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© UNICEF/ LeMoyne
Dad’s delight: A beaming father cradles his newborn

Parent Education – the Holt Model

by Livia Trif – Country Executive Director, Holt Romania

Over the years, many parenting methods and styles have been identified and numerous opinions on parent education voiced both by parents and experts, as well as throughout society.

The notion of parenting competence is today a common one, and there is a tendency to professionalise the role of parent as society continues to develop and more is expected from children and parents.

Parent education is intended to make people less vulnerable. It involves an expert teaching a family parenting skills on a continuing basis.

Parent education can help all kinds of parents without exception, the intention being to build on the person’s inner parenting resources and improve their abilities rather than change their behaviour or existing arrangements.

The parent education programmes developed by Holt Romania – The Foundation of Counselling and Social Services for Children and Families do not aim to perpetuate the myth of the perfect parent, but to promote a realistic image of the joys and challenges of having children, offering parents the chance to get in touch with themselves, improve communication and develop essential parenting skills.

These programmes have been supported by UNICEF since their establishment.

The activities that make up the programmes champion problem prevention, as they focus first on prevention and second on intervention.

Holt Romania-FCSSCF offers support to all parents concerned about child-raising, child development and education, and develops programmes to help them through specific activities: before birth, at birth and after birth.

The activities organised as part of these programmes fall into four categories:

  • Pregnancy counselling
  • “Welcome, baby!”
  • The Training course How to Become Better Parents
  • Meetings with experts

PREGNANCY COUNSELLING is a motivational and support programme for pregnant women, which provides counselling, information and training services during pregnancy.

This component aims to prepare mothers for the arrival of their child and to develop a community-based support network for pregnant women.

“WELCOME, BABY!” is a support programme for families who experience the arrival of a new family member – the baby. It informs families and directs them to resources, thereby helping increase parents’ capacity to provide the best conditions for their child’s development and to reduce any risk factors for abuse, neglect and the child being taken into care or abandoned.

The key support is positive contact provided through visits to mothers in the maternity ward immediately after they have given birth as well as by handing out specific materials and information.

HOW TO BECOME BETTER PARENTS: within this component, training courses are held for different categories of parents.

The main purpose of these classes is to inspire parents to conduct a thorough analysis of their life and the way they relate to their children, to find a wide range of effective alternatives for interaction and choose the right option for their family and children.

The programme is based on the idea that parent education is equally necessary for children’s wellbeing and for the parent’s development and social emancipation.
So, at these meetings, participants are valued as people, rather than just parents. It becomes clear that to know and take care of yourself as a parent makes you feel stronger and comfortable enough with yourself to pay proper attention to your child’s balanced development.

Initially, these classes were held for parents in a crisis situation and who were thus at greater risk of treating their child inappropriately.

The programme run by Holt Romania at this stage is of help to any family suffering from “parenting stress”: adoptive parents, foster carers, single parents, families with HIV-positive or terminally ill children, parents of disabled children, first-time parents, parents having further children (regardless of how many they already have), and so on.

We encourage people to take a positive approach to the “job” of parenting, to help reduce the stress felt by the family, and we aim to reduce the risk of parents taking out their frustration on their children.

Often tired and mired in everyday problems, parents can lose the patience required to listen to children’s never-ending questions and worries, or fail to handle a child’s rebellious behaviour appropriately. In addition, the programme specifically addresses the factors contributing to abuse and neglect (lack of information and parenting skills, lack of aptitude, low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations and flawed understanding of child development or the parent’s role, etc).

Parent meetings are a good way to de-stress and a great opportunity to assess and take care of oneself by developing a more positive and enthusiastic attitude, and the sense of belonging to a group that shares the same joys, worries and concerns. Such meetings help parents see they are not alone in this highly demanding “job”.

Good parenting requires you to give a lot to your child. But it is also about being kind to yourself. A relaxed parent with a high sense of self-worth will be able to cope better in difficult times.

Moreover, group intervention allows us to stop parents feeling socially isolated by giving them the chance to interact with other parents facing similar situations. They get help to set up a support network that can continue after the sessions are over, to access other community resources. This way, they open up and come together; they learn how to motivate themselves and build realistic expectations of their own and their child’s development.

The How to Become Better Parents course is structured on eight sessions of approximately two and a half hours. The sessions have a logical order, focusing on topics such as: self-care, stress and anger management, effective communication, child upbringing/development/stimulation, the importance of play, attachment and participation, and positive discipline.

During these meetings, we make use of various presentation methods and working tools: paper presentations, training packs, videos, group activities, roleplay and interactive talks.

MEETINGS WITH EXPERTS are organised as a natural extension of parent training sessions. They are held with specialists in various areas: psychologists, paediatricians, nutritionists, family planning experts, representatives of schools, priests, etc, who provide information and alternatives and try to answer parents’ concerns.

Holt Romania’s parent education programme does not offer one single solution to all the problems a parent might face in life, but it is definitely a step forward to a new parenting approach, showing that beyond all the challenges, stress and inevitable worries, the “job” of parent is very rewarding, generating great joy and satisfaction.

UNICEF/ Pirozzi / Onwards and upwards: A six-year-old girl ascends a climbing frame, with the help of her mother

Holt Romania/ A job well done: Proud mothers pose with their diplomas after graduating from the How to Become Better Parents course

© UNICEF/ Pirozzi
Alina enjoys a training session
The Need for Better Parenting

by Martha Iliescu - President, Our Children Foundation

For much of the past decade, Romania has felt the need of parent education. The events of December 1989 opened the door to cultural and civilisation aspects that have left a profound mark on everyone’s life, but also brought about dramatic social changes that need to be thoughtfully processed to minimise any future failures.

Parents who were born into an inflexible world with a set value system, into traditional families, are now bringing their own children into a world that is in constant change, with a completely different set of values. Conflicts arise in today’s families (which are gradually breaking from traditions) with worrying frequency; parents fail to overcome communication barriers, with the result that the child is the first to suffer and is more exposed to abuse and neglect. It is therefore important to re-define the knowledge, habits and values on which parents rely to improve their communication with their child, without having to fully give up family values, as the family remains the best environment for a child throughout every stage of its development. The National Parent Education Programme was the answer that the Our Children Foundation (OCF) found in Romania to enhance freedom, understanding and justice for families and to smooth children’s social and school integration.

The National Parent Education Programme is run in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Research and Innovation, county school inspectorates from all over the country and UNICEF. The courses held by the OCF have trained human resources in parenting in every county; locally, the project is continuing with the involvement of district authorities that meet all the costs incurred and with pre-school teacher volunteers. Over 4,400 kindergartens and almost 500 schools across the country have been included in the programme, holding regular parent training sessions using the “Educate Like This!” method. So far, over 76,000 parents have attended the classes.

What is this method all about? First of all, it improves the way parents approach their relationship with their child in the first years of life so as to develop smooth family communication on all levels in the future. The course – a simple method of teaching parents of three- to twelve-year-old children the basic principles of a parent-child relationship in the modern world – helps parents interactively adopt a series of new behaviours, using interesting support materials and games with simple and straightforward messages.

The Our Children Foundation has made available to each school inspectorate numerous copies of the training pack, support materials and video tapes as a means to help the project continue at a local level. The annual increase in the number of parents interested in attending the “Educate Like This!” training course shows how vital such a course is. As a result, arrangements were made to continue the project, to change old mentalities towards childrearing and the role of the child in the family. The Our Children Foundation has published many parenting materials for parents and practitioners alike which are distributed in kindergartens and primary schools and which can also be used for other types of parent meetings.

Given the need to expand and roll out parent training programmes, in the 2005/2006 school year, the Ministry of Education, Research and Innovation took over the Our Children Foundation initiative, and is now leading pre-school teacher training in how to run parent education programmes. At present, the programme has national coverage – to be specific, in each county there are at least 12 “Educate Like This!”-specialised trainers of trainers, who can train other pre-school teachers or even hold parent training sessions.

The fact that this programme is being run in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Research and Innovation guarantees that the project will continue for the long run and be expanded to include an increasing number of kindergartens and primary schools, helping expand parent training programmes in pre-school and primary education.

To assess the impact of the project, the Our Children Foundation has conducted several parent focus groups which revealed real progress in changing parents’ mentalities and parenting styles. According to teachers, the school/kindergarten-family relationship improved significantly as a result of parents’ participation in courses. The fact that the authorities have made parent education a priority in their Government Strategy for 2008-2013 highlights the increased attention being given to all parenting initiatives, of which the consistent, coherent “Educate Like This!” programme is popular with both rural- and urban-dwelling parents.

Future generations will live in a different world from that of their parents and grandparents; we all know it. We have also come to terms with the fact that as parents we are in a period of transition and we stand at a heartbreaking crossroads: emotionally, it is hard for us to detach ourselves once and for all from our own mothers and fathers’ parenting models – so familiar and easy for us to relate to – while rationally we have already identified our duty to protect our children from the abuses that these models were inadvertently perpetuating. Taking the parent-child relationship to another dimension means sometimes having to make painful decisions, to take on responsibilities while knowing that, although there is no perfect method, we cannot just ignore our duty to try to get as close as possible to being the perfect parent. How much of the old parenting should we leave behind? What should we keep? What should we change?

We are no longer facing these questions alone. This inner search has indeed been given external support. Parent education is finally an alternative at hand; we have experts who are ready to help us better understand not only our children, but first of all ourselves, so future generations do not feel as lost as we sometimes did and adopt a more flexible attitude that can make change and easy adjustment possible. The European values that we have embraced inspire us even more to leave behind traumatising parenting and turn the rights of the child from an abstract notion into everyday practice for each one of us.

Our Children Foundation / Meeting of minds: Experts come together to debate key parenting topics






Unite for Children
No 5, 2009

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