Guide to parenting courses

Not just for those with Supernanny-size family problems, parenting workshops and classes can help you cope with fussy eating, tantrums or needing some friendly support

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Increasing numbers of parenting classes and workshops are springing up around the country and increasing numbers of mums and dads are going along to try to get some answers.

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Sessions are supportive and friendly and allow you to see first-hand that you’re not the only one with issues.

“When Stevie was going through the ‘terrible twos’ I just didn’t know how to cope with his tantrums,” says Cheryl Browne, mum to Stevie, now 4, and Ella, 2. “So, as soon as Ella started getting to that stage, I went on a parenting course. It’s been well worth it, and we’re doing much better as a family.”

Class for behaviour issues

FAMILY: Mandy Atherton, mum to Thomas, 6, and Will, 4

COURSE: Parent Skills run by The Parent Practice

THE ISSUE: “I was struggling with looking after the boys,” says full-time mum Mandy, “and wasn’t really enjoying it. They fought all the time and I needed to be able to deal with it better. I’d always had training in my career, so it made sense to do the same now.”

THE CLASS: “I signed up to a 10-week course that aimed to give advice and tips about parenting in general. The tutors explained skills and then we’d go home and try them. There were usually around 10-12 people per class.

THE SOLUTIONS: “Much of what we were taught was common sense – but sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to look objectively at a situation. For example, I learned that instead of storming in when the boys were fighting, I should calmly say, ‘I can see you’re upset. Why don’t you tell me what it’s about.’

MOST USEFUL ADVICE: “The most helpful thing I learned is the importance of how you say things. We were taught about descriptive praise, praising your child in a way that’s meaningful to them, and reflective listening, so if one of the boys says, ‘I hate my brother’, instead of replying ‘No you don’t’ we discuss the problem instead.

THE VERDICT: “I’m enjoying parenting much more now. I’m calmer and more confident that my approach is right. The boys fight less, but even when they do, I can usually calm them down.”

Class for fussy eating

FAMILY: Jenny Austin, mum to Scott, 5, and Joe, 3

COURSE: One-day course run by Parenting Solutions

THE ISSUE: “My main problem was with Scott’s eating habits,” says Jenny. “He was extremely fussy, refused to try new things and barely seemed to eat.”

THE CLASS: “There were about 10 people on the course. We discussed various issues and situations, came up with potential solutions together and then acted them out as role-play. Even though we had adults playing children, it really helped us to think about why a child reacts in a certain way. And it gave us a laugh!”

THE SOLUTIONS: “For Scott’s eating, the first suggestion was to cut out snacks. Now he knows that if he doesn’t eat at mealtimes, he won’t get anything else. It sounds obvious, but I was worried he wouldn’t eat enough if I didn’t let him have snacks.

“Other suggestions included keeping the portion size the same but putting it on a bigger plate so it looked smaller and hiding veg in sauces. Also trying different textures – for example, he won’t eat plain chicken but will have some slow-cooked chicken curry.”

MOST USEFUL ADVICE: “I learned not to get too stressed. If Scott decides not to eat, I take the plate away and forget it. It was hard at first, but now he’s a better eater.”

THE VERDICT: “I learned new strategies for discipline, such as thinking about what I want him to do (while remaining calm) and telling myself he’ll do it eventually. It was also reassuring to meet other parents going through the same things.”

Class for general support

FAMILY: Nicki Dunold, mum to Kerrie, 10 months

COURSE: Weekly Home-Start support group

THE ISSUE: “I’d been a career woman for years,” explains Nicki, “so it was a shock to be at home 24/7 with a new baby. I felt very anxious and wanted reassurance, so I turned to Home-Start.”

THE CLASS: “There are about seven mums in the group, plus others who come and go, a leader and a couple of volunteers. We meet once a week. Sometimes someone comes to teach baby massage, do Reiki or offer advice on baby care.”

THE SOLUTIONS: “Joining the group helped me realise it’s normal to worry sometimes and there’s often no right or wrong way to look after a child – it’s about what feels right fro you.

MOST USEFUL ADVICE: “The best thing I’ve learned is to hear what everyone else does and then decide what’s right for me.”

THE VERDICT: “I still go to the group. It’s great for Kerrie to mix with the other children as she hasn’t started nursery yet. It’s also reassuring and helpful to talk to other mums about how they deal with things.”

Parenting tips

Parent coach Lorraine Thomas gives her top parenting pointers.

DON’T

  • Feel guilty. Problems with children are normal. You’re developing new skills that will help you be a better parent in the long run.
  • Give yourself a hard time. The perfect parent and perfect child don’t exist.
  • Take anything your child does too personally. All children push boundaries, it’s part of growing up.

DO

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  • Act your age, not your child’s. You’re his most powerful role model.
  • Recognise what you do well as a parent.
  • Remember that the time when it’s most important for you to show your love for your child is likely to be when he makes it tough for you to do so.

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