How to make parenting classes the norm? Ask a parent.

Posted by Dan Breslin / Wednesday 13 April 2016 / Children's centres Early intervention

How to make parenting classes the norm? Ask a parent.

There are no shortage of books about parenting full of tips, tricks, dos and don’ts. At times it can seem overwhelming. Parenting has been described as the science of the art of bringing up children. Reading the sentence a couple of times, it nicely sums up that raising children is far from simple.

There has been greater attention about role of parenting in recent months. The Prime Minister’s speech on life chances has the bold plan to make parenting classes as common as antenatal classes. A big statement of intent.

Previous attempts at bringing parenting classes to the mainstream have run into difficulties. But evaluations of these programmes throw up some interesting points which should not be overlooked. A study of the government’s programme CANparent found that universal classes have helped to remove the stigma around parenting support. There were also a lot of parents who would recommend it to others.

Staff member with parent

There is still plenty to learn. More needs to be done to help raise awareness of the benefits to parents. There is also the tricky issues of getting more parents to take up classes.

If you want to see how best to support parenting, no one better to ask than parents themselves. Over the last few months we have been talking to parents at Action for Children services across England. Asking them all about parenting and what they feel classes should include.*

The overwhelming answer? No two children are the same and neither are parents. What one parent could find new and insightful another might see as unhelpful, going over what they have been doing day in, day out. This presents some challenges for government.

It means that one book, one type of class or one type of delivery approach won’t work for everyone. Not being flexible in how we support parents runs the risk that we won’t get parents from all backgrounds involved. Without this making parenting classes the norm will be much harder. The best approach may lie in letting parents choose which classes they want to take part in.

Of course, there are some parents who will need extra help and might need to take part in more formal structured classes. There are others with more complex needs, who may be dealing with problems at home or in their own lives that will need a different approach altogether. They might need more dedicated, ongoing, one-to-one support which goes beyond what a parenting class should aim to achieve.

But it is easier to step things up if needed once parents are already taking part in classes, programmes or sessions they see as beneficial. Whether it is a parent’s first aid course, how to cook healthy meals for young children or the best ways to help set boundaries as they grow up.

The Government has signalled that it wants to make parenting classes the norm. It is bound to bring debate and maybe the odd critic. It will need some careful thought to get right and make a positive difference. Giving parents the choice over different classes and ways of learning new skills could be the starting point in getting this right. At least from a parent’s point of view.

*Action for Children spoke to 24 parents at services across England in January and February 2016.

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