Using connections instead of control
A functional and happy parent to child relationship comes from relating to and respecting your children, not controlling them. This is the foundation of Sanity Circus, a seven-week parenting course beginning at Whitman Middle School on April 17.
The courses are sponsored by the Puget Sound Adlerian Society and the Seattle Council of Parent Teacher Associations and have been offered in many Seattle neighborhoods over the past 24 years.
Sanity Circus carries with it the fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology to help parents develop a more positive relationship with their children. The classes are based on the theories of Alfred Adler, M.D. (1870-1937), a Viennese psychiatrist.
"The course is based on a theme of mutual respect between parent and child," said Ann Skutt, coordinator for the Puget Sound Adlerian Society, "such as social interest, mutual respect, and encouragement and how they can be applied to improve relationships and resolve conflicts."
The classes will be offered in Spanish this year as well as English, said Skutt, and will include courses for parents and teens, something that hasn't been done since the program started.
Jody McVittie will teach the teen course this year. She took the course herself as a new parent in 1991 and was amazed at how the techniques she learned made a positive difference with her family's interactions.
"It's really all about how you work things out together, not how you make kids do things," she said. "Parenting is not about control."
Most mistakes in parenting come from not understanding a child's "misguided attempt for meaning and connection," said McVittie. "Learning what is behind those actions can create mutual respect."
Sahara Pirie, McVittie's sister, will also teach one of the courses this year. Hers is aimed at the parents of elementary and middle school aged children. The classes have been largely lecture based, but this year they will have a more hands on flavor.
"We teach fully in experiential form," said Pirie, a member of the Puget Sound Adlerian Society. "We do a lot of role playing and group problem solving. Lecturing is just not my style. I think parents learn more from other parents than they do from the instructor.
Practicing what they learn in the class helps parents feel less dependent on the teacher for support when they are implementing the methods at home on their own, said Pirie.
Role playing out a common parental problem allows the parent to take on the role of the child and see things from a whole different perspective, said McVittie.
Many problems at home tend to stem from parents or children losing their temper instead of calmly analyzing a problem, said Pirie. The courses provide a safe forum for parents to connect with other parents experiencing the same frustrations.
"I have seen these classes create a support system," said McVittie. "Parenting is better when you are not isolated."
But getting that message out to parents has not been easy, said Skutt.
"In the past, courses have been pretty well-attended," she said. "But it is harder in some locations. Some people tend to think parenting courses are something that is forced by a court order."
"But this is really a course for parents who just want a few more skills or to learn how to improve on and implement skills they already have," said McVittie.
The Puget Sound Adlerian Society is one of many affiliates around the nation of the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology. Their focus on education and methods that encourage healthy relationships brought about the partnership between they and the Seattle Council of Parent Teacher Student Associations, a conglomeration of members from Seattle parent teacher associations.
Parents who cannot afford the fee can apply for scholarships funded by donations from those who have taken the course and anyone with a special interest in donating.
"We request that people try to at least pay half, but if they can't, they can't, said Skutt."
McVittie said the classes generally serve a higher income bracket, despite its affordability ($35-$50). The classes are advertised primarily at schools and churches, but with no advertising budget, they often experience recruitment troubles. Efforts are being made to reach out to groups they haven't yet touched, said Skutt.
"I know the (Puget Sound Adlerian Society) is working hard to increase the connections culturally and economically to provide a safe environment for everyone," said McVittie.
Funding also relies on demonstrating the effectiveness of the product. McVittie, a medical doctor and a member of the national Adlerian Society, joined other members in asking if what they were teaching was effective.
"We designed a study and asked parents to rate by survey, their students attitudes and behaviors regarding the course immediately after and six weeks later," she said. The survey measured things such as are the parents yelling, bribing, and spanking less? Are they calmer when dealing with difficult parenting situations? Can they solve problems better and easier?
The results collected have been positive overall and have shown significant changes, said McVittie. She plans to conduct a follow-up study.
But the key to parenting success is treating each other with dignity and respect, said Pirie.
"Children need an authority figure and guidance, but they don't have to be mean. It's a myth to believe you can control your kids. You can encourage them to make the right decisions, but you can't control them," she said.
April 17-May 22. This series will be presented by Stephanie Cross at Whitman Middle School, 7:00-8:30 p.m. The course is for parents of pre-schoolers through middle school students. Childcare will be available (donations requested). The course fee is $35 for one parent or $50 for two, and scholarships may be available. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 206-527-2566.