I recently organised some training to run parenting programmes. I also took part in the training myself and I am looking forward to getting out around the county and running these groups with parents.
As part of my job I coordinate a lot of the parenting programmes that happen in Donegal and parents contact me to ask when there will be a parenting programme running in their area. Often, parents feel that a parenting course will help them develop and strengthen their skills and that there will be benefits for the whole family. Sometimes though parents want to do it because they are finding their child’s behaviour challenging and they want a solution.
This is something that came up with our trainer on the first day of the programme. The input for each session of the programme is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on developing positive parenting skills – so a lot about listening, paying attention to our children, making time to play with them, reading to them and having fun together, encouraging good behaviour by giving it lots of positive attention.
The second part of the session works on positive discipline – ways to deal with challenging or difficult behaviour in a constructive and positive way often through noticing what is causing the behaviour.
What many parents who do the programme find is that if they are working on the positive parenting skills at home many of the difficult behaviours begin to settle down and there is actually less need for the positive discipline skills.
In parenting, as in everything else, it is the relationship which is key. I have been getting ready for some work with the parents in a neighbouring parish whose children are preparing for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion. Again, I find that it is the theme of relationship that comes to the fore.
I want the parents to reflect a little on their own relationship with God and how that comes through in family life. I’m going to be asking them to explore what they think the role of the school and the parish is in sacramental preparation. No matter how engaged and vibrant the school and parish are it is building on shaky foundations if a child is coming from a home environment where faith is absent.
The reality is that faith cannot be learned like an academic subject at school. Yes, we can come away with ideas about religion, opinions about what people believe, awareness of feast days and festivals but, without a relationship to God, that just adds up to ‘book learning’.
As parents we have a key role in helping our children to develop a relationship with God. That happens in the day-to-day business of family life – learning to pray, thanking God for the food before us, for the fun we have had, for the blessings in our lives. It is that awareness of God, woven into our lives, which builds relationship and nurtures faith. School and parish can strengthen this but it needs to put down its roots at home.
The challenge with the parenting programme is that it asks parents to step back and think about their own way of being, how they interact with their children, how their behaviour influences their child’s behaviour.
Instead of just focusing on ‘sorting out’ the child’s behaviour it becomes about building a strong, positive way of parenting. Perhaps in our sacramental preparation we need to shift the focus from the child onto the whole family and how we can nurture strong, life-giving relationships with God.
We are entering into Advent. This beautiful season is all about relationship – Gabriel and Mary, Mary and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary and at the heart of it all, God present, revealed in relationship.