“A major focus for parents is showing love with limits,” said Kerri Clouse, Transitions director. “The consistency with family rules provides the stability for children to feel secure.”
Families with children ages 10-14 are the target participants. Stress-induced tension can cause friction in family ties during this transitional age. Students are in one of three areas: leaving elementary school, enrolled in middle school or entering high school. Daycare is provided for younger siblings.
The seven-week program begins Jan. 22, with classes every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Each meeting will begin with a family dinner followed by small groups and a family session. Lessons follow a strengthening-families-based curriculum developed by Iowa State University.
“The program focuses on setting appropriate limits, using consequences, protecting against substance abuse, handling peer pressure, reaching out for help, understanding family values, and building communication,” according to a Strengthening Families Program information packet.
Research revealed parents in the program learn to manage anger and strong emotions in parent-child relationships, involve children in family activities and decision-making, improve child management and improve parent-child affective quality.
Clouse said there is less repetition in the seven-week program than its 14-week counterpart.
“The seven-week program is more concise. You get in, cover your topics and practice those skills,” Clouse said. “Family time is really focused on building communication and working together.”
Family activities are built into the program.
“We focus on the importance of families and their values. They discuss what is important to them and why,” Clouse said. “We even have them draw up a little diagram to map out their different levels of values.”
Problem solving is dealt with by role playing. The goal is for both parties to understand how the other feels. Parents are asked to place themselves in their children’s shoes. Children are challenged to consider what it is like to be a mother or father.
“They have a mock family meeting where they plan a family fun night using their $100. All the members of the family have to agree on it,” Clouse said. “Sometimes it takes time to come to a consensus. It teaches them empathy, how to look at the issue from each others’ perspective and how to plan ahead.”
Part of improving quality communication is changing current, unsuccessful methods.
“We talk to them about using ‘I’ statements. It helps them own their emotions and allows them to see how Dad or Mom might be feeling,” Clouse said.
“Becoming defensive is the natural response to a ‘You’ statement,” Clouse said. “If a child walks through the door and Mom says, ‘You never pick up your coat,’” then you have already set the tone for the whole evening.”
The program is not designed specifically for high-risk families.
“All families go through normal stresses of the transitional years. When kids start into middle school there are often more responsibilities, new peer groups, new friendships, a loss of old friends and greater expectations in school.”
Clouse described stress caused by children’s transitional years as normal. She said it is something every family experiences.
“This program is not only for those in need, but for families who feel healthy, as well,” Clouse said. “We can all use tools.”
Families interested in the program can reach Clouse by calling 423-559-1112. Those who complete six of the seven sessions will receive a cash incentive at graduation. Dinner will be provided at each meeting.
“Families can be made up of whomever in the home helps with child care. It can be an aunt. It can be two friends who live together and who are working to hold their family, or families, together,” Clouse said.