When Bridget Williamston got into an argument recently with her 17-year-old son, she felt desperate and unable to communicate properly with the teenager.
“This is the first time I’ve had a teenager that age,” Williamston explained.
A mother of three children, Williamston found herself yelling when trying to have discussions with her son. She thought the louder she got, the better he would listen. Instead, she saw that raising her voice made her son angrier, preventing them from having a real conversation.
So, when Williamston noticed an advertisement for free parenting classes at Capital Area Human Services, she thought, “maybe there is another way I could handle that.”
She arrived at her first class in October, feeling unsure if she was ready to commit to the course. Williamston was told to come to just one session to get a feel for everything, then decide for herself if continuing through the entire curriculum was worth it.
To her surprise, it was.
“I learned a lot,” she said. “Everybody there was free to express themselves. Some people had the same situation that was similar to you — it made you feel like you’re not the only one dealing with certain issues.”
These Parenting Wisely classes, developed by an organization called Family Works Inc., have been hosted only a handful of times by Capital Area Human Services. But Melissa Martin, director of CAHS children’s behavioral health services, said the organization has found the lessons effective for parents struggling to navigate their children’s rocky years, from preteen to adolescence.
“It’s to promote more effective parenting and be able to handle typical teen and pre-teen problems that come up in a typical household,” Martin said. “And hopefully preventing further problems from occurring, such as substance use, and violence and aggression — things like that.”
While the program is hosted at the CAHS clinic, the classes are led by Patricia H. Norwood, executive director of Mirror of Grace Outreach, a local nonprofit focused on providing educational programs in the community. Each module is designed to equip parents with the tools to guide their children through difficult situations the average family deals with on a regular basis.
“It’s about parents having relationships and being able to communicate and talk to them, and getting the kids feeling comfortable enough to come back and tell them,” Norwood said.
The courses will be offered again at the beginning of December, with room for 8-10 parents per class over the course of three sessions. Aiding in issues ranging from sibling conflict to family chores, the evidence-based modules involve watching scenarios unfold and then discussing how to handle them with other parents.
Martin said the videos may show a few typical ways a parent may handle a situation, such as setting a curfew, and can address issues parents encounter with children of all ages, not just teenagers.
“They’ll have some discussion about each scenario as they go along, then they’ll present a more effective way to handle the situation,” Martin said. “Teaching some communication skills, different parenting techniques or discipline techniques to help them handle the situation more effectively.”
There is no teacher for these classes, but Norwood acts as a facilitator to help parents explore the complexities of each challenging scenario.
“The way our parents raised us is different, so they can only go by what they know,” Norwood said. “And by taking the class, (parents) get to learn some different strategies and different ways they can better understand how to interact.”
Williamston said she liked taking home the course book in case she wanted to review the lessons later.
“It wasn’t hard,” she said. “They made you feel comfortable.”
Norwood emphasized that making a deliberate effort to use the strategies the parents have learned is key to getting the most out of the classes.
“That’s one thing I tell them to do,” Norwood said. “You can’t expect the change just because you came to the class. You’ve got to apply the skills.”
CAHS reports the program has been proven to reduce drug and alcohol use, verbal and physical aggression and problem behaviors to improve family relationships. However, Martin added that this program, while helpful, won’t fix every problem families experience with their children.
“If parents feel like things that are going on with their child or their family are more extensive than what this program addresses once they go through it, our clinic certainly offers more intensive services where we treat behavioral health,” Martin said.
As for Williamston, she is glad she went to the first class, which made all the difference.
“Just come to that one class to see if you’re interested,” she said. “Even one class will do good.”
The next session is scheduled on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 at the Capital Area Human Services, Children's Behavioral Health Services, 4615 Government St., Building 1, in Baton Rouge. To register, call CAHS at (225) 922-0445 or Mirror of Grace at (225) 300-4528.