Parents upgrading their skills

Course: Couples are finding that `Children: the Challenge' gives them `tools' to better interact with their children.

January 30, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Before they become parents, couples might imagine their baby will be a docile, cooperative child. But for many families that fantasy never materializes.

From the moment their infant arrives, he or she is a "bad" sleeper, colicky or just plain grumpy. By the time the child is a toddler, it is clear that this kid is strong-willed. Parents often are unprepared for such children, ones who constantly challenge adults.

Michelle Fink, an at-home mother in Clarksville, said she "was about to go crazy" with her two young children, so she decided to get help by going back to school. Fink is a graduate of "Children: the Challenge," a parental skills course held at Slayton House in Columbia. "These classes have given me tools to use when I don't know what to do," she said.

Run by longtime parent-educator Eva Skrenta, the 10-session course is based on the principles of "democratic parenting." Children are given freedom, within limits. A child decides which chores he or she will help with, but is only given options that are age-appropriate.

Lynne and Scott Quinn of Woodbine also are graduates.

"My daughter is very strong-willed," Scott Quinn said. "We wanted to figure out a way to rein her back in, to parent her better."

What they learned surprised them. "My whole idea was I was going to change them, to fix whatever was wrong with them," Lynne Quinn said. "I was shocked that I was the one who changed. Taking that ... class helped me to look at her in a much more positive light."

Whereas she used to label her daughter "willful," Lynne Quinn now calls her "full of life."

"I think it's helping her in the way she feels about herself," she said.

Skrenta, of Wilde Lake, knows what Fink and the Quinns are experiencing. When her kids were young, she had no family nearby. She became more easily frustrated. A counselor recommended a parental skills course. "When I changed my behavior, their behavior changed," Skrenta said. "I found this whole thing absolutely fascinating, mind-blowing."

She enjoyed studying human behavior so much that she earned a master's degree in education.

Fink said Skrenta's background makes classes successful. "First and foremost, she's a parent," Fink said. "She's one of us."

Those who take the class, and Skrenta, are expected to share their experiences as parents.

Cathy Sagrillo, a stay-home mother in Columbia, appreciated Skrenta's openness in the course.

"She started from the same place everybody else has: frustrated, perplexed, at wit's end," Sagrillo said. "My husband and I ran out of ideas of how to deal with power struggles."

But after taking the classes, "the power struggles disappeared," she said.

Skrenta uses a practical approach. "Parents have always been busy," she said. "A hundred years ago, both parents worked the farm. I teach the concept of special time. You don't have to spend time with your children all day long, but they need guaranteed time with you, one-on-one."

Skrenta, a one-time teacher, said anyone who works with children use this idea. "Teachers can walk around the classroom, point out what they're doing well," she said. "That's what motivates kids."

Educators often take the course. Child care providers can earn credits toward certification, and teachers who take Skrenta's classes can receive continuing education credits.

Mary Jane Sasser, a teacher at River Hill High School, attended a workshop with her daughter in mind. But she quickly brought the ideas into her classroom.

"Teachers are expected to evaluate students on a daily basis," Sasser said. "Eva teaches you to be concrete [in praising and criticizing kids]. It's made me a much more effective teacher."

Skrenta offers three levels of the course and a Saturday seminar on such topics as discipline and dealing with power struggles.

Fink said she would recommend the course to anyone. "What I walk away with is to remember that we all deserve our equal respect," she said. "Children may be small, but they do have minds."

Information: 410-730-3987.

Parental links

Related Web sites

Suggested reading

"The Challenge of Parenthood," by Dr. Rudolf A. Dreikurs.

"Children: The Challenge," by Dr. Rudolf A. Dreikurs.

"The Parent's Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting," by Don Dinkmeyer Sr., Gary D. McKay and Don Dinkmeyer Jr.

"Positive Discipline A-Z," by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott & H. Stephen Glenn.

"P.E.T. Parent Effectiveness Training," by Dr. Thomas Gordon.

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