Groups help stressed parents

Consultants can show you how to get through to those stubborn kids.

Published January 14, 2007

Hannah Langsford, age 3, is a whole lot of sweet and a little bit of stubborn and doesn't feel like playing ball or blocks, thank you very much.

But help has arrived at her Tierra Verde home in the person of Claire Yogman, part teacher, part coach, part grandma, part saving grace.

Yogman, a 60-year-old early childhood consultant, is the real-life version of the stern but loving parent adviser popularized by ABC's hit reality television show Supernanny.

The show's London nanny-turned-star Jo Frost is known for appearing in a black London cab and rescuing frustrated parents from their ill-behaved offspring.

Their children often refuse to eat, sleep, mind, sit still.

Unlike Frost, Yogman doesn't ride in a black car or tell children they've been "very, very naughty." But she does see her job as similar to a modern-day Mary Poppins.

"We're a lot like Supernanny," says Yogman, "but I think we're a little nicer."

Child experts say parents without extended families nearby often need outside resources and support.

"We don't live in the same community as our own parents anymore," said Alan Simpson, spokesman with the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington. "There's no grandmother who might have helped with this before."

Without that support, Simpson and others see great value in people like Lucie Malinski.

In 1986, she started the Early Childhood Consultation Services at Directions for Mental Health in Clearwater.

Malinski, 54, began the program to help parents become better at parenting.

Statistics show much of a child's success is shaped during the preschool years. But becoming a parent doesn't require training or a license.

"It's the hardest job anybody could ever have," Malinski said. "It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for 20 years."

With $242,175 annual funding from the Juvenile Welfare Board, the free parenting service is available for any Pinellas County family of preschool-aged children, regardless of income.

Yogman is one of five full- and part-time parent educators who guide parents or child care center workers through behavioral or developmental issues.

A similar nationally recognized program, Parents as Teachers, operates in Hillsborough County through the Child Abuse Council.

"We let parents know if they're doing the right thing and what to expect at each stage," said Georgina Yeagley, the local Parents as Teachers director. "A lot of times they don't want us to leave."

The increasing number of children in day care also drives the need for more parenting assistance, Malinski said.

In 2002, 89 percent of the nation's preschoolers whose mothers worked and 31 percent of those whose mothers did not work were in child care.

"Two generations ago you'd play with kids in your neighborhood, your cousins and your brothers and sisters," Malinski said. "You weren't in a group at 4 years old with 20 children all wanting the same toy.

"There do not seem to be enough hours in the day for parents to spend time being parents."

The result: an increasing number of stressed-out parents, misbehaving children and concerned child-care workers.

"Having a son at 4 years old bite someone is not the end of the world," Malinksi said, "although you'd think from the phone calls I get that it is."

Pressing buttons

At the Langsford home last week, Yogman was on her third visit with Hannah's parents, stay-at-home mom Jennifer, 37, and information technology consultant Rick, 35.

They sought out Yogman for help with Hannah, 3, and Zachary, 10 months.

"I just want to have a peaceful home," Mrs. Langsford said. "Kids can push your buttons and you start yelling and then all of a sudden you're the mom you don't want to be."

Bay area services

The Early Childhood Consultation program allows parents to have eight to 10 home visits where consultants discuss discipline, consistency and bedtime routines.

They observe the families, play games, offer advice and read together.

In Hillsborough, families can request Parents as Teacher educators to visit them monthly until their children start kindergarten.

Last week, educator Jean Decker, 60, drove to Brandon for her fourth visit with Stephanie Schill, 34, a sleep-deprived first-time mother of 9-month-old Wesley. With most of her relatives out of state, Schill said she wanted "another pair of eyes."

On the visit, the mother explained how Wesley started making sounds by 4 months, but as he became mobile, his babbling slowed.

"That's what happens," Decker explained. "If one area is developing, another will slow down a little.

"This month you might try talking to him a little bit more."

Decker turned to Wesley, sitting on the floor by his mother, and said in a sweet, high voice: "You are getting into first words, aren't you buddy?"

'Diva of discipline'

Lynne Yates, director of Most Holy name of Jesus Early Childhood Center in Gulfport, has asked Malinski to lead workshops for her teachers and connected her with hundreds of parents over the years, including herself.

"I call her the diva of discipline," Yates said. "She's blown my mind. She looks from a bird's eye view and picks up on things we might not see."

Much of the Early Childhood Consultation program focuses on teaching parents better ways to respond to their children's behavior.

Consultants tell parents to treat children as they want to be treated.

They encourage parents to be consistent, to reward good behavior and to use natural consequences instead of spanking.

"Discipline is about teaching not punishment," Malinski said. "I don't believe in punishing children for acting like children."

Forget whining

Back at the Langsford home, Yogman, the consultant, stressed the importance of ignoring bad behavior, like whining. Eventually a child will realize it doesn't work.

"Remember," she said, "if you pay attention to bad behavior, it will just get worse."

Afterward, Yogman gathered the family on the living room floor for three games but Hannah, stubbornness intact, chose to watch from the sofa.

The adults tried to ignore her interruptions and encouraged her to get on the floor and play.

"If you sit down," Langsford said to his daughter, "you can play with blocks too."

"She knows the rules," Yogman said.

The blond-haired girl refused to play through the rolling ball game, but halfway through the magnetic block building, she scrambled to the floor.

"My turn," Hannah said to the adults, who shared happy, congratulatory smiles.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

Parenting basics

- Treat children as you want to be treated.

- Encourage natural consequences, such as: "When you have tied your shoes, then you may play."

- Say what you mean.

- Be consistent.

- Pick your battles.

- Teach children to say please, thank you, excuse me.

- Avoid asking a child a question if no is an unacceptable response.

- State your expectations in advance.

- Ignore bad behavior that isn't harmful or destructive.

- Reward and praise good behavior.

- Have fun, hold, laugh, hug your child daily.

Source: Early Childhood Consultation Services, Directions for Mental Health in Clearwater.

. fast facts

Consultation services

What: A parenting education program to help assist with children's emotional or behavioral issues.

When: Parents receive eight to 10 home visits from a trained parent educator.

Who: Available to any Pinellas County resident with children ages infancy through 5 years old regardless of family income. Child care centers seeking teacher training. Community or parenting groups wanting early childhood education workshops.

Cost: Free but donations are welcome.

Goal: To teach parents age appropriate and effective ways to discipline their children thereby preventing more serious problems later in life.

Contact: Directions for Mental Health at (727) 547-4566.

Parents as teachers

What: A nationally recognized early childhood education program to help teach parents of children ages infancy through 5 years old what to expect during each development stage of their child.

When: In-home visits may continue until a child enters kindergarten.

Who: Available to any Hillsborough County family with young children.

Cost: Free.

Goal: Strengthen the bond between parent and child.

Contact: Child Abuse Council at (813) 673-4646.