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From strength to strengthe

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From

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Pat Jewell & Prue Blackmore

ACER Press


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Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for
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First published 2004
by ACER Press
Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd
19 Prospect Hill Road, Camberwell, Victoria, 3124
Copyright © Pat Jewell, Prue Blackmore 2004
All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Copyright Act 1968 of
Australia and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers.
Edited by Renée Otmar, Otmar Miller Consultancy Pty Ltd
Cover and text design by Polar Design Pty Ltd
Printed by BPA Print Group.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:
Jewell, Pat.
From strength to strength : a manual for professionals who
facilitate diverse parent groups.
Bibliography.
ISBN 0 86431 531 7.
1. Self-help groups - Management - Handbooks, manuals, etc.
2. Parenting - Study and teaching. 3. Family life
education. I. Blackmore, Prue. II. Title.
361.40715

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Foreword
Each life is a leaf on the tree of humanity, each leaf contributing to the tree by converting light
into energy. In its turn the tree, through its roots in the earth, sustains each leaf. When it is time
for the leaf to fall, it nourishes the soil from which the roots of the tree draw their strength. The
parent-child relationship is at the heart of the process of generativity, the vital link in the
intergenerational chain. We are shaped but not determined by our parents, and we in turn,
shape but do not determine our children. How we as parents nurture our children is of
fundamental importance but there are other influences at work, ranging from the unique
genetic predisposition of each individual through to the spirit of the age in which we live.
Today in many societies there is a crisis of confidence in relation to parenthood. Being a
mother or a father is devalued as individuals are increasingly defined by occupational status and
materialistic markers. Some parents are torn between the demands of the workplace and their
children. Children need to spend time with those who love them. Other parents have no
workplace – one in seven Australian children now lives in a household in which there is no adult
employed in the workforce and there is a deep despair in the lives of many of these parents.
Children need to be nurtured in hope.
The emergence over the past century of the notion of the child as a psychological being has
created an expectation of the perfect parent, and inhibited some parents from setting clear and
consistent limits. Paradoxically, many ‘parent education’ courses or what sometimes seem to be
‘parenting propaganda courses’ have eroded parental confidence even further.
It is wonderful to come across an approach to enhancing the abilities of parents that is
based on their strengths, not their weaknesses, and which recognises that families come in all
shapes and sizes. It is very unusual to find an inclusive approach which tries to address the
needs of all parents, including those who are living in prison or struggling with mental health
or substance dependence problems. Pat Jewell and Prue Blackmore have worked with parents
from all backgrounds and there is a special warmth and wisdom to what they have to say about
facilitating parent groups.
Last but not least, they remind us that strong families need strong communities.We have all
become familiar with the African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child, but it is now
time for us all to ask ‘and what does each of us have to do to rebuild the village?’. Across
Australia parents are being connected with one another to rebuild a village for their children
and for themselves – in new parent groups facilitated by maternal and child health nurses, in
playgroups facilitated by early childhood educators, and in groups for parents who want to
come together and explore how they might build on their strengths in doing what will always
be the most important job in our lives – nurturing a new leaf on the tree of humanity.
Associate Professor Dorothy Scott, OAM
Head, School of Social Work
University of Melbourne


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The Diversity Creed
I believe that diversity is a part of the natural order of things—as natural as the trillion
shapes and shades of the flowers of spring or the leaves of autumn.
I believe that diversity brings new solutions to an ever-changing environment,
and that sameness in not only uninteresting but limiting.
To deny diversity is to deny life—with all its richness and many opportunities.
Thus, I affirm my citizenship in a world of diversity and with it the responsibility to …
• Be tolerant. Live and let live. Understand that those who cause no harm
should not be feared, ridiculed, or harmed—even if they are different.
• Look for the best in others.
• Be just in my dealings with poor and rich, weak and strong and whenever
possible to defend the young, the old, the frail and the defenseless.
• Avoid needless conflicts and diversions, but be always willing to change for the
better that which can be changed.
• Seek knowledge in order to know what can be changed, as well as what cannot
be changed.
• Forge alliances with others who love liberty and justice.
• Be kind, remembering how fragile the human spirit is.
• Live the examined life, subjecting my motives and actions to the scrutiny of
mind and heart so to rise above prejudice and hatred.
• Care.
by Gene Griessman © 1993 [www.theamericans.us]

We have included The Diversity Creed because it is about embracing and acknowledging the
many different pathways parents can take. This manual acknowledges diversity and provides
facilitators with a practical and flexible ‘mix and match’ resource with which to enhance the
capacity of parents.
Prue and Pat


Acknowledgements
We would like to thank all the parents we have been privileged to meet and learn from
over the past twenty years. Their trust in us, their openness in sharing their hopes, dreams
and issues has provided us with many humbling and enriching experiences. Even in
stressful circumstances, parents have shown determination and strength in their dreams
for their children. We have learned that all parents everywhere have one thing in
common: they all want the best for their children.
Many friends and colleagues have been involved with this project, and we thank them:
Jo Goldsworthy, who first approached us with the idea to write the manual and whose
patience was tested as many deadlines came and went.
Constance Jenkin, whose professional contribution to the parenting field has been a
guiding light for many—particularly the group-process framework, as developed in her
manual Planning Happy Families: A kit for leaders (1988, C.A. Jenkin) which we have
referred to throughout this manual.
Melinda Moore, for her creative genius in naming the manual.
Professionals with expertise in specific fields who were asked to review the specialist
modules; we thank them for their time, comments and contributions: Georgina Aldersea,
Carolyn Corran, Catharine Hydon, Steve Martin, Julian McNally, Vicki Ross,
Marina Stammers, Anne Stringer, Carol Taylor, Cathie Valentine and Bobby Yates.


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Contents
Glossary

1
2

xi

SECTION 1: How to use this manual
Introduction
Social change—its impact on parents and parenting
Steps to establishing a parent group

1
3
10

SECTION 2: Background information for core modules

3

Preparation and background information
Child development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing

29
31
35
37
39

SECTION 3: Session content for core modules
0–5 years
Child development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing

43
43
47
50
53

6–10 years
Child development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing

57
57
61
64
67

11–14 years
Child development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing

70
70
73
76
80

15–18 years
Adolescent development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing

83
83
86
89
92

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SECTION 4: Additional and optional topics

5

Introduction
Bullying
Homework
Loss and grief
Siblings
Transition stages

97
98
101
104
109
112

SECTION 5: Specialist modules
Introduction
Preparation for specialist parent groups

115
119

Parents with similar backgrounds or issues
Adolescent parents
Indigenous Australian parents
Parenting grandchildren
Parenting in a step- or blended family
Parents from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
Parents with children with additional needs
Caring for children in out-of-home care
Sole parents

125
129
133
137
141
146
152
156

Parents in crisis situations
Parenting after violence in the home
Parents in prison or on remand
Parents involved with statutory child welfare services
Parents with an intellectual disability
Parents with a mental illness
Parents with substance-abuse issues

159
163
167
171
178
181


Glossary
Active listening
Can assist people in learning how to listen and can help the speaker to feel supported and
empowered in their problem solving (for full description see page 38).
Adult learning principles
Throughout the manual we use adult learning principles as a framework for working with
adults in a respectful manner (for full description see page 13).
Brainstorming
Uses parents’ own knowledge and ideas to generate solutions for issues that arise in the
group. All solutions need to focus on enhancing and strengthening the relationship between
parents and children (explained in the context of pressing issues on page 15).
There is an issue or a topic to discuss.
All parents are asked to think of ideas, thoughts or solutions.
The facilitator’s role is to listen, lead discussion and keep a positive, strength-based focus.
Parents only contribute if they want to; all contributions are acknowledged by the
facilitator and reframed in the positive if necessary.
Parents take away what they need from the suggestions and discussions.
Positive reframing
Parents often enter a parenting group with a focus on the negative, ‘what isn’t working’
issues they are experiencing with their children. When a parenting group focuses only on
what is going wrong, this is described as a ‘deficit model’ (see page 7).
This manual works from a strength-based model, which uses positive reframing as one
of its tools. Positive reframing is the rephrasing of negative, unhelpful comments or
suggestions into positive and helpful language. For example, a parent may feel that she or
he spends all day saying “no” and being cross with the children. The parent feels upset and
negative about his or her ability to parent. The facilitator acknowledges that all parents feel
like this sometimes and then reflects with the parent on what she or he did well through the
day. This reframing helps the parent to feel more positive about his or her parenting, and
to put the negative times into perspective.
Parenting adolescents can be a stressful time for parents who feel ‘attacked’ and ‘put
down’ by their adolescent.The facilitator can reassure parents that the adolescent’s behaviour
is a normal developmental stage. The group can then work on ways of understanding
adolescents and supporting them through this stage.
Pressing issues
This process is used to invite issues (that are concerning one parent) to be shared and
worked through in the group within a contained time frame. This enables the parent with
the issue to feel listened to and supported, and encourages parents to contribute their ideas
and solutions (for full discussion see pages 15–16 and handout on page 25).
Questions—closed and open-ended
Closed questions are those that require a one-word answer; for example, when a ‘yes’ or ‘no’
response is required.
Open-ended questions allow and encourage the respondent to share as much as she or
he wishes to (see examples on pages 18–19).
Often, parents want a lot of information from their child but ask a closed question instead
of an open-ended one. For example, when the child returns from school the parent asks,

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“Did you learn anything today?”. This only invites the child to respond with “yes” or “no”,
while in fact the parent was hoping for much more information. In this example, an openended question to the child could be, “What was the best thing that happened to you at
school today?”. This then invites more communication between the parent and the child.
Role plays
Role plays involve experiential learning. Parents take on roles (other than their own) and
act out situations and scenarios. The role-playing process allows parents to experience how
situations may be seen from a different point of view, which may then generate some
alternative solutions.
The facilitator needs to be sure to use only volunteers and to ensure, at the end of the
role play, that parents are carefully taken out of their role by clearly stating who they are and
one way in which they differ from the character they portrayed in the role play.
Sometimes, a role-play situation arises spontaneously from the group and is treated as
such. Other role plays may come with a script that volunteers act out. Both need to include
time for ‘debriefing’, as explained above.
Self care
It is our belief that in order to parent children in a way that is nurturing, loving, teaching
and guiding, the parent/carer first has to take care of her or himself. There are many
activities throughout this manual which encourage parents to take care of themselves.
Solution focus
This manual guides facilitators to approach issues and situations that parents bring up in
the group by looking for solutions, rather than focusing on problems.This process does not
minimise the problem but assists parents in thinking of solutions themselves by working
from a strength-based perspective (see page 7).
Strength-based approach
A strength-based approach to working with parents aims to strengthen relationships
between parents and children, and to build on the strengths and skills that parents
already have. Every parent has strengths, but some parents tend to focus primarily on their
deficits. A strength-based approach starts with the positive—what exists—rather than
assuming a negative perspective that focuses on what is missing (for a full discussion, see
pages 7 and 30).
Time out
When parents move away from a potentially volatile situation with a child. This shows
the parent taking control of her or his own behaviour and emotions and provides
a good role model for the child (for a full discussion see page 36, or see
www.naturalchild.org/guest/peter_haiman.html
Trauma
In this manual, trauma is described as the emotional impact of an unforeseen or unexpected
event over which people have no control. Common reactions to trauma can have an effect
on the emotional, physical and intellectual wellbeing of the person, and may cause changes
in children’s behaviour. Trauma is therefore not defined in a medical sense; for a reference,
see www.headroom.net.au/family/parents_trauma.html
Win–win situation
This occurs when all parties are prepared to give and take, compromise and listen to other
points of view, in order that everyone feels satisfied with the outcome. Everyone involved
needs to be able to envisage the end result and be able to take responsibility for what she or
he can sacrifice or compromise to reach the win–win outcome.

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Section

1

How to use this
manual
Introduction

1

Social change—its impact on parents
and parenting

3

The professionalisation of parent education in Australia

4

A strength-based approach to parenting

7

Community building in parenting

7

References

8

Resources

8

Steps to establishing a parent group

10

Preparation

10

Facilitation of the group

11

Parent group aims and objectives

12

Adult learning principles

13

Session outlines

14

First session for all core modules

17

Stages of group development

19

Group participants

21

Evaluation of the group

23

References

24

Resources

24

Handouts

25


Introduction
Parents seek support with their parenting by attending parent groups for a wide range of
reasons. The continuum starts with the ‘worried well’; those parents who are well resourced
(socially, emotionally and financially) and who often have a formal education and children who
fit within the ‘normal’ range of development and behaviour. For these parents, a parent group
can enable them to strengthen their parenting approaches and ideas. A parent group can
increase parental confidence by normalising children’s behaviour and parents’ feelings about
the behaviour.
At the other end of the continuum are those parents who are struggling with one or more
major, chronic long-term issues such as homelessness (or lack of stable, long-term housing),
financial insecurity and mental illness or substance abuse. For these parents, various services
and supports are most often involved with one or more family members. Such services and
supports can be episodic, not always voluntary and often uncoordinated in their approach to
service delivery and the type of intervention received.
Many parents attending a parent group fall somewhere in between these two extremes, with
support often required mostly at critical transition or change stages in the family life cycle: baby
to toddlerhood, starting school and the challenges of adolescence, for example.
All parents and families wish the best for their children and want to see them grow into fine
adults. All parents have strengths in their parenting and can find creative solutions for most
parenting issues they encounter. This manual is full of information and ideas to resource
facilitators working to assist parents in building on their existing strengths and adding to their
creative solutions.
From Strength to Strength is designed for facilitators of parent groups who are (or who want
to be) working with a wide and varied range of parents in group work situations. The manual
is structured so that facilitators can design their own parenting groups according to the needs
of participants.
Four core module chapters are included to ensure that the most commonly requested topics
by parents are covered, these being:
Child development
Behaviour and discipline
Communication
Emotional wellbeing
Children grow and develop rapidly from newly born to the time at which they achieve
adulthood—the age of eighteen. Within these eighteen years are distinct developmental periods
that can be grouped together. The core modules listed above are also structured to match
children’s developmental stages:
0 to 5 years—baby, toddler and pre-schooler
5 to 10 years—primary school years
11 to 15 years—onset of puberty and early adolescence
15 to 18 years—middle to late adolescence
It is not necessary for facilitators to cover all four of these core modules in the course of a
parent group. From a strength-based perspective, and utilising principles of adult learning,
group participants (the parents) should always inform the content of the group sessions, the

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topics covered and the order of their focus. A series of additional or optional topics which may
be identified by parents are also included for use if nominated by parents.The additional topics
covered are:
Bullying
Homework
Loss and grief
Siblings
Transition stages
This manual has been designed to assist in resourcing facilitators to meet the diverse needs of
parents in the twenty-first century. For facilitators wanting to offer a parent group for parents
with specific or specialised needs, this manual includes fourteen specialist modules. The
specialised modules all include ‘before you begin’ information for facilitators to consider prior
to facilitating a parent group. In addition, the specialised modules include a detailed ‘first
session’ which facilitators can use as a guide for the commencement of the parent group.
Resources have been included at the end of each core module and following all of the
specialised modules and additional topics. These resources are generally readily available in
libraries and bookshops that specialise in the human services.
These resources do not comprise a comprehensive list for each of the modules and topics;
resources are constantly being created and made available, and it is expected that facilitators
keep up to date to ensure they are able to meet the needs of each parent group.
Interactive resources have also been cited throughout the manual as invaluable tools for use
in parent groups. In particular, St. Luke’s Innovative Resources are often mentioned because
they are designed to help you focus on strength-based activities. For example, St. Luke’s
Strength Cards, which consist of a set of postcard-sized cards, are illustrated with animated cats
and dogs and have an adjective printed in large letters at the bottom of each card. These
adjectives all relate to positive characteristics, and can be used in numerous ways in a parent
group; for example, the facilitator might spread out the Strength Cards on the floor and ask each
parent to choose two strengths that describe her or him as a parent, or the facilitator could ask
each parent to choose a strength he or she would like to develop as a parent and a strength that
one of her or his children has, and so on. Similarly, the Photolanguage set can be used to help
evoke participants’ thoughts and emotions. Photolanguage consists of a set of black and white
photographs depicting a wide range of scenes and situations. Parents might be asked to choose
photos that remind them of their childhood experiences, or photos that relate to how they
feel right now. When using the interactive resources, ensure that all parents have a choice
about participating in the exercises, and that the group hears contributions that are framed in
a positive manner.
All of the core modules, additional topics and specialised modules are written in a way that
enables facilitators to ‘mix and match’. Parent groups may be individually designed and
delivered according to the needs and requests of the parents in that particular group. No two
groups will ever be designed or delivered in the same way, making each group a unique
experience.

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change—its impact
Social
on parents and parenting
Traditionally, parents learned their parenting skills by observing and experiencing their own
parents, extended families, friends and communities. Family groupings were fairly similar
within communities, and parenting ideas and styles comparable. Values such as respect and
courtesy were commonplace, and expected behaviours for both adults and children were clearcut, constant and known.
In the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s, with the expansion of the manufacturing,
retail and service industries, families and communities were separated as adults moved out of
the family home to go to work. More families lived in closer proximity to their workplaces than
to extended family and friendship networks. Family functioning underwent enormous changes,
with the nuclear family becoming the most common family unit.
Changes in the cultural transmission of parenting skills today are the result of both
psychological and geographical shifts from the family of origin to the family of procreation.
Combined with the reduction of connectedness and involvement with extended family and
the community, there have been many other changes impacting on family, community and
societal structures. The changing role of women in the community has resulted in many
mothers participating actively in full- or part-time employment outside the home, leaving
dependent children to be cared for in a range of settings. This is in direct contrast to earlier
decades in which the family unit comprised a male breadwinner and a female
homemaker/housewife.
The rising divorce rate in Australia today (currently one in three marriages breaks down)
means that many children are being raised in non-nuclear, single-parent, blended or stepfamilies. Today’s parents are questioning many of the values, attitudes and beliefs that their
parents imparted to them while growing up.
The human rights movement has encouraged children to adapt to the changing culture
in which they are growing up. Parenting approaches that were applied a generation ago do
not necessarily apply to children today, or are no longer relevant. Children growing up in
Westernised countries are less submissive and more confident, questioning and challenging of
their parents than were previous generations.
The explosion in the information technology sector has had a profound effect on the way we
communicate. The Internet as a gateway to the world wide web and mobile telephone use have
become affordable, acceptable and indeed, indispensable tools for most Australian families.
Mary Pipher, in her book The Shelter of Each Other—Rebuilding our families (1996),
describes today’s electronic culture as ‘deconstructing’ childhood. Children have as much
information about the world as their parents do and, as a result, parents are losing that role of
“having knowledge that children do not know and have access to” (Pipher 1996). Pipher
attributes the selfishness that is seen in today’s children in part to advertising. Advertisements
which target children focus on their egocentricity, telling children what they need and deserve,
and encouraging them to ask for or demand it. These consumer messages are powerful and
cause disruption to the values some parents are attempting to teach within their families of
caring for others and sharing.
Children cannot be blamed for their behaviour when they are mimicking the world around
them. Many adults are worried about the world in which we live and would like it to be
different. The family, however, in its many different forms, is still acknowledged as the best
institution in which to raise children.
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Increasingly, parents have been looking outside their family of origin for support, direction,
skills and strategies needed for raising children. As attitudes and values change, today’s parents
are finding that the information and support traditionally received from their family of origin
does not meet the needs of their family today.

The professionalisation of parent education
in Australia
The twentieth century saw the emergence and growth of a range of professions to inform,
investigate and advise parents in their roles as caregivers of babies and children. As women
increasingly left the home to participate in paid work, professionals such as psychologists,
doctors, teachers and social workers variously attempted to make ‘scientific’ the study of child
development, both physical and psychological. These professionals replaced the traditional role
of family, friends and the church in parent education and childcare.This process set up a divide
between professionals and parents that disempowered and devalued parents, causing them to
be unsure and uncertain about their role as parent.
Psychology as a science and as a profession first emerged in the middle of last century.
Freud’s psychoanalytic theories revolutionised the ways in which people saw themselves,
and had a huge impact in medical circles. Freud identified the unconscious as apart from
the conscious and described behaviour in dynamic and goal-directed terms. Freud opened
up previously non-existent ways of viewing behaviour, especially in terms of unconscious
motivation. This created major societal interest about what was emotionally, socially and
developmentally ‘normal’.
Freud’s psychoanalytical theories gave rise to Adlerian psychology, which provided a basis
for the first packaged parenting programs. These were the popular and widespread STEP
(Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and PET (Parent Effectiveness Training) parent
education programs developed in the 1960s and 1970s.These programs were highly structured
and based on therapeutic models of intervention. Parents attended a parent group in order
to learn from ‘experts’. By virtue of their structure and content, STEP and PET were most
relevant to middle-class, formally educated parents.
STEP and PET had sound psychological principles, and they introduced the concept of
parents applying consequences for children’s unwanted behaviours, rather than unrelated
punishments. Over time, however, it has become apparent that both the STEP and PET
programs had limitations in their orientation and their rigid adherence to particular strategies.

The evolution of formal parent education
In 1980, at the beginning of what can be identified as the contemporary parent education
movement, Fine (1980) defined parent education as “a systematic and conceptually based
program, intended to impart information, awareness, or skills to the participants on aspects
of parenting”.
In response to a perceived need for parent education and support, parent education
programs with varying degrees of structure and content were developed from the 1980s by
professional practitioners for parents in the general community.
Parents today utilise a range of resources, including parent education group programs,
books, newspaper columns, television programs, lectures and forums, to address the needs that
the extended family once fulfilled.
Parent facilitators and educators in Australia have increasingly adapted and modified
existing packaged programs, and have developed and tailored their own programs to meet the
needs of a diverse range of parents. Examples of these programs are ‘The Endeavour Program’
and ‘PACE: Parenting Adolescents: A Creative Experience’.
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Outcomes of parent education programs
The provision of parent education programs by professional parent educators has been
identified as being of benefit to parents in a number of ways. Parent education increases
parents’ knowledge of child development and can assist in informing expectations and
responses to children’s behaviour. Parent education group work can reduce feelings of isolation
by way of the friendships made in the group as well as increase social networks. Parent
education, by definition, gives parents skills and strategies to help them relate to and manage
children’s behaviour. Parent education offers parents opportunity to normalise their children’s
behaviours and subsequently to decrease feelings of guilt and depression with regard to their
parenting.
Parent education has the capacity to be able to assist a wide range of parents in the
community. The diversity of parents range from those who are ‘good’ parents wanting to
become ‘better’ parents through to those parents who are struggling with meeting their child’s
needs on a day-to-day basis and who, in addition, may have specific unmet needs or disabilities.
Parent education has been valued and “advocated as a significant component of any
comprehensive framework for the prevention of child maltreatment” (Tomison 1998). There
are many reasons some parents are unable to manage their children’s behaviour in a positive
and peaceful way. Child maltreatment, abuse and neglect have been associated with a lack of
parenting skills, poor parent–child relationships and child-rearing problems. In this context,
parent education programs can been seen as assisting parents by providing alternative, nonabusive methods of handling children’s behaviours.

Not just skills and strategies—enhancing parent education
in the new millennium
We acknowledge the history of parent education and its value to parents and families. We
believe that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is essential to re-evaluate and reassess the purpose and philosophy behind parent education programs.
The questions to ask today about parent education programs are:
Is the primary focus on the provision of parenting skills and strategies enough for parents?
Does parent education, through the provision of parenting skills and strategies, assist in
enhancing and strengthening the emotional relationships between children and parents?
If parenting programs are seen as filling a gap which the extended family and community
once filled, then what is missing from a skills-based program?
Now is the time to add to and redefine Fine’s 1980 definition of parent education. The key
additions to the definition are:
emotional wellbeing (incorporating emotional intelligence and focusing on the acknowledgement of emotions in parents and children and building on their relationships)
utilising a strength-based approach which incorporates opportunities for community building.
These additions to the provision of parent education are described below.

Emotional wellbeing
New research shows us that “we are attempting to control the children’s behaviour without
looking at the emotions that underlie that behaviour” (Gottman 1997). What has been missing
is a reference to the world of emotions that is the foundation upon which a family is built.
John Gottman, in his book, The Heart of Parenting—How to raise an emotionally intelligent
child (1997), describes what he terms “emotion coaching” and the benefits to children when
increasing their emotional intelligence. Gottman’s work is based on the work of Dr Hain Ginott,
who describes emotion coaching as a “framework based on emotional communication”
(quoted in Gottman 1997).
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Parents who offer children empathy and help them cope with negative feelings build bridges
of loyalty and attendance … [Parents need to] listen to children’s words and the feelings
behind the words, communication about emotions can serve as a way for parents to teach
their children values … Communication within families should be enhanced at every
opportunity.
(Ginott, quoted in Gottman 1997)

“Parents need kindness, warmth, optimism and patience to raise well behaved, emotionally
healthy children” (Gottman 1997). Parents need to empathise with children’s feelings.
Communication between parents and children should always preserve self-respect. While not
all behaviour is acceptable, all feelings and wishes are, and therefore parents should set limits
on acts but not on emotional desires. “Kindness invites cooperation. Punishment invites
resentment and rebellion. Too often parents don’t think about the long range results of what
they do and say” (Nelsen 1999).
Parents need to be able to understand their own feelings and emotions in order to better
understand their children and their children’s behaviour. When a child misbehaves, that
behaviour triggers an emotion in the parent, who then acts on that emotion. An important
element in understanding children’s behaviour is to understand the emotions that underlie the
behaviour. Children show their emotions through their behaviours. To address only the
behaviour is like treating the symptom of an illness, rather than examining the cause of the
illness itself.
There is a growing body of criticism about parenting programs that only address
behavioural issues with skills and strategies. These skills and strategies often include
punishment for misbehaviour that can hurt the child’s feelings, subsequently lowering his or her
self-esteem and damaging the relationship between parents and their children. Skills and
strategies can become punitive when not used within a nurturing, safe and secure environment.
Strategies that use humiliation and isolation such as ‘time out’ “may stop the behaviour for
the moment, but often create further rebellion at best, or loss of self-esteem at worst” (Nelsen
1999).
There is a recognition today that parenting is a complex and challenging occupation. Every
child is unique, every parent is an individual, and attempting to develop and apply prescriptive,
‘one size fits all’ programs around the parent–child relationship is futile. What is required
is the strengthening and enhancing of an emotionally positive parent–child
relationship as well as the development of supportive and mutually beneficial
community relationships and networks.
Parent educators have a responsibility to encourage, enable and support parents to be able
to raise their children to feel safe, secure, happy and nurtured. Emotional wellbeing is being
recognised in families as essential in enabling them to function as a system in which parents are
able to take on the responsibility of raising their children in a physically, socially and
emotionally healthy manner. Parents can learn the power of understanding, expressing and
using the emotional layers that exist between family members. Parents can then, in turn, pass
on this learning to enhance their children’s emotional wellbeing.
Contemporary research into resilience outlines the importance of individual and
environmental protective factors in keeping children and young people optimistic, and
emotionally intelligent. These factors can buffer adversity, allowing a ‘bouncing back’ after the
adversity and the ability to get ‘back on track’. Families can be an environmental protective
factor for children through developing and strengthening their emotional wellbeing.
Emotionally healthy and resilient children have feelings that are acknowledged. They can still
get upset and distressed, but are better able to soothe themselves, bounce back from distress
and carry on with productive activities.
How does emotional wellbeing impact upon parent education? Parent education in groups
can assist parents in exploring and learning about their own emotional wellbeing and ways in
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which it can be enhanced and nurtured in order to then enhance and nurture relationships
within and between family members.
Children learn responsibility only in a safe environment. Punishment does not create a safe
environment. And neither punishment nor rewards help children develop responsibility. True
learning takes place when children have the ability to respond to their experiences with
important life skills, such as accountability, learning from mistakes, problem-solving, and
understanding the consequences of their choices—to themselves and to others.
(Nelsen 1999)

A strength-based approach to parenting
Historically, parent educators and other professionals working with families have most often
worked from a deficit model that helped parents to identify what they were doing wrong.
However, most parents already know what is not working. Within the Australian community
there is a strong emphasis on deficits: what is missing, what is wrong. Our response to parenting
is most often to judge and criticise, rather than to praise and seek out the positives.
Acknowledgement of what parents are doing well, however, needs to be emphasised,
highlighted and celebrated. There is a need for contemporary parent programs to be both
strength-based and solution-focused in their approach. The first step towards adopting a
strength-based approach is to remove the term ‘education’ from the definition. Education
implies teaching; that the educator is the source of knowledge and that parents attend in order
to be taught and to learn. In a strength-based approach, the role of the professional changes
profoundly from that of an expert and teacher to that of a facilitator.
A facilitator listens to parents’ stories and works alongside them, using the collective group
knowledge and support. In this way, parents are able to recognise their strengths and
connectedness and to identify positive ways in which to develop and nurture their relationships
—particularly relationships with their children.
A strength-based approach to parenting programs begins when a parent makes the decision
to attend a parent group. Parents generally face a number of barriers, psychologically and
practically, that restrict them from walking through the door of the first parent group. Once in
the group, the facilitator and parents work collaboratively to recognise their skills, abilities and
unique characteristics. Together, they can work towards identifying the strengths and positive
attributes of families, creating more opportunities for strengths to be built upon and positive
change to occur.
A strength-based, solution-focused approach assumes a positive outcome. This could
include an enhancement of parent–child relationships and an increased awareness of the
importance of acknowledging feelings in parents and children. Being solution-focused provides
a peaceful win–win approach to resolving conflict, utilising two-way communication and
mutual respect.
Positive reframing, active listening and the celebration of positive change are strategies and
techniques that facilitators can use in parent groups to maximise the effectiveness of a strengthbased approach. A strength-based, solution-focused approach to parents in parent groups
inevitably increases parental self-esteem and confidence. Confident, happy parents can then
apply a strength-based framework to their parenting.

Community building in parenting
While the parent–child relationship is often focused upon within parent groups, the group can
also assist in building community networks and support for parents. A parent group can
provide many opportunities for parents to make additional social connections and to give and
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receive support and encouragement. More tangibly, the group can have community building
consequences such as mutual childcare, sharing of information about other services and group
lobbying for additional resources for their community—an upgrading of community facilities
or gaining funds to continue to run a group, for example.
As a parent group meets and its members become more comfortable and confident with
each other, the community building opportunities become possible. Inclusion of group
activities and brainstorms can increase the opportunity for parents to strengthen their
community links, networks and knowledge. The parent group may be facilitated within a
community facility, such as a community centre or a school, which gives parents the
opportunity to become familiar with and have access to other services and relationships.

From strength to strength
All parents are raising their children to the best of their ability, with the knowledge they have
and the support and resources they have available to them. Not all parents, however, have all
the knowledge, support and resources available to them to care for their children in a nurturing
and safe way. For parents in the twenty-first century, Fine’s 1980 definition of parent education
programs is too limiting. The definition of parent education today needs to be broadened to
include an underlying philosophy of enhancing family functioning with emotional wellbeing
and community building becoming integral components of parent education and group work
with parents.
From Strength to Strength incorporates a strength-based approach to parenting that focuses
on the strengths in each family, rather than the deficits. It is respectful of the knowledge that
parents have about their own children and believes that all parents are doing the best for their
children with the knowledge they have. It is recognised that the safety and wellbeing of children
is of utmost importance. The strength-based approach does not deny that some children are at
risk in their parents’ care, but it does focus on building on parent strengths rather than deficits
to enable them to become the best parents they can be for their children.

References
Allan, J. & Schultz, C. (1987) ‘Parent Education: Developments and discrepancies’, Australian
Child and Family Welfare 12:4, 14–16.
Elliott, B. with Mulroney, L. & O’Neil, D. (2000) Promoting Family Change:The optimism factor,
Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Fine, M. (1980) Handbook on Parent Education, New York: Academic Press.
Gottman, D. (1997) The Heart of Parenting—How to raise an emotionally intelligent child,
London: Bloomsbury Publishers.
Nelsen, J. (1999) Positive Time Out and Over 50 Ways To Avoid Power Struggles in the Home and
the Classroom, New York: Prima Publishing.
Pipher, M. (1996) The Shelter of Each Other—Rebuilding our families, New York: Putnam’s Sons.
Tomison, Adam M. (1998) ‘Valuing Parent Education: A cornerstone of child abuse
prevention’, Issues in Child Abuse Prevention, No. 10 Spring.

Resources
Batten, R., Weeks, W. & Wilson, J. (eds) (1993) Issues Facing Australian Families, Melbourne:
Longman Cheshire.
Biddulph, S. (1997) Raising Boys, Sydney: Finch Publications.
Biddulph, S. (1993) The Secret of Happy Children, Melbourne: Bay Books.
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Biddulph, S. (1994) More Secrets of Happy Children, Melbourne: Bay Books.
Briggs, F. (ed.) (1994) Children and Families—Australian perspectives, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Covey, S.R. (1997) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a beautiful family culture
in a turbulent world, New York: Golden Books Publishing.
Eastman, M. (1991) Family: The vital factor, Melbourne: CollinsDove.
Fine, M. (ed.) (1991) The Second Handbook on Parent Education, New York: Academic Press.
Holborow, B. & Neville, C. (1999) Kids Loving for Life, Milsons’s Point, NSW: Random House.
Metcalf, L. (1997) Parenting Towards Solutions— How parents can use skills they already have to
raise responsible loving kids, Paramus, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Ochiltree, G. (1993) Children in Australian Families, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.
Porter, E. (1995) Building Good Families in a Changing World, Melbourne: Melbourne
University Press.
Satir, V. (1988) The New Peoplemaking, Mountain View, California: Science and Behaviour
Books Inc.
Smith, A., Gollop, M., Marshall K. & Narin, K. (eds) (2000) Advocating for Children—
International perspectives on children’s rights, Otago, New Zealand: University of Otago Press.

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to establishing a parent
Stepsgroup
Preparation
Facilitating a parent group involves many steps before parents actually arrive at the venue and
the group begins. Key considerations for the facilitator are as follows.

Group membership
Which parents would benefit from a parent group and what type of parent group would best
meet their needs? This is called a ‘needs analysis’. The most efficient method of conducting a
needs analysis is to administer questionnaires, surveys or focus groups. Questions to ask might
include:
What types of issues are you experiencing in your parenting?
What day and times would suit you to attend a group?
Would you like to attend a course of parent group meetings, or would you prefer one-off
sessions on particular topics?
Use your analysis of the results of the questionnaire or focus group to decide what sort of group
is most required. It may not be necessary to carry out a needs analysis if you are already
working with or have a group of parents who have similar needs and issues.
This manual includes some core modules which are arranged by age group. In addition,
fourteen specialist modules have been included for use with parents who have specific needs,
such as sole parents or Aboriginal parents. For most ‘mainstream’ parent groups, parents are
best matched in groups according to the ages of their children, as they will have similar stages
of social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural development. Four age groupings of children
have been distinguished in this manual: pre-school, primary school, early adolescence and late
adolescence.

Budget
The next step is to identify how the group will be funded. Consider whether the group will be
self-funded by participants (with a course fee being charged), or whether funding for the group
can be obtained from a state, territory or Federal government department, from local
government or from the community or philanthropic sectors. If childcare is to be provided, this
will need to be budgeted for as well. Parents on fixed or low incomes may find it difficult to pay
to attend the group, but paying a small fee can improve or ensure attendance and commitment
to the group. These factors should be worked through well before the group is advertised or
parents contacted.
Create a plan to advertise and/or promote the group, including which media will be utilised
(newspaper and community radio, for example).

Physical environment
Obtain a suitable venue for the group, with consideration given to heating, cooling, lighting and
comfortable seating. A room set up with chairs in rows (theatre style) is usually not conducive
to group discussion, whereas chairs placed in a circle are. A table with chairs placed around it
also assists in creating a relaxing atmosphere in which parents can talk freely. Refreshments also

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need to be considered, depending on the time of the group. Tea, coffee and morning/afternoon
tea or lunch may need to be provided. Tea and coffee on arrival helps to set the scene for
parents to relax and talk among themselves informally before the group begins.

Group aims and objectives
The group’s aims and objectives need to be defined and articulated by the facilitator prior to
the group commencing. What will actually happen in the group and what will be its content?
Even if the group is intended to determine the topics week by week, it is advisable that the
facilitator has a ‘fall back’ plan. From Strength to Strength adopts strength-based and adult
learning approaches to group work with parents. Aims and objectives should reflect this
philosophical framework from the outset in the planning for the group.

Facilitation of the group
Facilitation of a parent group within a strength-based approach means being able to provide
support and encouragement to participants. A facilitator allows participants to explore for
themselves their own parenting issues within a safe environment.

Co-facilitation of the group
A major consideration is whether to facilitate the group alone or with someone else. There are
numerous advantages to co-facilitation:
there is support in planning the group sessions
the load of planning, advertising and organising the group can be shared
the role of facilitation can be divided, keeping in mind issues such as:
– when one facilitator is speaking the other one can observe the group for a comment that
has not been picked up
– one facilitator can think of other comments to make when the group is asked a question
by the other facilitator and there is a silence
– making sure everyone is having their turn to speak
– one facilitator can be responsible for explaining the content of the session and keeping
the group focused on the topic, while the other facilitator ensures that the group remains
engaged and builds up a sense of trust, understanding, sense of belonging and fun.
When there are two group facilitators, it is important to determine individual roles. Will the
facilitation be shared equally, or will one person be the main facilitator and the other the
support person? Will one facilitator deal with group process and the other group content?
Compatibility between the facilitators is very important, as is having a shared philosophy
and shared beliefs about working with parents. Personalities are also important to consider.
Parents in the group need to feel safe and are likely to pick up any tensions between the
facilitators. It is important for the facilitators to work out how they will work together BEFORE
the group begins, and to discuss how any tensions can be resolved so that they do not affect
group dynamics.

Self care of facilitators
It is recommended that facilitators make time to have an appropriate professional to ‘debrief’
with after each session. Debriefing, or supervision, is important to help the facilitator work
through any issues that arise in the group, as well as to celebrate successes and achievements.
Often, this process is not budgeted for and therefore is easy to leave out. However, it is
important for the wellbeing of the facilitators and the group that group process is continually
evaluated. Self care for parents is emphasised throughout the group process, so it is important
that this is appropriately modelled by the facilitators as well.
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