Education: Parenting course that helps create happy families

Education: Parenting course that helps create happy families

Alex Galbinski discovers how to create a calmer home environment, courtesy of Norwood

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

An evidence-based parenting course run by Norwood helps parents better connect with their children
An evidence-based parenting course run by Norwood helps parents better connect with their children

As I tell Alison Riffkin, Norwood’s senior family support worker, about a disagreement I’d had with my daughter, and listen to her suggestions of possible ways to have dealt with it, I realise my (over)reaction had escalated the argument.

Alison was telling me about an 11-week Norwood parenting programme called Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities she runs with Vera Hart, a fellow family support worker – and I wanted to sign up on the spot.

The programme, an initiative of the Race Equality Foundation, which takes place at Norwood’s Kennedy Leigh Family Centre in Hendon, is aimed at parents of children aged up to 18 to help them raise “happy and successful” offspring.

The course aims to answer important parenting issues, including how to build a better parent-child relationship, ways to motivate a child, boundary setting, and methods to prevent destructive behaviour.

Parents often come in with one mindset and leave with another, Vera explains. “The majority of parents were asking us to change their children, and then, when they came off the programme, realised it is they who need to change.”

Alison explains the premise of the course. “Its emphasis is on building up the parent-child relationship first by using positive reinforcement strategies, for example, giving clear instructions, spending special time with your child and using descriptive praise. We work backwards, so we start with all the positive strategies in order for the bad behaviour to fizzle out.”

Each three-hour session, for a maximum of 12 participants, uses innovative techniques to get them thinking. “We make it very interactive; we get parents brainstorming, use activities and ice breakers. It’s really fun, and they’re taking something away every week,” says Vera.

Use descriptive praise

“Parents often use phrases such as ‘good boy/girl’ or ‘well done’ to praise”, says Alison, but as this is unspecific, it can be ignored. “By using descriptive praise, you are telling the child exactly what it is that you have liked, and they are then more likely to repeat this action.”

Share special time

According to parenting experts, making time for each child is vital. “Having special time with individual children, hopefully daily, really makes a difference,” explains Vera.

“This can mean 10 minutes of hopefully open-ended conversations, and getting into their world, into what’s important for them. For example, if they’re playing a video game, you could ask whether they identify with their character.”

An evidence-based parenting course run by Norwood helps parents better connect with their children

Acknowledge their feelings

Alison tells me that when a child is acknowledged and validated, they feel noticed, which raises their self-esteem. “In order to acknowledge, parents need to listen to their child (which is very often difficult for parents to do), to get cues about what is going on for them.”

If a child is ‘acting up’ in a certain way, it should be remembered there is always a need behind their behaviour.

“It’s identifying and looking into what the need is,” Alison explains. “When we ask parents what we as adults need on a daily basis, and then what a child needs, it’s almost identical – food, to talk, love, a hug, being listened to and heard.

“All of the above strategies boost the child’s confidence – they will feel valued, noticed and respected, and they are more likely to start being co-operative. Bad behaviours will soon start fizzling out.”

Ignore bad behaviour

“All children love attention, whether positive or negative. Obviously, positive attention is better than negative attention, but negative attention is better than no attention at all,” explains Vera.

Anger fuels anger – it is best to speak when everyone is calm

“By ignoring a child’s inappropriate behaviour and praising the positive (acceptable/ appropriate) behaviour, the child is more likely to repeat the positive. Parents must remember it’s the behaviour that we are ignoring and not the child themselves.”

What if you’re already following most of these techniques, I ask the pair, and they laugh kindly.

“Many parents do say they do a lot of this, but we look at what is working well and what isn’t,” explains Vera.

“It could be their tone of voice or body language – many parents say ‘I spend all day with my child, and yet they still don’t listen’, but we question what time is spent with them and why they aren’t listening.”

Course feedback

The difference between this and other parenting courses on offer in the wider community, Alison tells me, is that Norwood wanted an evidence-based course – one demonstrating that participation results in real and positive change.

“I was not confident on how to tackle issues with my children. Issues were mainly jealousy, lack of happiness, and temper tantrums. Our home has changed for the better.”

The support workers tell me they’ve had parents on the course who were constantly shouting. “But they’ve noticed they are not shouting anymore; they’ve seen how calm their house is and how the children are listening more. It’s an easier environment to live in,” affirms Vera.

Course participants speak of feeling “empowered” in a “non-judgemental and warm atmosphere”. One explained: “I was not confident on how to tackle issues with my children. Issues were mainly jealousy, lack of happiness, and temper tantrums. Our home has changed for the better. I’ve learnt how humans ‘work’, how we process emotional behaviour, how validation is the key to almost everything, and how powerful spending quality time with each child is.”

But it’s not just parents who come, explains Vera; grandparents are now stepping into the childcare breech. “On our last course, we had one grandparent and she told all her friends and we have three grandparents attending our current programme. She said it made such a difference between her and her own child.”

And these skills are not just useful for the parent-child relationship. “The programme gives you lifelong skills that you can also use with adults,” emphasises Alison. “Mothers tell us it has changed their relationship with their husbands as well!”

For details, call Alison Riffkin on 020 8809 8809 email, or visit


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