I think we all agree the way we speak to our young person can tear apart their heart.”
In reverse, the parents then read encouraging expressions:
“Thank you for helping me.”
“You did a good job on your homework.”
“Thank you for cleaning your room.”
Olson said while these phrases can build our children up, it doesn’t always come naturally. Some of that may be partly because of the way we raised or our own personality. The point of the workshops is to give parents new tools for their parenting toolbox, instead.
“We know that works better and it builds their identity up, it’s not always easy.”
To help parents encourage, affirm and listen to their children better, they’re given a flip chart entitled, “101 Days of Positive Power Words.”
Parents are also given a booklet, handouts and a 30-day action plan poster that encourages families to do activities together every day.
“These may not come naturally at first, but if you start using these things, they’ll give you starters to get your mind going in that mode of encouraging your children,” Olson said.
As this week’s workshop went on, the parents shared their concerns about how to handle different issues such as bullying, health issues and discipline.
One parent shared that her son was being called names at school and wondered what to do to combat that.
“Right there is an opportunity to contradict that with the positive,” Olson said. “There’s going to be kids out there that don’t say nice things, but you can tell your child, ‘you know you’re not a loser’ and reasons why he’s not. It’s our job to build them up.”
They went on to talk about other people in each child’s life that could be part of that child’s support team – from other relatives, to coaches and music teachers and family friends that become like a second family.
“You want as many people in your constellation of support as possible. It may help us realize we need to reach out to some of these supports systems because sometimes our children need to talk to somebody other than ourselves,” Olson said.
The parents in attendance said they came to either start changing their own parenting practices and to hear how others handled different issues. They said this way of communicating isn’t necessarily automatic, but they wanted to learn more encouraging ways to deal with everyday situations.
Kingsburg parent Maria Hernandez said she didn’t see a good parenting modeled during her own youth and now she has the extra challenge of being a single parent.
“When they go through examples, it makes me realize I’ve been guilty of that. It makes you see it from the outside instead of from the inside,” she said of the different activities. “Stuff like this little pamphlet is helpful, but I didn’t grow up hearing this. It was just ‘no.’”
Her children are now 5 and 11 years old and she’s hoping that if she can adjust her parenting now, that will help strengthen her relationship with them now and even how they parent when her children are older.
“You want to break that cycle. I don’t want my kids to have to make a million mistakes before they even try to get it right.”