I have started a parenting course: the Webster-Stratton Incredible Years Parenting Course, to be precise. As with the NCT classes four years ago, this is not so much because I feel any great need to learn about the subject matter (reading parenting books and discussing parenting issues on Internet lists qualify, by this point in my life, as my hobbies), but because I think it sounds like a fun way of meeting people. After all these years of discussing parenting on the 'Net, I figured it would be good to get to do it with face-to-face, with people with whom I could potentially get together for a coffee later. I was a bit dubious about the appropriateness of taking a place on a parenting course on that basis – what if I thereby deprived a woman who really did want to learn more about parenting skills of a place? – but, although I wasn't quite that blunt about my reasons when I spoke to the person running the course about starting, I did say I'd become interested because I thought it would be good to meet other parents and talk about parenting, and she didn't seem to think it would be any sort of an issue. As it turned out, there are only four of us in the group anyway, so I think it fair to say that my presence there is not preventing anyone else who wants to from squeezing in.
Anyway, when I googled the course to find out more about it, I found a lot of links advertising courses in different parts of the world, but none from anyone giving the inside scoop on what it was like to attend (other than the obligatory glowing quotes about how helpful it had been). I thought it might therefore be interesting to report back on what we learned each week, for the benefit of anyone else who's googling it. One problem with that which I hadn't anticipated is that there turned out to be a confidentiality rule about what gets discussed in the meetings – this seems perfectly reasonable to me, so I will refrain from giving any details about the women there or any specifics of any problems anyone else discusses.
I also ran into some practical hassles – I had to go to the butcher after dropping Katie off at nursery and before going to the first meeting, meaning I arrived ten minutes late, and then I had to leave an hour early to let the plumber in to fix our boiler at home. So, unfortunately, what I can tell you about the first session is rather limited. Here's what I did manage to get:
The class started with an outline of what we would cover that week (this is the first bit I missed, but I saw it when the class leader turned the page of the flipchart back over) and then went on to detailed introductions, in which we each in turn gave our names, our children's names and ages, a brief summary of the kinds of problems we had with them, and what we hoped to get out of the course. As well as the four of us and Helen, the person leading the group, there was another staff member there; I haven't found out whether she's officially there as a second group leader or whether she's sitting in to learn more about the course for herself. We then brainstormed ground rules for the group – confidentiality, respect for others, and so forth. The leader then showed us a picture of a pyramid divided into levels to illustrate the ways in which the course would build up our knowledge, starting at the most fundamental level, which was 'Play'. On that foundation, we will build up in subsequent weeks to discussing such issues as emotional coaching, communication, rewards, limit setting, and finally discipline (though blessed if I can figure out what would be left under that final heading that won't already have been covered under all the others – oh, well, we shall see).
Our task for this first week, Helen explained (we will, it appears, have one each week on which we report back the following week), will be to focus on playing with each child for ten minutes. We start on this before addressing any specific behaviours we want to change, because giving children that chance for our undivided positive attention provides the foundation we need for changing anything. Connection with our children is one of the most powerful tools we have in working constructively with them.
We had a bit of a discussion about the practicalities of this task (how to manage it when we have more than one child, or when the child wants to play with someone else instead of us), which wandered off a bit into some discussion of some of the problems another mother was having, and then we went on to brainstorming about the benefits of play, such as connection with the child and fostering imagination. And then, I had to leave to let the plumber in. From what I saw on the flipchart, the rest of the group then went on to discussing barriers to play, followed by six vignettes. Oh, well – maybe I'll get updated on that when I go back this Friday. Meanwhile, the boiler is now working perfectly well after having the filters cleaned, and the butcher is now back to working on Saturday mornings as well after his holiday, so I should be able to make the full sessions for subsequent weeks. Here's hoping.