Why Parenting Programmes Don†t Work

Why Parenting Programmes Don†t Work

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Most of us invest more time learning to drive than learning to parent - and parenting programmes are full of valuable ideas and strategies. But why do they have such a high failure rate in schools?

In today†s episode, we look at the factors that drag down the success of parenting courses, and explore what can be done to make the programmes offered in your school more successful.

Important links:

Join our Behaviour 360 programme: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/behaviour_360.php

Get access to Family First for individual parents: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/family_first.php

Join our FREE Classroom Management and Student Behaviour FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/school.behaviour

Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/resources.php

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Most people are happier if they think that the problem is not something that's under their control. So they deflect this by saying that that behaviour is the fault of the child or the fault of the school or society, or it's because of a child's condition or an undiagnosed issue. And of course, all of these factors do have a role to play, but it's about the parents understanding their part in the dynamic.

Simon Currigan  0:29  

Hi there. My name is Simon and welcome to the latest episode of school behaviour secrets. We're broadcasting exclusively from behaviour towers. And if you're wondering why the sofas are damp, Uncle Gary was around earlier watching reruns of Fawlty Towers, and he laughed and he laughed until he laughed himself to crisis point. I'll erm, I'll put a newspaper on that so you're more comfortable. I'm here as always with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:33  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:34  

Emma, I'd like to ask you a question. According to a recent survey, how many people fail to keep up their New Year's resolutions within three months?

Emma Shackleton  1:44  

I reckon this will be quite high, about 60% maybe, even higher. 70%.

Simon Currigan  1:51  

Okay, the actual figure from the survey was 80%. That's four out of five people giving up within three months.

Emma Shackleton  1:59  

Wow, that's a lot. Why are you asking Simon Are you thinking of joining your local gym after Christmas?

Simon Currigan  2:05  

I don't want to give them a heart attack. Today's episode we're looking at why parenting programmes don't work. And in one respect, the way we parent is a habit. It's an automatic behaviour, we often respond to our kids with lots of automatic reactions that we don't give much consideration to. And the role of parenting programmes is to change those parenting habits. So we're going to look at some of the problems around those programmes and some solutions as well.

Emma Shackleton  2:33  

Oh, interesting. But before we get into the substance, I've got a quick request to make. If you're listening to this right now, please, can you open your podcast app and use the Share button to share this episode with three friends or colleagues who you think will find this information useful as well. And that means you'll be having a bigger impact than just on your classroom. And the students they can work with can benefit from the strategies we're going to share in this episode as well.

Simon Currigan  3:01  

So let's pull up safely at the side of the road, put on our hazard lights, roll up our sleeves, and let's see if we can blow some cool rejuvinating air into that dirty flat tyre we call behaviour. 

Emma Shackleton  3:12  

So first off, the quality and content of many parenting programmes is actually really good, and covers lots of the skills gaps and addresses the way people think about parenting. So we're not trying to say that the programmes themselves are bad.

Simon Currigan  3:29  

And many people do need these programmes. And when you think about it, here's here's a mad thought for you. Most people, in fact, probably all people have invested much more time and effort into learning to drive and be safe on the roads, than developing their parenting skills and being really intentional about how they bring up their kids how the way they're going to react to different behaviours is linked to the values in the household, our house rules, we all stumble our way through parenting, whereas we would never take that approach on the roads.

Emma Shackleton  4:00  

It's true. There's just no guidebook. In that case, then why don't parent programmes have the impact that we want them to? Well, one reason is the social stigma that's attached to parenting courses, whether we like it or not, there is a certain amount of stigma around parenting programmes. Nobody wants to go to the naughty kids parent group, for example. And many parents worry that they're going to be gathered up into a room and shamed or labelled or judged for their poor parenting skills.

Simon Currigan  4:37  

And of course, linked to that is the fact that they don't want other families to know they're having problems within their household, certainly within the culture that we recording from, you know, we live in Britain, people are very private about what happens in their households and they don't want to kind of share their dirty laundry with the people that live next door or people they have social relations with in school. It's interesting, one of the factors that influence says whether we follow through on a decision or not, is our social standing. And if a decision whether that's about to join a parenting group or buy a car, or you know, send our kids to a certain school, if we feel that it's going to increase our social standing, we're much more likely to follow through on it. I would imagine that a parent being asked to attend a parenting course, is not going to see that as increasing their social standing quite the reverse, they're going to see it as reducing their social standing in front of other people. Those parenting courses are often discretional based. So you sit around a table, you discuss the different difficulties you're having with your kids and possible solutions. And while that's a really positive process, for many people, they could perceive that as having to share problems they're having at home, which is going to reduce what other people think of them in the community. And the result if they turn it once or twice, because you're kind of strong on them and give them lots of persuasion and lots of calls and reminders, they're unlikely to see the whole course through. And that's certainly the case with many of the parenting programmes that I've personally run at centres where I've worked, we managed to get parents in for a couple of sessions, but then attendance massively trailed off.

Emma Shackleton  6:07  

The good news is, though, that that's not so true of specific parenting programmes, such as those around autism or ADHD, for example, there appears to be less of a stigma associated with these programmes, because it's acknowledge that children with these needs require a specific approach. So it's almost as if a child's diagnosed or there's a pending diagnosis, parents then are more than happy to accept, support and accept a parenting type programme because it's something that is recognised, I guess, in a way, it's allowing them not to feel blamed. So the issue then becomes around the child's condition, and the way that the condition needs to be managed, rather than it being about the child or even more painfully, sometimes, actually, the parent and the parenting and the relationship, those programmes that are designed specifically for autism or ADHD. So Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, tend to be a little bit more well attended and a little bit more successful.

Simon Currigan  7:13  

Yeah, I guess it's not a criticism of your general parenting style. It's almost like saying that there's a piece of technical information that you're missing related to this condition. And there's no sort of social stigma attached to acquiring that information. Another aspect is many people link their parenting style to their identity to their values. And they don't want to change those when you question their parenting style by suggesting that they need support with their parenting or parenting group. And they might receive that advice and support as you're questioning who they are, what they're worth as a person. And then we feel judged about that. And when we feel judged, we tend to take two steps back rather than to step forwards. Because the way we parent is so closely linked to what you believe around the world what we want for our kids. So what we need to do is find a way of removing that link so that they don't take it personally. 

Emma Shackleton  8:03  

That's the solution, isn't it, we need to avoid the word parenting in the title of any of these sorts of programmes at all costs. We've actually created a programme to support parents with their child's behaviour as part of our Behaviour 360 resources, and it's called Family First. And when we wrote that programme, Simon and I set out with the intention that we would never use the words parenting programme or parenting class, it's just a real turnoff for so many parents who are doing their best and don't want to feel like they've got to go back to school and learn how to do a better job of parenting their own children.

Simon Currigan  8:41  

So we need to remove that link about being criticised personally, or it's related to your identity. And think more about linking the programme to the needs of their individual child, preferably in some sort of technical aspect if they have a special need.

Emma Shackleton  8:55  

So what we want to think about now is how do we help people to make changes and there's something called the stages of change model that we're going to talk about. So a really big barrier to success is that many parents are actually directed to parenting programmes. So they're kind of put on a programme or strong armed into attending a course. But they actually don't have any commitment to change. So they don't use what they're taught on the course. Or if they do, it's kind of just a short term, and it doesn't really work. And we'll go into that a little bit more detail later, when people are sent on a course, they're much less inclined to be receptive to it, to engage with it, to take it on board and to actually make changes for themselves as a result of being told that they need to go on a course. Nobody wants to be told that they need to go on a parenting course.

Simon Currigan  9:51  

They often turn up very passively and just absorb a bit of information, get the tea and biscuits and then go home and carry on, you know, the same way they were before. So it's had no real long term impact. This comes down to the stages of change model that Emma's just spoken about, which was a model developed in the field of addiction actually. It describes the stages that we all go through when we're thinking about making a major change in our lives, whether that's getting more exercise, whether that's giving up cigarettes, or whether that's changing our parenting style. So we're going to talk through a couple of the key steps here, because you'll see having your parents at the right stage in the model is really important. Otherwise, they are going to be passive, they aren't going to be actively transferring what they've learned in the course into their own lives with their own children. So the first step is a stage called pre contemplation. And you will recognise this and you might even recognise it in some of the kids you teach as well. That's where the parent recognises that other people may have an issue with the way they're parenting that other people may have a problem with the way their children behave in school or out on the streets after school. But actually, it's your problem, not my problem, the parent is thinking, it's everyone else, this has nothing to do with me, people are judging them, they're attacking them, they're bullying them, they're always picking on them, their kids are fine, my parenting is fine, it's you, it's not me. Now, if you take someone with that attitude, and direct them, or drag them to a parenting course, they may well sit through all the content, but they're not really going to engage with any of that content, because they don't believe deep down that there is a need for them to change because it's everyone else's problem, not them. So this is completely the wrong point in the stages of change model to have an intervention to support them with parenting. So pre contemplation actually means before even thinking about that there's a problem that I need to do something about.

Emma Shackleton  9:56  

Then the next stage is what's known as the contemplation stage. And this is where they are beginning to think that there might be an issue or they're beginning to think about making a change, or they are feeling dissatisfied with the way things are and hoping that things will change at either of these stages, you haven't actually made a commitment to change, you're unlikely to take action, or at least any sustained action. Also, there's the belief that the problem is elsewhere. It's not with their parenting. And this is super common. Many people want the problem to be anyone but them, because that's easier, isn't it? Changing behaviour, making a commitment, making a change is hard. It requires effort, it requires time, it requires energy. So most people are happier if they think that the problem is not something that's under their control, or it's not something to do with them, or something that they can do something about. So they deflect this by saying that that behaviour is the fault of the child or the fault of the school or society, or it's because of a child's condition or an undiagnosed issue. And of course, all of these factors do have a role to play, but it's about the parents understanding their part in the dynamic parenting isn't something that you can do alone. Parenting involves the parent and the child. It's a dynamic together, it's about the parents understanding that they play a part to but crucially without them feeling blamed and shamed.

Simon Currigan  13:30  

Just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in that Inner Circle programme. The Inner Circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole class, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner Circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers in you've been looking forward today with inner circle visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk and click on the Inner Circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

So we've got pre contemplation, that's where there isn't really recognition there is a problem. You might be upset but actually I'm okay there's nothing wrong with my parenting. We've got contemplation whether weighing the pros and cons of change. And in both of these stages, there's no commitment to do anything, there's no commitment to change. So parenting is unlikely to be successful. I always remember a story of a wise E. P. spoke to me when I was at the start of my career. And we were working with a parent. And there was all sorts of difficulties with all of the children that that she was raising. And we believe that parenting and boundaries were a significant factor in that, then I was pushing deal with a core root of the problem, but you need support with a parenting that's fine to replace on the programme. And the EP took me to one side, and she said, there's no point in sending her yet, because she hasn't made the decision that she wants it or needs it. And it's only once you've reached that point that there's any value in offering support, we're basically shoving it down our throat when she doesn't want it. And that just creates resentment and opposition. And that was correct. Trying to work with parents in the pre contemplation or the contemplation stage, they haven't made a commitment to change, they don't want it, it's not going to be effective, what we need to do is help parents round the stages of change model. And we're not going to talk through all the stages today, but round to the next phase, which is decision making, and then taking action. And once they've made a decision that they want support with their parenting and they want to make a change, then support becomes helpful.

Emma Shackleton  16:08  

Yeah, so it's really about investing time in getting the parents to make their own decision to want to make a positive change for themselves instead of us pressuring them. So it's about having structured conversations where they can explore outcomes, and they can come to the conclusion themselves, that it would be helpful for them to get more information or have some support instead of us trying to foist this on them. For more ideas, you can see our Inner Circle units, which is called how to motivate change in hard to reach pupils. And that talks you through helping others through the stages of change model, that module is all about pupils, but the same principles apply to parents. So it's just as useful when we're thinking about parents too.

Simon Currigan  16:54  

Okay, so now we're going to look at the opposite problem, the people who volunteer to go the people who are eager to go and fill up places on the course. But they're the people that don't really need to go. So for some school run sessions open to the public, some parents will attend those meetings, they're interested in their kids development, they will enjoy every single moment of it, and then they get some value out of it. But they're not really the parents who really need that support, which is often expensive. You know, it's often expensive to run those in school, I sometimes feel it's a bit like parents evening, you desperately want to speak to three or four parents of pupils are having difficulties in school who aren't handing in their homework, you need some support with their reading. And all the parents who turn up to the parents evening are the ones that you don't need to speak to. It's the parents that don't turn up that you were hoping to catch to help them support their children at home.

Emma Shackleton  17:43  

Theyre people who eagerly volunteer, they will get something out of it. And it's just that they're not the ones that you're secretly hoping to target. It's because we sometimes recognise the parents who do need that support. But as we've already said, if they're not the right place, and they're not at the right time that they're just not going to come along. So the solution to this problem is to think really carefully about how you advertise or offer places if they're being run in school, you've got to make it sound attractive and focus on the benefits for the child. And the adults approach individual parents and discreetly discuss the benefits with them. Be really targeted and specific in your approach, rather than a scattergun approach.

Simon Currigan  18:27  

And now we're going to think about some of the problems that parenting programmes have in terms of often these courses are taught in a meeting room somewhere, perhaps in a school or a community centre. And there's a trainer who arranges the desks and they've got their PowerPoints and slides, and they run group discussions. It's not what you describe as hands on coaching, what you're doing is you're learning the skills out of context, behaviour management, whether you're managing the behaviour of your kids, or whether you're managing the behaviour of pupils at school, you know, whether it's your own kids or someone else's. It's a skill that you develop, that requires coaching and learning those skills out of context in a room, in kind of a factual way is going to limit your skills to implement that back in the home. We're teaching it in a room, a cosy room with tea and biscuits, but that makes it hard for parents to transfer that knowledge and use that knowledge in their own home.

Emma Shackleton  19:22  

Well, that's right. It's hard to take what they've learned in a class and apply it in a practical day to day situation, especially when emotions are running high. Maybe you're on the spot, you're in a heated situation with your child. When you're not calm and thinking clearly, it's difficult to recall what you were taught in a class two weeks ago, and apply it to this very emotionally charged situation now, and as we've already said, habits can be really, really difficult to change. I mean, a great example is patients who've had heart attacks because of their lifestyle choices, and they're told very clearly that if they return to their old habits, and they don't make positive lifetime choices, they will have another heart attack and they might die. And even those people or high proportion of them do not make a change, they carry on with the destructive lifestyle choices that they're making that have led to the heart attack in the first place. Even though having that heart attack is very scary, very painful. Even that isn't enough of a deterrent, to make them make a change. Because making change is hard. It requires a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and sometimes a lot of time. And people are inherently quite lazy, all of us are. We like to take the easy option, making hard decisions and committing to them is really difficult. And parenting isn't that immediate. So if your child has been behaving in a particular way for nine years that they've been alive, you're not going to turn that behaviour around in a week, it's going to take time to make a difference. And that's exhausting. This is why people are put off by making changes.

Simon Currigan  21:06  

So how do we help our parents invest in that and make that change over time? Well think about how you learn any skill, okay? behaviour management isn't kind of like a factual thing you can learn from a PowerPoint, imagine how you teach another skill, like riding a bike, you wouldn't get your five year old to sit in front of a PowerPoint that you wouldn't talk about, you know, angular velocity, and the rules of the road on a PowerPoint over a couple of slides. And there's a job done, you can ride your bike now, off you go. You would take them to the park, you would practice it, you would give them encouragement, you would give them drip, drip, drip support over time, to help them develop a skill. And that's what we need to do with our parents and not just our parents, our teachers, our lunchtime supervisors, anyone who works with children or has children, give them drip, drip, drip support, over time, with encouragement to help them make that change and sustain that change. And that's what really makes a difference is the difference between a sort of a fact dump from a PowerPoint and sort of coaching and mentoring that helps you learn and implement the skills that you need. So we need to plan for long term input six sessions over time, is probably going to have a short term impact is going to come and go. We need to think coaching rather than one off bits of training, we need to think about how much time it took us as professionals to learn to effectively manage children in the classroom, and then transfer that to the parents that we're working with attempting to support.

Emma Shackleton  22:34  

So those are our top reasons why parenting support programmes don't work. It's not to do with the content, but it's really because of the stigma attached to being on a parenting programme. 

Simon Currigan  22:47  

The parent hasn't made a commitment to change. 

Emma Shackleton  22:49  

The wrong people attend the programme

Simon Currigan  22:52  

And skills are taught in sort of a short burst out of context fashion, instead of the drip, drip drip practising of skills in the home, which helps parents develop coaching over time.

Emma Shackleton  23:03  

And if you can think of a parent who needs supporting your school and you recognise the obstacles we've been talking about, then you might be interested in our Family First programme that I spoke about earlier. It's delivered completely online, so parents can learn privately in their own home without anybody else knowing. It leads them through step by step, a series of strategies to deal with challenging behaviour, but also to encourage more positive behaviour in the home as well. Plus, we follow up with emails of encouragement, reminders and inspiration throughout the programme, just to keep that momentum going.

Simon Currigan  23:42  

Family First is aimed at parents of children under 12 programmes can be purchased for individual parents, which they retain lifetime access to or schools can get access for a set of families as part of our behaviour 360 programme so visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk and scroll down to the Behaviour 360 programme. We're looking at the parents area of the website. I'll drop direct links to both in the episode description.

Emma Shackleton  24:08  

Next week we're talking to Bradley Davis about how to help victims of bullying overcome the emotional impact of their ordeal. He tells us specifically what those students need to hear to secure their emotional success moving forwards

Simon Currigan  24:25  

To make sure you don't miss that episode. You could hide in the bushes outside behaviour towers wait for one of us to walk outside and then go the full Spock attempting a Vulcan mind meld and Star Trek next week's episode out of us. Or you could just open your podcast app hit the subscribe button, or the follow button if you're using Apple podcasts. And the app will simply download every new episode as it's released. And to be honest, I think we're all agreed that even one more restraining order outside behaviour towers is one too many.

Emma Shackleton  24:57  

If you found this episode useful, don't forget to open your podcast app now and share it with a couple of friends or colleagues. So you can have an even bigger impact. That's all we've got time for today. Hope you have a brilliant week and we'll see you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.

Simon Currigan  25:16  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)