Parenting classes can get a lot of bad press. For some, they are a long-demonised service that has been portrayed in the media as a means for the government or an authority figure to tell parents how to raise their children – the ‘nanny state’ in action. It’s not surprising therefore that a stigma exists, as historically some parenting classes using an expert model have tended to come across as judgemental and instructional, rather than exploratory, supportive and nurturing.
To anyone who holds this view, I would say that I agree; no one should be told how to parent, or left feeling judged or criticised.
I do believe, however, that this stigmatization of parenting classes is an easy point for people to make on one side of the debate. In actuality, I believe this argument focuses on an outmoded idea that visiting a parenting class means you’re a ‘bad parent’, and ignores the wide range of parenting support that is on offer.
I see it very differently.
I see it as essential that parents have access to advice and support and, in most situations, it should be voluntary. And parenting support workshops or groups should provide a non-judgemental space where people can go to talk about what it means to be parents and gain new insights and ideas.
The approach I would always encourage is a partnership model, as opposed to an expert model, where practitioners bring strategies and ideas to a group but recognise the expertise of each individual parent in the context of their own family lives. No one should be preached at about how to raise their child.
In this type of collaborative environment, parents can discuss different ideas around family relationships, family climate and their children’s behaviours, as well as being given a space to reflect on those things.
We have networking groups for all sorts of people with shared experiences and interests. We have teacher meets and interest groups for everything from gardening to yoga, so why not for people who are parents?
Support for parents should never be a place where you’re being told the ‘correct way’ to parent is through A B C, and you’re thinking, “But I do X Y Z!”, because that leads to an environment where parents feel judged, criticised and de-skilled. There will be people who come out of the same workshop or group and take completely different things away from it. One person might learn a helpful new strategy to try at home, while another might find the experience completely life-changing. And that’s absolutely fine because everyone is different. I also believe it is of key importance to meet the needs of parents of children across all ages, from conception to 19, with a menu of provisions. Parenting groups are not ‘one size fits all’, and while some parents may want to take part in just one or two sessions, others may require a longer term, more intensive programme.
The most important thing for me is that these groups are accessible through universal settings. If a class is in a place that some parents are unlikely to visit, then we’ll never reach parents from all backgrounds. It’s so important to have parent groups running in places like children’s centres, public libraries and schools, as well as there being local practitioners who can build strong relationships with families in the community. I believe with these components, different types of parents from all backgrounds can mix and access the support they need.
I’d like to urge the government to commit to investing in support for the emotional health of families, so services like parenting workshops and groups will be more and more accessible. We need to set aside the stigma and make this essential support available to all.
Nick Haisman-Smith is chief executive of Family Links, a charity dedicated to creating an emotionally healthy, resilient and responsible society. Nick holds Masters degrees from the University of Oxford, Stanford University and The University of Bristol, and Qualified Teacher Status through Teach First. Nick is also a doctoral researcher at The University of Bristol where he specializes in social and emotional learning in educational settings.
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Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.