Becoming a Center for Parent Learning
By BOB SORNSON
Bob Sornson, Ph.D. was a classroom teacher and school administrator for over 30 years, and is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation. He is dedicated to the belief that all children deserve the experience of early learning success, which sets the foundation of successful learning for life. Bob is the author of award winning books for children and adults. Stand Up and Speak Up for Yourself and Others, Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy, and The Juice Box Bully are best-selling illustrated children’s books.
When she stood up I was concerned. In the middle of a presentation to parents she called out, “But that stupid time-out stuff doesn’t work on my kid.”
She was tall and thin, with brown frizzy hair and a look of tiredness all about her. She was oblivious to the looks from the crowd as she faced me and demanded to be heard.
“My four year old won’t stay in time-out. He just screams at me and kicks, and when I put him in his room and hold the door he urinates on the door!”
And that was when I began to love this woman. Sure, she was angry and inappropriate, but can you imagine the bravery it takes to come to a parenting training with feelings of inadequacy and distrust? Can you imagine telling the world your tiny little boy is so angry that he urinates against the door to get his way? My heart went to her like a magnet. Maybe it was empathy. Maybe I sensed that she was struggling with all her might to find a way to raise her boy to be a wonderful man.
Walking closer to her, I tried to respond. “Oh, that must be so difficult. What else is going on with your boy?”
In front of a medium sized crowd she told me that she was a single mom, and her boy had been kicked out of preschool, and that she did not know how to control him. This was the first night of a three session parenting series, and I hoped I could teach her the basic skills to help raise her son in a calm, respectful, loving home. I asked her if she had anyone to help her, even someone to talk to about the problems at home. She said no, so I found her a wonderful woman in the audience who would be there for her when she needed help.
I prayed she would come to the next session, and she did. I prayed she would come to the final session, and she did.
What a blessing to be able to share basic parenting skills with people who are bravely looking for solutions which can help them raise strong, successful and happy children.
A parent called me up at work. “Those lousy teachers at my school don’t care about my son. They’re not helping him a bit.”
“Tell me more about what’s going on with your son,” I responded.
And she did. He has problems with social skills, she yelled into the phone. “And he can’t handle transitions.” I pressed for details, but most of what I got in return was anger. Promising to call her back before the end of the day, I offered to investigate. When I called the classroom teacher she told me that Patrick was a strong-willed and over-indulged boy in her second grade class who had been a problem for the first week of school, but who then settled in nicely to the classroom routine and expectations. He was doing well in all areas of academics, and was socially adequate. “But Bob,” she further explained, “Patrick is running the show at home. He’s a tyrant. He argues, never goes to time-out, eats what he wants, and never does a chore. His mom really needs some help. But she is a good person who really loves her son.”
At the end of the day when I called Patrick’s mom again she was a little calmer. I learned that social skill problems meant none of the children in the neighborhood would play with Patrick. I learned that transition problems meant she could never get him ready to go out in a timely manner. Whether she was trying to get him to go to the store or to school, he would stall and procrastinate and make her late. He refused to turn off the video, and he refused to put on his shoes.
“What do you do when he won’t even put on his shoes?” I asked.
“I’ve tried everything. I scream and threaten. I try to tell him how important it is to get ready. There is only one thing that works. Every time it is important that he gets ready to go, I pay him a dollar and then he’ll put on his shoes.”
Patrick is a genius. How many kids have figured out how to get paid to put on their shoes? Knowing that a phone conversation was not going to be enough, I invited Patrick’s mother to come to my office for a consultation. A few days later, I met her. She was educated, well-dressed, articulate and absolutely confused about how to help her son. Fear underlies anger. She was afraid she might fail her beautiful boy. We made friends, and I hooked her up with a parenting class facilitated by one of our great district workers. Life as he knew it began to change for Patrick.
Parents are reaching out. Some reach out graciously, while others are fearful and unsure. There was a time when helping these parents was not the responsibility of those of us who work in the schools. But those days are gone.
Many parents lack strong networks of support as they learn to raise their children. Often they are embarrassed to ask for help, unsure of who to trust, alienated from schools or other institutions, or just plain confused. Helping parents is no longer an option. The importance of helping kids learn to self-regulate, to calm themselves, persist, focus, and delay gratification, makes it imperative that we reach out to parents effectively enough to build connection get parents to learn with us.
Bob Sornson, Ph.D. was a classroom teacher and school administrator for over 30 years, and is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation. He is dedicated to the belief that all children deserve the experience of early learning success, which sets the foundation of successful learning for life. Bob is the author of award winning books for children and adults. Stand Up and Speak Up for Yourself and Others, Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy, and The Juice Box Bully are best-selling illustrated children’s books. His professional works include Fanatically Formative: Successful Learning during the Crucial K-3 Years, Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach, and many other books on parenting and early learning success.
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