• There are long-term benefits to running your own parenting programmes.
• There are a number of factors that you need to consider and discuss before adopting a programme and publicising it to parents.
• You should look out for the hidden barriers that might prevent parents taking up the offer.
We all know that parenting is the single strongest determinant of a child’s future development. Positive parenting with warm and supportive parents provides positive outcomes. Negative parenting with excessive criticism and an aggressive parenting style has negative outcomes.
We aren’t born knowing how to be good parents. Generally, we use the experience we had of being parented as children, whether that be positive or negative, to influence our parenting. However, a negative parenting experience doesn’t always mean that we will become negative parents.
We may have had experience of positive parenting through friends, learned from our partners, or we may come to understand how to do it differently. However, adopting a different parenting style from the one we grew up with can be difficult.
Even if we experienced positive parenting by our parents, applying this ourselves can still cause problems. I was positively parented as a child and have secure attachment but I still make mistakes with my parenting.
What if there was a manual, or some way we can learn new parenting skills? Well, guess what (I think you know what is coming), there is! There are quite a few parenting programmes and some of the better-known ones are covered in the ‘Handout – Common parenting programmes’.
I trained as a Triple P facilitator and ran several parenting groups in my school, with differing outcomes. I did learn a lot about my parenting skills and made positive changes as a result. As educators we have CPD and training to learn and develop our skills. Why shouldn’t this be the case with parenting?
Should schools get involved?
There have been debates as to whether it’s actually the school’s responsibility to run programmes such as these. Well, like so many things, probably not. However, schools nowadays are far more likely to be community centres, and a lot of my work as a SENCo was social-work based.
Running parenting programmes can be seen to save time in the long run, reducing staff time dealing with issues arising from poor parenting. It can also improve outcomes for children, and have a positive knock-on effect for academic results.
Supporting parents to be more responsive to their child’s needs, to bond with their children using positive interaction, to set firm boundaries, to be encouraging rather than critical, will all improve outcomes. Children with secure attachments are more resilient and less likely to have mental health issues later in life.
Running any parenting programme isn’t cost free and budgets are always tight, so finding money for this can be tricky and some will consider it to be unnecessary. However, it’s important that senior leadership think of the long-term benefits. You might ask:
• How much time is spent in the setting managing issues that arise out of poor parenting?
• How much time is spent speaking to parents on a reactionary basis following negative issues?
• How much money would you save if parents had improved skills?
There is a wealth of research available to show that the long-term cost savings are substantial. You might want to consider:
• Could a member of staff train as a parenting programme facilitator and provide the service across the academy?
• Could the programme be funded between local schools?
• Could pastoral staff be trained to become parenting programme facilitators?
Before deciding whether to train a member of staff, you also have to consider the practicalities of running parenting programmes and whether you are able to meet the criteria necessary for them to be successful. It is unlikely that all parents will complete the course and there are many factors involved in how successful the programme will be.
Where you hold the programme can be a very significant factor in the level of take-up. You need to consider:
• Is transportation available?
• Are all parents able to get to the location without high cost or time involvement?
• Are all parents happy to attend school?
For many parents, school was not a positive experience and they will avoid going there as much as possible. The location will have to be convenient for the parents, not the school. You might consider picking up and dropping off parents to help them attend.
If you run the session during the day, how many parents will be excluded from attending because of work? If it’s in the evening, will there be childcare issues? You might want to consider running daytime and evening programmes. Nowadays, running groups online is entirely feasible, especially as we are all more knowledgeable following lockdown.
There can be a stigma around attending a parenting group and the parent can be concerned that they will be reprimanded and told they aren’t good enough. It can be beneficial to speak to parents beforehand, one to one, to talk about course content and what they might learn.
It is likely that they will enjoy sharing stories with other parents about their concerns and experiences. The perfect parent doesn’t exist, and you can help encourage them to attend by talking through the course and reassuring them that it’s also about acknowledging how parents struggle. By reducing their anxiety, they are more likely to attend.
You need to think carefully about some of the potential barriers to parents attending:
• Is your parenting programme accessible to all parents?
• Are there cultural issues linked to both parents attending?
• How will you address the language barriers for EAL parents?
• If there is reading and writing involved, how will you support SEN and low literacy parents without them feeling stigmatised?
There may be other reasons within your own community why parents might be reluctant to attend. Talking to them non-judgmentally can help identify what these are.
Many programmes are prescriptive, but there will be room to adapt the programme to suit the group through the examples you use and the discussions that are initiated.
Having a friendly facilitator who can build a positive relationship with parents is crucial. A warm welcome is vital, as is contacting parents in between sessions to continue the relationship. It can help if you share your parenting experiences to put the group at ease and help them not to feel judged.
If you can run refresher sessions, parents are more likely to be able to embed their new skills and have an opportunity to talk to each other and share the frustrations.
Some colleagues can take some convincing, but parent education programmes make a real difference to families, to your students and therefore to your results.
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Sam Garner is an education consultant with specialist expertise in SEN and mental health in schools. She is a freelance trainer, and regularly speaks in schools to parents, staff and students (www.samanthagarner.co.uk). She has also written a series of brief targeted CBT programmes designed to be run by school staff with students, including Exam Anxiety and Self Harming (http://www.cbt4schools.co.uk).