Short stuff: Spotlight
While there are manuals for our cell phones and computers, no one issues us a handbook when we become parents. The Parent Education Program at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago tries to fill in the blanks for local parents, offering regular moms and dads a helping hand.
"Parenting programs are not just for parents who are having problems with their children," says Katharine Bensinger, parenting education program director at C4. "The program helps parents understand and improve their relationship with their children. It helps parents develop skills that will help them better understand the behavior of their children, as well as how to develop communication and effective discipline skills. This program helps parents see things from a child’s perspective."
Bensinger is not only a professional, but a parent as well, with a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. "I know all of us go through moments where we feel incompetent, frozen, where we are at a loss, myself included," Bensinger says.
The focus of the program is not a one-hour solution, she says. It is designed to provide strategies that can help support parents at all stages of their children’s growth and development, from infancy through the teen years. Each eight-week session involves a mixture of classes, home visits and parent-to-parent support.
Connecting with other parents was a highlight of the program for Robert Augustine, a father of two from Chicago. He was originally referred to the program as part of his divorce. "I did not want to go the first couple of weeks. I didn’t think there was anything to learn. But you do learn a lot by listening to the other parents in the class. It re-emphasizes that you are not alone, there are other parents out there having the same or similar problem you are."
Augustine says the group sessions allow parents to receive positive feedback from other parents. "There is no standard of how to do things. They’re just giving you tips and guides, how to handle [the kids] without the stress and drama."
Augustine liked the first session so much he signed up for two more series of classes. "It helps to hear how [other parents] handled the situation, or didn’t handle the situation. That’s why I went back for the other classes."
The Parenting Education Program reaches out to parents of all socio-economic and racial groups, although its roots are providing services to low-income parents as a way to reduce child abuse and neglect.
Bensinger believes the mix of parents is a strength of program. "Parents of all socio-economic groups can use ineffective parenting strategies—corporal punishment, verbal abuse, comparing children to each other. It’s not because they want to, but they don’t know differently."
Since 1972, C4 has developed programs that help provide mental health services to the community. The parenting program grew out of concern that parents were searching for help. "People are really thirsty for guidance and support in parenting," Bensinger says. "I kept seeing families in therapy. They did not have a mental health diagnosis, but ineffective parenting."
Parents not only discuss alternative discipline techniques, but also child development, communication skills, how to advocate for their children, how to model patience and respect and self-care for parents.
"How you treat your child is a direct mirror for how they will treat you," Bensinger explains. She believes that more effective parenting can help parents "enjoy their children more and enjoy themselves more."
Another key component of the program is home visits, where the staff can see how the families interact. It also allows an opportunity to practice techniques learned in the classes.
The program emphasizes that parenting support is not about absolutes but about strategies. "Keep what works, pitch what doesn’t," Bensinger says.
The program sessions begin four times a year. The groups are divided into parenting for children ages 0-7, 7-12 and 12-16. The next session begins in January. More information is available on the C4 Web site at www.c4chicago.org. To register for a class, call (773) 506-2525.
Lenna Scott is a writer living in Buffalo Grove with her husband and two children.