Parenting classes abound

Published March 19, 2006

Parents pick up tips here and there on disciplining their toddler or communicating better with their teenager from magazines, books and even catching a few minutes of Dr. Phil's show. But you can't ask a magazine questions. You rarely have time to read those books cover to cover. And, unless you're Oprah, Dr. Phil isn't taking your calls.

Readers have asked me what types of in-person help is available for parents who want to improve their relationship with their kids, referee sibling rivalries, encourage better schoolwork or get help in any of the many job descriptions parents fulfill.

Well, there are several six- to eight-week parenting courses offered around the area. They cost $40 or $50 depending on the course. Either way, roughly $5 per class is well worth it, even if you just walk away each week with one or two concrete things to try at home or do differently.

Marriage and family therapist Carol Yancar, who teaches a seven-week course for the Marriage and Family Center in the Tyrone area, says parents come away with more than that. She teaches from a book that any parent would want to abide by: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

"We look at sibling rivalry. We look at different expectations for different ages. We look at what kinds of things come up as roadblocks to communication," Yancar said. "We look at the goals of misbehavior and teach parents that we change and then our children change."

Classes meet for two hours on Tuesday nights and have an average of about 14 parents. They are small enough so that parents can ask questions and have time to practice role playing. The next class starts up March 28. Whether one parent or both attend, the total cost is $50. Call 381-9400 for more information.

Karen Cochran, who teaches parenting classes for the Family Service Centers, tries to take some of the pressure off when she meets with parents.

"I tell them I'm not a perfect parent. There is no such thing as a perfect parent," she told me.

She also talks a lot about communication and reminds parents that a big part of communicating with their child is listening to their child. "I ask them if we're really listening to our child if we're preparing our response before the child finishes," she said. "We discuss how we are role modeling from birth. If you want to change something in your child, you need to first look to see if you need to modify you behavior."

The Family Service center parenting courses last eight weeks and are offered at two locations. At the nonprofit group's main office at 2960 Roosevelt Blvd., in Clearwater, classes meet Monday nights and Saturdays. A new course starts March 20. Classes at one Family Service Center, the Wes Jenkins Community Resource Center at 928 22nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg, meet on Thursdays. A new course will start there in early May. The cost for eight weeks is $40 per person.

The Family Service Center also makes speakers available at little or no cost for community groups such as churches and support groups. They can talk to parents for one night - instead of eight weeks - about specific topics such as safety, communication or how to deal with anger in a child. They can also determine whether the child needs professional help. Call 489-5271 for more information.

Some Neighborhood Family Centers also offer parenting classes. The Lealman Family Center at 4255 56th Ave. N will start up its next eight-week session on May 15.

"We talk about communication and the fact that how we deliver what we say makes a difference," said Janet Wright, class instructor. Instead of getting frustrated with children when they do something wrong, it can be more effective to take note when they do something right, such as saying: "I'm proud of the way you picked up your toys without me having to ask you."

The parents and Wright also discuss discipline and consequences. By learning the typical abilities of a child at certain ages, parents can know if they are expecting too much or too little from their kids. For more information, call 528-7891.

The Campbell Park Neighborhood Family Center at 1201 Seventh Ave. S also offers parenting classes. Call 894-6880 for more information.

Most of us parents have some form of disciplining our kids; we try to stay on top of sibling rivalries and think we communicate with them from sun up to sundown. But it never hurts to get a fresh perspective or a few new techniques to throw in with the old bag of tricks. It also is helpful to talk to other parents who deal with the many challenges of raising children, be they toddlers or teenagers.

There are also classes out there for special situations such as physically or emotionally incapacitated parents, homes with violence or families who have been through extreme stress or trauma. Call the county's 2-1-1 help line to tell someone what type of help or class you're looking for. You will be matched with an appropriate resource.

Many of these programs and classes are funded by Pinellas County's Juvenile Welfare Board, which oversees and manages millions of tax dollars collected for the purpose of helping children. Along with parenting classes, the JWB funds marriage counseling, summer camps, after-school activities, educational puppet shows, baby play groups and many other programs.

Most taxpayers don't even know they pay for such an agency or that they can take part in the programs it finances. Pinellas County was the first county in the nation to set up a special taxing district to fund programs for children in 1946.

Katherine Snow Smith's Rookie Mom column runs regularly in the south Pinellas editions of the Times. You can reach her by e-mail at snowsmithverizon.net; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.