Articles by Debashis Dutta – 5

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The Parenting Empowerment Program – Week 1

In the coming weeks, I’d like to share a philosophy on parenting (and indeed, life) that you might find useful – I know I have!!! Today’s submission will give you a background into what it’s all about. I want to give credit to my former teammates (B. Davis, H. Hill) and supervisor (Dr. D.M. Ragg) in the social service agency where we worked together for a number of years.

I worked in a children’s mental health outreach centre in Southwestern Ontario for close to five years. We were a team of three plus a supervisor – we were responsible for helping families where it was deemed a longer-term approach to counselling was warranted. Our families seemed to be in constant chaos and they tended to move from crisis to crisis. Often, many other services were involved (child protection, probation, adult mental health, doctors, special school supports, one-on-one workers, behaviour programming, etc., etc. etc.). Getting the services working together and then getting the family to do their part seemed to be a challenge. Sometimes it felt like everyone else, EXCEPT the family, was working toward change!!!

These families seemed to always go to the brink of disaster and then, with a lot of community help, would get back on track. The problem was that the skills and strategies they learned during one crisis stage, they did not generalize and use in the next crisis. The other trend was that the children in these families always tended to have special needs, get into fights, run away, and were labelled with all kinds of conditions and terms (attention deficit, behaviour problem, defiant, peer problem, depressed, non-compliant, psychotic, social problems, etc., etc., etc. – these just go on and on).

So, the kid gets labelled and there would be this community-based push to "fix the child." All sorts of supports were put into place to help the school, the recreation centre and the family to help "manage" the child’s behaviour.

And not much seemed to work. We’d have families on board with us, receiving services for YEARS with little or no change. Now, we knew that it wasn’t the children who needed all this intervention (some help, but not all). Rather, it was the parents who we needed to target in order to instil some change. And getting help to these parents was tough because regular parenting programs and therapeutic approaches didn’t seem to work.

So, we developed a theory and philosophy around how to work with these families, in a slow, gentle, consistent and empowering way to get them to pretty much "buy in" to a way of parenting that encouraged (and even demanded) them to take far more responsibility for parenting choices.

We’ve introduced this program to many groups, cutting across socio-economic status, culture, ethnicity, experience, education, etc. and believe that it’s a pretty comprehensive philosophy. Cool thing is that the program not only relates to parenting, but, with a few stretches, can be applied to improving the working environments, personal relationship, friendships and the self. We’ll go week by week, for about four or five weeks and see where this goes. Each week will have an assignment of sorts. This program will not tell you WHAT to do as much as provide a way of thinking. Ready to try it out?

Ok, for next week, I’d like to you to think about the following questions. Write them down. Ponder over them.

1. What are the things in your life (as a parent, or otherwise) that really get you angry or frustrated? Come up with as many as you can.

2. Now for each of these problems, look at what things you do to resolve them. What works? What doesn’t?

3. When you approach these problems, do you feel embattled (always having to battle to win) or disempowered (always feeling beaten and eventually helpless)?

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