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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE: SOME SUCCESSFUL METHODS OF PARENT EDUCATION


Dana McDermott, Ph.D. (2002)
School for New Learning, DePaul University
dmcderm2@depaul.edu


This is taken from a draft of a publication in preparation by D. McDermott entitled "Parenting education from k-12: Theoretical and empirical background and support." Portions of this material were prepared with support from New York State toward implementation of the parenting education requirement for high school graduation. It will be useful for many projects that call for theoretical framework and resources. This document may be duplicated for educational or advocacy purposes with acknowledgement of authorship.

References are listed at www.preparetomorrowsparents.org/references.html


Effective methods of parenting and parenting education are also positively related to student learning and success. Indeed, Alvy (1994) has found that many of the skills that enhance parent-child relations are the same skills that enrich all human relations skills in general (p. 27). In addition, the identified skills students learn are often inter-related. For example, problem- solving helps in stress management and communication skills facilitate conflict resolution. The research below is provided to demonstrate this.

Some Learning Opportunities:

Practice, rehearsal and modeling
Luster & Youatt (1989), in one of the few high school parent education programs that have been evaluated, reported their successful emphasis on the method of reality- based experience, such as students interacting with children, choosing age-appropriate toys at a store, and/or observing patterns of parent-child interaction in natural settings. Tomison (1998) described another high school program in Australia which “includes networking activities where students role-play being parents and seeking assistance” (p. 13).

Rickert et al. (1988) found didactic instruction alone did not promote skill mastery in parents and programs incorporating modeling and behavioral rehearsal were necessary. Knapp and Deluty (1989) found mothers of low SES were more successful if they had received parent training that included modeling and role-playing than were lower SES mothers taught by written materials, short quizzes and discussions alone. Gray & Steinberg (1999) found that modeling and setting a good example were linked to children with better skills and attitudes around academic achievement, employment, health habits, individuality, relationships, communication, coping and conflict resolution.

Observing parents and children in natural settings
Luster & Youatt (1989) had students observe care-giving interactions in natural settings. Heath (1995) in her curriculum Learning how to care: Education for parenting, provides exercises developing these important observation skills as an effective learning method.

Cooke (1990) asserts that “if knowledge taught in child development and parenting is to be available for translation into action, it must be taught through methods involving direct and fairly extensive observation and experience with children” (p. 86).

Using videotapes
Rickert et al. (1988) also found videotaping successful. Videotapes were used successfully by Black & Teti (1997) to alter mealtime communication and attitudes among African American adolescent mothers. Six mothers served as an advisory group to design the video messages, title, music and setting. They ‘starred’ in the film, modeling positive interaction with their infants during mealtimes. Evaluation of this randomized clinical trial with 59 first-time mothers showed mothers in the program were more involved with the infant and had more favorable attitudes toward feeding and communi-cation than mothers not enrolled in the program. Webster-Stratton (1990) also reported long-term success with parent training that employs videotaped modeling. This work is summarized in a review of parenting education methods by Matthews & Hudson (2001).

Thomas (1996) used videotaped scenes in a parenting program. The videos depicted the same situation but reflected different themes presented in contrast sets. One scene in each pair depicted a parent-child interaction characterized by “constrain child development” themes in a play situation involving a basket of toys. The other scene of a parent-child interaction in the same play situation was characterized by “encourage development” themes. Parents were asked reflective questions relating to these videos. Parents were also videoed at home and then viewed their videos and answered more questions regarding their reactions/ideas. This was an effective learning opportunity for parents.

Role play for empathy, understanding and learning
Brown (1998) recommends methods such as role-playing, modeling and coaching rather than discussion groups and reading, especially for persons of lower SES. She believes that parent education should provide opportunities to apply elementary parenting skills so parents (and students) can witness changes in child behavior quickly. These successes build momentum for continued participation to deal with more difficult issues.

Taylor (1997) lists the advantages of role- playing: It allows students to express hidden feelings; It is student- centered and addresses the needs and concerns of the student; It permits the group to control the content and pace; It enables the student to empathize with others and understand their problems; It portrays generalized social problems and dynamics of group interaction, formal and informal; It gives more reality and immediacy to academic descriptive material (History, Geography, Social Skills, English); It enables the student to discuss private issues and problems; It provides an opportunity for non-articulate students and emphasizes the importance of nonverbal and emotional responses; It gives practice in various types of behavior. There are some disadvantages: The teacher can lose control over what is learned and the order in which it is learned. Simplifications can mislead. It may dominate the learning experiences to the exclusion of solid theory and facts. It is dependent upon the personality, quality, and mix of the teacher and students It may be seen as too entertaining and frivolous. The advantages are many.

Flexible problem solving
Several researchers (Daro, 1998; Gaudin et al., 1991; Gaudin, 1993a; Chalk & King, 1998) have found that parent groups offering social skills and problem-solving training were more successful than programs offering general child-development information alone. Whiteman et al. (1987) found that when they combined the teaching of problem-solving with relaxation skills they were even more effective in changing parent attitudes and expectations to meet children’s needs more appropriately. Grusec & Goodnow (1994) found flexible problem- solving as a necessary skill to resolve parent-child conflicts. Heinicke (1995) found flexible problem- solving to be related positively to appropriate responsiveness of parents to children’s needs. Shure (1974) has successfully taught social problem-solving to parents and has written curricula for children and teens.

Personal and joint decision making
Clabby and Elias (1987) provide exercises to facilitate parenting decision-making. They adapted their work for social skills learning for students (Elias & Clabby, 1992). Brown et al. (1993) found that parents engaging in joint-decision making with children had children joining peer groups of high achievers as opposed to more negative groups. Gordon (1996) noted that we should be teaching formal operational level decision making to adolescents for use in pregnancy prevention and other interventions.

Communication, mirroring, sensitivity and empathic awareness
Baker & Baker (1987) demonstrated the importance of the skills of mirroring and sensitivity for early child development. Feshback (1987) found a parent’s ability to recognize the emotions experienced by a child (empathic awareness) and to communicate and respond appropriately were crucial for child well-being. Cicchetti et al. (1988) advocated verbal communication providing information and stimulation, and communication of positive affect accompanying supportive verbal and physical interactions Laosa (1978) and Saarni (1985) found evidence that open communication with children on topics of feelings, needs, reasons for rules and behavioral expectations promoted child well-being. Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) successfully taught teens communication skills combined with modeling and role-playing. Learning was maximized when skills were seen by students as needed for application in social action.

Clabby & Elias (1992) assert that if children are to experience healthy relationships and occupy meaningful and productive roles in society as adults, they must be competent at communicating and working cooperatively with others. They need to be able to express their own opinions and beliefs, to understand and appreciate the perspective of others who differ from them in background, needs, or experiences, and to become skilled at reasoned disagreement, negotiation, and compromise as methods of solving problems when their own needs conflict with those of others.

Conflict resolution
If we start early teaching children skills like communication and empathy we will not have as much conflict as we do. Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) combined effective communication and conflict resolution lessons through modeling and role-play. Black & Teti (1997) asked teen mothers having conflict with toddlers to help make a film on effective communication. Thus, they went from a dysfunctional emphasis to empowerment. In being given the peer teaching role, these teens learned how to resolve parent-child conflicts in a way that kept everyone’s self-esteem intact. Fry (1993) looked at two towns in Mexico in terms of how they socialized their children to handle conflict. One town focused on communication. They modeled discussion, explanation and training through words and actions. This minimized physical and destructive conflict resolution.

Stress management
Wolfe (1994) tells us that interventions for child maltreatment now focus even more on mental health and contextual factors. It was essential to teach the mothers in their studies how to manage stress to decrease parental violence. Alvy (1994) found a relationship between how parents model stress management and how children learn to manage stress themselves. Whiteman et al. (1987) also worked to help parents mediate stress and anger through more effective problem- solving skills. Smith et al. (1994) in their “care for self” parent education module offer suggestions to help parents manage personal stress.

Self-management, self-care, and self-monitoring
Taylor (1997) used a variety of techniques and strategies in developing self-regulation skills in students: 1) role- playing 2) classifying behaviors and identifying types of self-regulation strategies to employ 3) working in cooperative groups 4) positively reinforcing the mental habits 5) reading and developing stories; 6) being sensitive to feedback and criticism; 7) teaching self-monitoring skills; 8) seeking outside advice when needed; 9) evaluating the process (p.46)

Smith et al. (1994) in their care for self module note “While care for self does not necessarily precede other parenting practices it is quite possible to begin developing these skills before an individual becomes a parent. In many cases, these self-care concerns must be addressed before a parent can begin to concentrate on the child and behaviors more directly related to parenthood. Care for self is closely connected with advocate, a cluster of skills that enable parents to reach out to other institutions and the community. …Caring for oneself is not only a critical parenting skill, but a skill for life. Critical care for self practices are: manage personal stress, manage family resources, offer support to other parents, ask for and accept support from others when needed, recognize one’s own personal and parenting strengths, have a sense of purpose in setting child-rearing goals, and cooperate with one’s child-rearing partners (p.20).

Apply child advocacy skills
Smith et al. (1994) provide an excellent teaching module on advocacy (pp. 39-43). Simpson (2001) also outlines advocacy for teens (pp. 62-64). Several interventionsists included advocacy as the end result of learning for students (Jaffe et al.,1992; Wolfe et al., 1997; Small, 1990). Wallerstein (1992) noted that empowerment strategies by design, encourage people to act on the system rather than to be acted on by the system.

Guiding, empowering and coaching
Empowerment has been described very well by Dunst et al. (1988) and Cochran in the Cornell Empowerment model (1988). Wekerle &Wolfe (1998) in their interventions rely heavily on the strength of empowerment in the context of adolescent development and social dating. “Empowerment involves ‘personal power’ that is built through personal connections with others, which in turn creates the freedom to be open and receptive with others. The principles of participatory education, in particular have been well adapted to health education and disease prevention. Educational programs designed to promote social change and individual or group empowerment are active by nature. Accordingly, we assist young people in achieving control over their lives through their own efforts and critical thinking about relationships. Such control, in turn assists them in recognizing some of the underlying determinants of their dissatisfaction or interpersonal problems, in describing alternatives, and in taking action that leads to changes in their personal relationship situation” (pp. 358-359).

From Flaherty’s (1999) excellent book we learn that coaching is a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and fulfilled so they are able to contribute to their families, work and communities and find meaning in what they are doing. It is not always just the events, or communications from others that lead people to respond in destructive ways but what interpretation or meaning people give to events. We can help by providing a new language or way of talking about this as well as practice in allowing this language to be a permanent part of a person’s interpretive structure.

It might be as simple as saying “What are my options/” instead of I do not know what to do. The goal for those we work with is self-correction. We the coaches are not indispensable. W just give others a new set of glasses allowing the to assess their actions. Flaherty talks of hoping for self-generation or locating the resources within oneself and in relationships that would allow for continuous growth. As a coach I cannot play in the game but I can be a guide on the side providing information, support, time for practice of new skills/language, time for reflection and always encouragement and respect for efforts of those in my care.

Planning, action plans and goal setting
Ladd et al. (1992) found that parents who planned social contacts and supervised their children had children with more healthy peer relations. Heath (1995) addresses planning in her parenting curriculum. Tomison (1998) described a parent program for teens that assisted them to prepare for the demands of parenting before they became parents. Jaffe et al. (1992) intervened with teens in four high schools combining many of the methods discussed (modeling, role-plays, plays, etc.) Their goal was to have students develop action plans based on the changed attitudes from the intervention. This was a goal for youth in the interventions of Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) and Christopher et al. (2001).

Engage in structured or open ended questions

Sternberg & Williams (1995) conclude in their work that there is a value in engaging children in conversations via open questions (inquiry or question asking). A format for open questions was designed in the research of Thomas (1996). She found the questioning structure supported reflective dialogue engaging parents in the process of problem generation and interpretation and exposing them to ideas and interpretations that differed from their own, two key learning processes believed to facilitate theme-level learning. The questioning sequence had the form of an hour- glass. It began with broad, general open questions: What was happening here, what did you notice? What thoughts did you have as you viewed the scenes? What were your reactions? Questions then focused on specific aspects of a video segment. What actions did the adult take? What goals do you think the adult had? What goals do you think the child had? How did this action/ goal work for the adult? Why? How did this action/ goal work for the child? Why? How do you think the child felt? Why? How did the adult feel? Why? Questions then broaden to focus on implications, consequences and conditions: What do you think would happen if these actions and goals would continue? Is it possible for parents to both meet children’s developmental needs and address their own goals? Under what conditions-what does it take to do this? What implications do you see in the ideas generated about how conditions may affect parents’ goals? These cases help parents avoid over simplified understandings.

Reflect privately and in group dialogue
The question posing of Thomas (1996) was a stimulated recall procedure generating a reflective dialogue with parents. She sees themes as a potential avenue through which education might reach learner’s deep-lying motivational and conceptual structures. Christopher et al. (2001) had students critically reassess current perspectives and think about whether current behavior was right for them. They recommend more learner centered-approaches promoting student autonomy, participation, reflection and collaboration. Robertson (1996) and Jaffe et al. (1992) also recommended student reflection to gain a new understanding about how social relations and culture shape our beliefs and feelings. The parent education program described by Tomison (1998) enabled students to reflect on the way they were parented and to begin to think about how they wanted to parent.

Assess how the learner’s behavior affects others
Taylor (1997) taught African American male students effective ways of internalizing their behaviors and assessing how their behaviors affect others. One way to do so is using think-aloud activities (p. 19) …asking questions such as 1) What is needed to solve this problem 2) Things are not working out, should I try another way? And 3) what assistance do I need to solve the problem? (p. 20). Jaffe et al. (1992) found that students after their intervention advocated more efforts to make people aware of the effects of violence on others. Christopher et al. (2001) demonstrated that students after their intervention were more aware of how their health habits affected themselves and their young children.

Discuss own experiences as children and family members
O’Connor (1990) believes school pupils need to talk about their own experiences as children and family members, and learn ways of relating to other people in a variety of relationships. Any course dealing with the sensitive area of parenthood should give pupils the time and space to explore different ways of parenting, and to build on knowledge they already have. Belsky (1984) found that looking at one’s own experiences in one’s family of origin was very important for parents. He found that a supportive marital relationship served as a buffer if early experiences had been negative. Luster & Okagaki (1993, Ch. 9) also cite the impact of developmental pathways on parental competence. Tulloch & Omvig (1989) as cited by Cooke support this method because adolescents may not be at a stage where parenting issues are of concern to them. It is therefore important for them to relate what is taught in child development and parenting to their own past and present experiences as a developing person and as a family member before beginning to have them think about how what they are learning relates to their future parenting.

Collaborate and participate in cooperative group work
Belenky et al. (1986;1997) demonstrated how collaborative group work could help women cope with family history and move forward. Taylor (1997) described the many benefits of cooperative group work to facilitate the interpersonal skills of African American males. Cooperative learning involves: Positive interdependence, individual accountability, group processing small group/social skills and face-to-face interactions. Cooperative strategies include: a common goal, a structured task, a structured team, clear roles, designated time frame, and a structured process.

Locate resources and seek assistance

Wekerle & Wolfe (1998) found male and female students had a lack of intervention strategies and skills. They gave students information about resources in the community to assist them in managing unfamiliar, stressful issues in their relationships and to give them opportunities to access community services. They used community-based hands-on experiences in which males and female students were paired and practiced solving hypothetical problems by involving their peer and community resources. They found places in the community to receive help and advice. Co-facilitators acted as consultants and made student approaches to community persons realistic yet successful. The teen program Tomison (1998) described engaged students in networking experiences where they role-played being parents and seeking assistance. Students learned of available supports in the hope that they would be likely to use them when they became parents.

Participate in group discussion
Powell (1990; 1998) in his evaluations of parenting programs has found group discussion a successful method of parent education. Discussion provides an opportunity for parents to digest new insights in relation to their existing ideas. Brown (1998) found that group discussions were more attractive to middle than lower socio-economic status parents. Prout & Prendergast (1985) recommend that students focus on feelings, attitudes and the affective domain rather than the lecture method involving primarily a sharing of facts.

Read and develop stories
Taylor (1997) reported that student learned a great deal by reading and developing stories. Reyes (1995-96) did a masterful job of demonstrating how to use this tool effectively. Belenky et al. (1986; 1997) used stories to empower women who lacked self-confidence and self-efficacy as parents. Having their stories written down and listened to was related positively to parent-child relationships and to the parent’s self-efficacy

Support remembering of past events and anticipating future actions-cognitive distancing
Sigel et al. (1992) have demonstrated the value of parents using cognitive distancing. This involves asking a child to remember past events and use their imaginations to anticipate future actions. The parents do this rather than just give them answers.

Apply appraisal skills to situations and individuals
Holden (1997) concludes in his analysis of child- rearing that the core of effective parenting lies in how the parent appraises the child and the situation and then resolves competing needs and notions (p. 134). Thus, parent’s effectiveness lies more in the way they go about handling the ongoing parent-child interactions than the number of attributes they possess. Lerner (1993) added that the important thing for parents is to be perceptive about the fit that their child has with the context, to be able to assess what demands are being imposed on the child, and to be able to assess their child’s individuality. If they can make these assessments with the help of professionals, they will be … promoting more positive interactions with others and thereby enhancing the child’s development.

To conclude, one can readily see that the skills involved in effective parenting are also useful for effective teaching. In modeling these methods teachers can not only maximize learning, but they can help students see what good ‘parenting’ looks like. While this list is by no means exhaustive it at least presents a core of “best practices” for teachers today.


A review of research on the most effective methods of parenting and parenting education found the methods below to be positively related to teacher effectiveness and student learning/success.

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
RESEARCHER(S)
Practice, rehearse, and model positive interaction with children. Provide reality-based learning experiences.
Luster & Youatt,1989;Rickert, et al.,1988;Knapp & Deluty,1989;Gray & Steinberg,1999;Tomison, 1998
Observe patterns of parent-child interactions Luster & Youatt, 1989; Heath, 1995; Cooke, 1990
Analyze parent-child situations using videotapes. Have students produce “best practices” videotapes.
Black & Teti,1997; Rickert et al., 1988; Thomas, 1996;Webster-Stratton, 1990; Matthews et al.,2001
Role-play for empathy, understanding, learning. Brown, 1998; Taylor, 1997; Knapp & Deluty, 1989
Apply problem- solving skills; demonstrate flexibility in problem- solving. Whiteman et al., 1987, Heinicke, 1995;Daro, 1998, Gaudin et al., 1991,1993a; Chalk & King, 1998; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1998; Shure, 1974
Apply personal and joint decision making skills, flexibly and spontaneously.
Brown et al.,1993; Clabby & Elias, 1987; Elias & Clabby ‘92;Grusec & Goodnow,1994; Gordon, ‘96
Apply communication skills including empathic awareness, mirroring , and sensitivity. Baker & Baker,1987; Feshback,1987; Laosa, 1978; Saarni 1985;Wekerle & Wolfe, 1998; Cicchetti et al., 1988
Apply conflict-resolution skills. Wekerle & Wolfe,1998;Black & Teti,1997;Fry,’93
Apply stress management skills. Whiteman et al.,’87;Wolfe,‘94;Alvy,’94; Smith ‘94
Apply self-management and self-monitoring Taylor, 1997; Smith et al., 1994
Apply child advocacy skills. Smith et al.,1994; Wolfe et al.,1997; O’Connor, 1990; Wallerstein,1992;Jaffe et al.,1992; Small ‘90
Coach, guide, and empower. Brown, 1998; Flaherty, 1999; Cochran, 1988; Christopher et al., 2001;Dunst,Trivette & Deal, ‘88
Apply planning, action planning and goal setting Ladd et al., 1992; Jaffe et al., 1992; Christopher et al., 2001; Heath, 1995; Tomison, 1998
Engage in structured or open questioning. Sternberg & Williams, 1995; Thomas, 1996
Reflect privately and in group dialogue. Christopher et al., 2001; Tomison, 1998; Thomas, 1996; Robertson, 1996; Jaffe et al., 1992
Analyze possible conflicts/problems with children Thomas, 1996, p. 194; Christopher, et al., 2001
Assess how a learner’s own behaviors affect others. Taylor,1997;Jaffe et al.,1992;Christopher et al., ‘01
Talk about one’s own experiences as a child, youth, and family member. O’Connor, 1990; Luster & Okagaki, 1993, Ch.9; Taylor,1997; Belsky,1984; Tulloch & Omvig,1989
Collaborate and participate in cooperative group work Christopher et al., 2001; Taylor, 1997; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1998; O’Connor, 1990
Locate resources and seek assistance.
Tomison, 1998; Taylor, 1997; Wekerle & Wolfe,1998; Flaherty, 1999; Dunst et al., 1988
Participate in group discussion(s). Brown,’98; Prout & Prendergast,’85; Powell, ‘98
Read and develop stories Belenky, et al., ‘86,’97; Taylor,’97; Reyes , ‘95-96
Support remembering of past events and imagining to anticipate future actions (cognitive distancing). Sigel, et al., 1992
Apply appraisal skills to situations and individuals .Holden, 1997; Lerner 1993


*There are many studies and programs supporting the methods listed above. The references listed have found helpful in working with students, but this list is by no means exhaustive
.



Some Methods for Teaching Parenting to Adolescents:

Christopher et al. (2001) promote “transformative learning” where students “critically reassess current perspectives and think about whether current behavior is right for them. This critical self-reflection helps them look at things in fundamentally new and different ways, examine actions they can take to change their lives in essential ways and take actions based on new assumptions when making important decisions” (p.134). We need, the authors say a “learner centered-approach that promotes student autonomy, participation, reflection and collaboration (Robertson, 1996)” (p. 135).

Sternberg & Williams (1995) strongly support the value of engaging children in conversations via open questions (inquiry or question asking). “Many cognitive and educational psychologists are returning to the thinking of John Dewey (1933), who realized that how we think is often more important than what we think. We need to stress more the teaching of how to ask questions, and how to ask the right questions (good, thought-provoking, and interesting ones), and to stress less the simple retrieval of the correct answers to whatever questions we might pose” (p. 262).

O’Connor (1990), in speaking about students (teenage expectant and actual parents) reported: “Whilst they were interested in learning about pregnancy, childbirth and child development, this was naturally focused on their own feelings, anxieties and expectations of childbirth and parenting. Nevertheless, they brought to discussions on these subjects, a wealth of knowledge and attitudes based on their own family experiences, community life, and information gleaned from the media. Discussions were informal, negotiated on a “need to know” basis that were related to the student’s expressed needs .… School pupils need to understand how their bodies work, how to keep them healthy and how to avoid pregnancy. They also need to understand themselves, and to make some sense of their pregnancy. They also need to make some sense of their own family experiences. They need to talk about their own experiences as children and family members, and to learn ways of relating to other people in a variety of relationships. This means that any course dealing with the sensitive area of parenthood, would give pupils the time and space to explore different ways of parenting, and to build on knowledge they already have. In addition to these principles of valuing and building on students own experiences/feelings in this area, it is also important that method, content and teaching materials reflect the equal role of women, the multi-racial composition of society and the changing nature of family life” (p. 87). (See full article for elaboration on whole school approach)

Taylor (1997) suggests teaching youth to internalize their behaviors and assess how their behaviors affect others. One method to do so is to use think-aloud activities (p. 19) involving asking questions such as 1) What is needed to solve this problem 2) Things are not working out should I try another way? And 3) what assistance do I need to solve the problem? (p. 20).

All of these approaches support empowerment where teachers act as coaches and guides while students search for answers within and outside of themselves. Flaherty (1999) describes this method: “Coaching is a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and fulfilled so they are able to contribute to their families, work and communities and find meaning in what they are doing” (p.3) …. It is not always just the events, or communications from others that lead people to respond in destructive ways but what interpretation or meaning people give to events …. We can help by providing a new language or way of talking about this as well as practice in allowing this language to be a permanent part of a person’s interpretive structure (p.9).

It might be as simple as a student thinking “What are my options?” instead of I do not know what to do. Flaherty believes the goal for those we work with is self-correction. We the coaches are not indispensable. We just give others a new set of glasses allowing them to assess their actions. We also hope for self-generation or locating the resources within oneself and in relationships that would allow for continuous growth. As a coach I cannot play in the game but I can be a guide on the side providing information, support, time for practice of new skills/language, time for reflection and always encouragement and respect for efforts of those in my care (p.4).

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