Educating Parents About Parent Education

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LYNN GALLOWAY

Writer Lynn Galloway steps out of her role as objective reporter and into the first person as she shares her experiences as a parent.  Lynn is a staff writer for Parenting PhD. and a student at Metropolitan State University.  Watch for Lynn’s fiction and young reader titles soon. 

I’m not a perfect parent, nor should I be, but I am willing to learn how to be a better parent. I am the mother of a lively, chatty six-year-old girl who fills my life with her energy and confidence. She is a happy kid who loves to play with Barbies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, loves watching movies, playing dress up, creating imaginary friends, and enjoys reading and cooking with her dad. She also is incredibly independent when it comes to personal hygiene, dressing herself, keeping her room clean, and even doing her laundry! All of that is a blessing in itself, but what about all the times in between that are not positive, that are a struggle and a battle to get through? Those are the times I feel the weakest, but know that I need to be my strongest and I do not always know how.

My husband, Lee, and I were blessed with the chance to be a part of a government program within Boulder County in which our living expenses were reduced in order for both of us to go back to school and continue pursuing our degrees. This program is called Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) and I say we were blessed because we did not have to worry about both having full-time jobs with a full-time school schedule while being parents. However, this program does not just hand out assistance. All participants are required to attend financial classes, parenting classes, meet with their case-managers once a month, check-in with Boulder County Housing with any changes to income, and have yearly home visits. It may all seem like a hassle, a giant waste of time, but it has all proven to be invaluable and helpful.

I was reluctant to do the parenting classes because I did not want someone else telling me how to raise my daughter, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome with my experience. During our most recent meeting with our case manager, Katie Frye, I inquired as to the benefits she has seen from mandatory parenting classes for the program. “Once somebody goes to a class or watches a video, I get 100% positive feedback,” said Frye. “I hear a lot of ‘I actually got something out of this’ or ‘there are a couple of things I want to try’. Once people do it, they have liked it.”

I am a guilty party regarding positive feedback. These various parenting classes were nowhere near what I thought they were going to be. There was not a complete stranger standing in front of me telling me all of the things I was doing wrong and how I needed to be a “perfect parent”. These classes revolved around tips, tricks, tactics, and advice on handling certain situations or certain personality types that are seen in children.

It also let me know that I am not alone in struggling through a particular time or situation with my daughter. “These classes are about helping parents become more successful in their home life and with their kids,” said Frye. “It is about giving support and showing that there is help out there.”

Natalie Tafuri works for CASA of Adams and Broomfield Counties in which she manages cases involving children who have a difficult home life and/or are in the foster care system. “These parents are placed on parenting plans and a treatment plan in order to help their kids,” said Tafuri. “They [parenting classes] help them to become a suitable parent.”

A lot of the cases Tafuri deals with involve divorce which can be especially hard on the children and parents alike, making these parenting classes imperative. “It is just another way of gaining access to resources you may not have had before; resources that help you to be a successful parent,” said Tafuri.

I have been grateful for the parenting classes that my husband and I participated in, but I also wonder if I would have sought them out on my own? I can already answer that as ‘no’, but then I have to ask myself ‘why?’ I know the answer to that one as well and it comes in two parts. The first part being that there is a negative stigma that surrounds the notion of “parenting classes” and getting help from someone outside of your family. For me, it was a feeling of shame and embarrassment that I was not living up to the expectations of a parent that I had for myself.

“There is an embarrassment factor in play when it comes to parents seeking out classes on their own, but there shouldn’t be,” said Tafuri. “Not understanding the concept of parenting classes, they’re limiting themselves to options because they are not taking the time to fully understand what is available.”

When participants step in Katie Frye’s office, they already know they will have to take these parenting classes whether they want to or not, like me. “They do not want to ask for help,” said Frye. “But being in this program they are already asking for help, therefore their mindset is different.”

It comes down to the mindset of individuals. Whereas one of my hesitations was what will they think of me for asking for help?, I came to realize quickly that it did not matter what someone else thought of me as long as my daughter thought I was the best mom ever. And I knew I was a far cry from that, but I was smart enough to realize my strengths and my weaknesses as a parent.

Quite a few people believe the myth that parenting comes naturally, but that is not the case. “The reality is, nobody is ready for it [being a parent],” said Tafuri. “Even if you plan for it, it is a new experience and a huge responsibility.” There are those motherly and fatherly instincts that come once your flesh and blood is brought into the world like recognizing various cries, the ability to imagine the worst-case scenario in every possible situation, and worrying to the ends of the earth for your child, but when it comes to actually raising these small humans, there is no instinct for that.

“Every child develops differently and you never know what resources you need for your child,” said Tafuri. “All their personalities are going to be different, learning developments aren’t going to be the same. It is all a learning experience for both the child and parent.”

I know that my shortcoming as a parent is that I am not patient enough with my daughter when it comes to her learning to read because her attention span is nearly zero. If I were to follow my “natural parenting instinct”, then I would just constantly be getting aggravated and yelling at her. This is both unhelpful to her as well as harmful. It is not conducive for a healthy environment or a learning experience. I have accepted that I need help in this area and because I had taken previous parenting classes that showed me different ways to handle things, I was not hesitant to seek out more information. I submerged myself into books and various resources on helping my child to focus and what I could do to be able to take a step back and be more patient. This was just a small incident, but it made a huge impact when I made the choice to be a better parent for my child.

Because that is what it comes down to, being the best parent you can for your child, not for anyone else. I will never regret my choices to ask for help, seek out resources, and find positive solutions when it comes to the health and happiness of my child.

Drafting Readers

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LYNN GALLOWAY

Staff Writer Lynn Galloway is a student at Metropolitan State University.  Watch for Lynn’s fiction and young reader titles soon.

In the explosion of video games, computers, cell phones, social media, and iPads, children are glued to technology now more than ever before. Eyes locked to electronic screens displaying vivid color and rapid movement, blinking fewer times than normal, these children are lost in their own world, a world created through their imagination that carries them through their day. Of all the ways for children to “get lost”, reading is the most valuable form of imagination, yet it is more often than not lost to children and adults alike.

There are various reasons why children who can read choose not to. Lack of time, the perception that reading is too hard, too boring, or not important, or simply that it is just not fun. Combating these issues is not an easy task, but not impossible.  To understand the issues we face with our own kids and their reading abilities, we must start from the beginning and travel through the formative years.

The warm August sun hits the brick wall of Coal Creek Elementary where excited kids and slightly nervous parents mill around; every one of these students come with different levels of knowledge and prior learning experiences.

Adam Rongey is a Kindergarten teacher at Coal Creek and has been teaching for nine years. His expertise includes all levels of elementary school which will help him prepare his Kindergarteners to move on not just to first grade, but beyond. Reading and phonics is a large component to the curriculum in his classroom. They have reading groups, writing centers, word work, and a focus on phonological awareness. “Phonics is the beginning of reading,” says Rongey. “All kids need to have phonological awareness and an understanding of letter sounds, forming letters, decoding and blending. These are the roots of being a successful reader.”

As the Kindergarten year progresses, students are beginning to stand out as individuals from that first day. They are all at different points academically and the reading component shows there will not be much positive growth with the responsibility lying solely on Rongey. “Parent involvement is huge at this age and, without their help, our job [as teachers] is much more intensive,” says Rongey. “I do agree that parents are the main leaders in helping their students learn to read.”

As parents of children beginning to read, what can be done to help them along? Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) lists twenty different ways in which a parent can help and encourage their children to read. Some of these ways include taking the time to look for something that would interest your child, leaving various reading materials around the house, take them to the library, play games that are related to reading, and have them read anything they see while running errands or out to dinner. The biggest help you can be to your child is to set aside a consistent time for reading together. “A parent who does not read with their child, interact with them, or have them listen to reading on a regular basis, is not doing their due diligence as a parent,” says Rongey.

Reading at the beginning is hard work, but it does not have to seem that way. Rongey says, “From the beginning, kids should be taught that reading is an amazing way to make your own adventures in your mind.”

Fast forward from the stages of Kindergarten into the middle school years when children are now becoming pre-teens, they have grasped onto letters, phonetics, words, and can devour a book if they’d like. However, reading has fallen off their radar. What do we do now as parents?

Bestselling author, James Patterson, has a few words to say about kids and reading.

In Patterson’s article “How to Get Your Kid to be a Fanatic Reader”, he discusses the importance of parents, their role in encouraging kids to read and their role in helping to find books their kids will like to read. “Kids say the No. 1 reason they don’t read more is that they can’t find books they like. Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited,” says Patterson. This is the age in which children venture away from what their parents pick out for them and seek out topics that relate to them better if they seek out anything at all. Patterson’s writing and published books have primarily focused on adult genres. In the last several years he has turned to writing young adult novels in order to give kids more choices and something interesting for them to read.

“Teens wanted things that were real, that they connected with. It doesn’t have to reflect reality directly,” says David Levithan in the article “A Brief History of Young Adult Literature”. Levithan helped develop Scholastic’s teen imprint, PUSH.

The genre of young adult is controversial in some communities because of the hard topics that are discussed within its covers. This is where parents come in. Parents need to be open to giving their children the freedom of choice to read anything from informational books on building things to high school drama to supernatural and paranormal to sports magazines to zombies and vampires to the Guinness Book of World Records to books that cover heavy topics such as sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol use, identity crisis, suicide, GLBT, etc.

Parents do not have to let their kids read every single one of these topics. Parents should have a say in what their child is reading, however, parents need to stay informed about what the topics in these books are actually talking about. Just because the topic is involving drugs does not mean it is telling children to do drugs. More often than not, these books are giving pre-teens and teenagers a place to explore these topics without first-hand knowledge and can potentially give kids and parents a gateway into discussing these topics.

The bottom line is the freedom of choice for your children in reading books that interest them. They will not continue reading if they are not excited about reading. “The more kids read, the better readers they become. The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books that they’ll gobble up,” says Patterson.

Once again, parents are the most important aspect to a child and their reading experience, but what if you, as a parent, seemed to have become background noise to your teenager’s life in reading? Or you struggle with getting your child to read? Other parents can be a tremendous help and guide in figuring out these choppy waters of continuing the reading trend in your house.

Melissa Hostler, step-mom to three boys, has agreed to be a jumping off point for us by allowing us to delve into her personal experiences with her three boys, their lives, their reading habits, and what her and her husband do in order to encourage them to read.

While sitting around a fresh pizza, hot out of the oven, Melissa has a one-on-one discussion with me about her life.

Tell us a little bit about your boys.

Our oldest one is William, he will be 14 in May. He is our slightly rebellious teenage kid who is just now becoming comfortable with himself. He’s made lots friends this year and he’s doing the teenage thing of hanging out with his friends and viewing it as being more important than hanging out with the family.

Our next boy, his name is Benjamin. He is 12 and he is super active in lacrosse. In fact, that is his entire world, frankly. He is a mediocre student, but has a heart of gold.

Samuel is our youngest, he just turned 11 yesterday. He is a great student, if he applies himself and actually tries. Things come to him naturally, but he doesn’t always use it. He is quite creative. He is our resident comedian in the house. Always keeping us entertained. He is also slightly into lacrosse, but would rather be playing video games most days.

Now, does William play any sports?

William plays lacrosse, I think mostly because my husband, Ben, wants him to play a sport. If it were up to him, I don’t think he would play a sport.

Since your boys are extremely active, what is their outlook on reading?

Both Sam and William enjoy reading for themselves. Sam is into graphic novels. He likes the cartoon drawings with the reading. William is really into everything popular. Young adult. Hunger Games. He did Harry Potter for a while, but he is a little too old for that.

Ben isn’t a very good reader, so I think that adds to his non-love affair for reading. He is a grade and a half behind where he should be. However, he is in 7th grade and he should really be in 6th. I think that has a little bit to do with it. He feels he is behind where his friends are even though they are a year older that he is.

We encourage them to read on their own, and when we notice they are not reading, or they are reading the same thing over and over and over again, we have to actually ask them if they are bored with reading, if we have to go to the bookstore, or do we have to order something from Amazon. But it takes us to encourage them and I wish they would come to us and be like, “Hey, there is new great book that I want to read” and I would be like, “Great, here you go, let’s go buy it right now.” But they don’t really do that.

How do you combat William’s reading when it gets in the way of his other responsibilities and sometimes higher priorities like homework, chores, sleep, etc.?

He’s been known, especially after a new book comes out, to stay up all night. He’s like me, I get it. He will stay up all night and read it because it’s interesting. I totally understand, but it’s not responsible as a kid because he has school the next day. We have been known to walk in his room and turn off the light so that way, he can’t read anymore. And if he turns the light back on, my husband will walk back in and take out the light bulb. And that solves that. It’s hard to punish somebody for staying up all night reading a book. You want to because it’s irresponsible, they’ve stayed up all night and now they have to get up and go to school, but on the same token, they’re doing something productive and not getting into trouble.

Since your viewpoint on reading is not a punishment or reward, do you think it should be available like, say food on the table?

Absolutely! I think reading encourages their imagination which is important as kids to explore their brain. I think reading is a good stress reliever. That’s what I use it for and it’s honestly a way for me to escape my daily life sometimes. To live vicariously through somebody in a story to me is just like the ultimate in relaxation. And I hope they’d be able to find the same thing. To be Harry Potter in Harry Potter’s world or whoever the person may be.

One of the biggest issues in why Young Adult is the most contraband genre of reading is parents don’t like the subject matter of a lot of these books. Books with suicide, rape, sexual harassment, bullying, etc. are talking about these hard issues and it has become a huge controversy, but do you think those things are important for kids/teenagers to understand?

Yes, absolutely. And I would question those parents if they allow their kids to be on the internet or texting their friends, what are they [kids] talking about? What are they looking at? What does their browser history contain? Because they’ve probably already seen it before it came out in a book or before they read it in a book. I would hope that if they find it in a book and they question it or have concerns or comments that they would come to us and talk to us about it. I would hope that they would see that as an opportunity to be like, “I don’t understand this” or “why did this person do this?” or if it gets into graphic sexual stuff it can open a conversation that is important to have with teenagers that may not have happened otherwise.

Social media has made kids grow up faster than as I, in my generation, think these kids should be growing up in. It’s scary. I learn things from my kids sometimes about that kind of stuff; about drugs or sex or something going on at school because of social media.

Some parents are not taking an active role in helping their kids to understand these things because they don’t realize they are growing up faster than they should be. They’re not taking this responsibility in teaching them these things or they just don’t want to talk about it. Do you think that parents should, if they realize their kids need to talk about it and maybe they don’t want to talk about it, let them read books that would help in that way?

Yes, it would help break the ice or help them to understand a topic that they are uncomfortable talking about with their parents. We try to talk about it as a family. I feel like with all five of us, it is less uncomfortable than if we were to talk to them one-on-one. 

As a parent of three boys: One who reads like crazy and still a rebellious teenager, one who is a good kid in school, funny and likes to read, and one who is physically active, but doesn’t tend to read, what would you say to parents to help their kids read?

I would definitely say more choice. Give them more choice. Pay attention to what they’re reading. Encourage going to the library, going to a used book store. Something you can do with your kid as an activity. You’re going to learn about your kid, you’re going to show interest in what they’re interested in. And they’ll get a choice of new books. Make it a weekly affair. You won’t regret it.

Now we have arrived back to our current time of being parents, grandparents, guardians, some form of a role model in the lives of an important child. We are the beginning, the middle, and the continuum of teaching kids to read, getting them interested in reading, and keeping them reading.

Am I preparing the road for my child, or am I preparing my child for the road?

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LYNN GALLOWAY

Staff Writer Lynn Galloway is a student at Metropolitan State University in Denver.  Look for Lynn’s fiction and young reader titles soon.

Am I preparing the road for my child, or am I preparing my child for the road? As parents, we strive to give our children the best care, provide them with the things they need, and guide them through trials and celebrations of life. It all seems simple enough, but this proves to be a difficult task.

Child psychotherapist with Iolite Counseling, Amanda Wigfield, tells us exactly why this task is difficult as a parent. “Every parent, every single day is faced with decisions that may be small today, but will have an impact on them when they are adults.” A child’s life is a culmination of little decisions made on the part of their parents and the decisions they themselves make. “One won’t make a difference, but combined, they all will add up,” said Wigfield.

Our main concern as parents is the protection of our children and providing them with only the best we can offer. Sometimes, this main concern turns into the only concern for parents. Over time, it can ultimately hinder children and their ability to become self-sufficient adults.

Overprotective, too involved, and controlling are a few words associated with parents who attempt to thwart any heartache and pain that befall their children. There is a fine line we, as parents, walk in order to “save” our children from the harmful things in life. However, it is these moments of disappointment, failure, and sometimes pain that our children learn more about themselves, who they are, their likes and dislikes, and will grow into themselves more from these experiences.

Wigfield reminds us of the Disney classic Finding Nemo when Dory says, “Well, if you don’t let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him.” Children are incredibly resilient and there is sometimes a lack of understanding in this. “Sometimes they do an amazing job [with disappointment] and cope,” said Wigfield.

Is it too much for a parent to continually tie their children’s shoes once they have mastered it themselves? It is too much for a parent to make every last decision for their child when they are completely capable of making it? Is it too much for a parent to clean their child’s room every day? Is it too much for a parent to want their children happy?

Yes, Yes, Yes, and No. Nothing would make a parent happier than seeing their own children happy, however, that can come at a price for some parents. It is too much for parents to take on their children’s daily tasks that they are more than capable to doing it because it leads to a child’s inability to fend for themselves when they are teenagers and adults.

Mike Jones* works in the public sector with youth and their families and sees some of the effects of parents being the decision makers and overly involved parents. “Teenagers need to be able to go into any situation with a solid base of soft skills,” said Jones. These soft skills include anything from how effective they are at communication, their social graces, their personality traits and how that translates to the work environment or social situations, their ability to manage themselves or others, etc. Soft skills are needed in order to be successful as an adult, but also as an adolescent.

“They can’t advocate for themselves,” said Jones. “There is a lack of self-esteem and self-worth because they didn’t do these things by themselves.”

Sometimes, the parents that are seeking to protect and provide for their children will do all of the tasks for them early on which leaves the children underdeveloped in soft skills. The lack of soft skills will translate into the inability for these children to secure a job. “Employers don’t take teens seriously in these situations because they question ‘am I hiring you or your mom?’” said Jones. “They don’t know what the kid is going to bring and there is an underlying assumption that they are going to need a lot of hand holding.”

There is a slippery slope between protecting and providing for our children just enough and too much. Parents want their children to succeed, but at what cost? “Think of childhood as a practice run for adulthood,” said Wigfield. What kind of adults do we want our children to be?

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, founder of AskDoctorG.com says, “We need to keep one eye on our children now and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise.”

It is important to remember that our children are their own little people complete with their own personality, unique abilities and traits. “They have their own little minds and their own little hearts,” said Wigfield. “As parents, we are guiding kids in their education and potential career goals while unwrapping their personalities.”

“A lot of exploration needs to happen and self-discovery,” said Jones. “It becomes harder to make kids aware of what is coming and what it is like to be an adult.”

Imagine for a moment that Little Joey is riding his new bike around the park for the first time. Little Joey had been preparing for this moment since he saw Little Tommy riding his shiny new bike three weeks ago. Mom and Dad have Little Joey all squared away with a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. The last thing they want to have happen to Little Joey is to fall off his new bike, hurt himself, and not want to ride his bike ever again; a painful experience equates to a game-changer it seems. As Joey starts pedaling, he feels Mom and Dad each holding on to the seat and each have a hand on the handlebars. Joey has very little room for him to put his own small hands, but he manages. He is just too excited about this new life experience to complain. As they make their way around the loop at the park, Mom and Dad prevent any swerving, all sticks and stones that might cause the bike to bounce, avoid others on the path and are sure to not exceed a walking pace. After the third time around, Joey is frustrated that he hasn’t been able to feel the wind on his face, the thrill of speed, the adrenaline of the possibility of anything, but Joey knows better than to say something.

Day after day, Joey comes back to the park with Mom and Dad in hopes that he will get to ride on his own, but the experience is the same with Mom and Dad guiding the bike and Joey along.

Joey begins to grow out of his once-new bike, helmet, and protective gear. Mom and Dad buy him all new things to accommodate his size, but the training wheels remain along with the guiding hands of Mom and Dad. After three more upgrades of bikes and gear, Joey is now taller than Mom and just as tall as Dad. No longer little, he now reclines in his seat with his hands behind his head since there is no longer room for his large hands, props his feet up on the bars since Mom and Dad still hold on and push and the training wheels are still in place; there is very little chance the bike will topple over.

Joey used to long for the wind in his face, the thrill of something new, but as he got older, he realized, he would not know what those things felt like. Joey is a product of the overprotective, too involved, and controlling parents.

What would happen to Joey if Mom and Dad were to let go now after all of this time has passed? Would Joey know how to control the bike? Be able to handle the rocks and sticks in his path? Know the way to go and how to steer his bike? Undeniably, no. Joey would not be able to handle these things.

What would happen to Joey if Mom and Dad had let him go once they realized he would be OK on the bike at a young age? Would Joey fall every once in a while going over rocks and sticks? Yes, but he would get back up and go again. Would Joey be wobbly and unsure? Yes, but Mom and Dad are still behind him to help whenever he seeks their guidance. Would Joey learn how to deal with scrapes, bruises, disappointment, and fear? Yes, he would be able to conquer all of those things. Would Joey be happy? Undeniably, yes. Joey would have felt the wind in his face and thrill of riding.

“Don’t take away the ups and downs of childhood,” says Wigfield. “Teach them to have the ability to cope with the ups and downs.”

“Parents have a specific role within certain realms of their children’s lives and outside of that, they need to be able to put responsibility on their kids,” said Jones. “Create a safe environment in order to explore the development of these responsibilities.”

Little Joey needed the training wheels and protective gear when he first began to ride his bike. He also may have needed a guiding hand to teach him how to steer and pedal, but as soon as Little Joey mastered those things, he no longer needed to be taught how to steer. Little Joey may have needed a hand to help him up after falling from his bike, a Band-Aid, a kiss, and some encouragement to get back on his bike, but he didn’t need to be protected from this happening in the first place. Little Joey needed to learn from the scrapes, the bruises, the failures, and the attempts. It is only through these scenarios in which his parents are guiding him along his path and allowing him to experience life without rose-colored glasses and complete body armor, Little Joey is able to conquer more difficulties and trials that come his way.

Wigfield says to think about it in this way, “Some parents come to me saying, ‘I’m trying to prepare the road for my kid, not my kid for the road.’” In what way are you preparing? Are you cleaning up the debris, repaving, and putting up guardrails? Or are you preparing your child for those things that will be on the road that they may encounter? If you are clearing the road, who will be there to clear it after you’re no longer around? “If things happen like they are supposed to, parents die before their kids,” said Jones. “Kids seeing the long-term picture is key.”

In theory, parenting is simple. In practice, it is difficult, but not impossible. We always hope to be there for them, to catch them when they fall, but that may not be the case. The best thing we can do for them, as their parents, is help them to deal with life and prepare them for what is to come.

Excerpt from Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!”

So…

Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray,

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”