Hello! This is Dr. Alison Miller, writing to tell you about the top-notch seminars we’ve developed for parents. It all began in 1981, when I was working as a psychologist at a treatment center for children and their families. At that time my own oldest child was nine, and my youngest had just been born. I worked with family after family who were coming to see a psychologist because of problems with their children. The first thing I learned is that seeing a psychologist doesn’t help a child if his parents (often with the best of intentions) are still handling his behavior in ways that make it worse. It’s more effective to work with the parents, to help them help their children.
So we child psychologists sat in our offices and tried to help parents, one family at a time, learn more effective strategies to deal with their children’s problems or their own relationships. And as we said the same things over and over again to each parent, we kept all the power of our special knowledge to ourselves. I began to think : Why not make this knowledge accessible to all parents, so that many of the problems can be prevented before they start? And even when the problems are already there, wouldn’t it make more sense for parents to take courses to learn parenting skills, without having to spend a lot of time and money on a mental health professional? So I began to teach parenting courses, and eventually LIFE seminars were born.
LIFE stands for “Living in Families Effectively.” The LIFE seminars were developed as a therapeutic and preventive program to address the many family needs I encountered while working with children, parents and families. I began by putting together components from other existing parent education programs, along with knowledge I’d obtained about child development, emotions and learning. The people who were coming to me were often stuck in their ineffective patterns, and they wanted real answers. So did I, as I struggled with raising my own three young children. When I took a look at the existing “packaged” parent education programs, I found some good information, but they didn’t go far enough. Parenting is very complicated, and one six-week course can’t teach it all. That’s why there ended up being so many LIFE seminars – each one is actually different from each other one, because there’s a lot to learn in parenting.
Dr. Allison Rees joined the seminars I taught as a participant, then as a group facilitator, then as an organizer and the producer of the LIFE videos, and finally as the primary presenter of LIFE courses here in Victoria, B.C., Canada. She travels to convey our ideas in other communities, and she has a weekly radio show. She and I together have rewritten all the LIFE materials and created the new workbooks. We are working together on new LIFE products such as Aboriginal LIFE Seminars, tailored for parents from aboriginal communities.
Raising human beings is the most important, the most complex, and probably the most difficult job in the world! Freud said that the first six years of life determined what the adult would be like. Yet we leave these years to chance. We don’t have courses in high school on how to be an effective parent. People are expected to know it automatically. Think how many years they put in teaching us the simple, basic skills of reading – doesn’t parenting deserve at least that much attention?
What happens is we end up doing what our parents did. And if our parents were very skilled and loving, we are fortunate; if they were not, we have a lot of difficulty with our own parenting, through no fault of our own.
What do parents need in an effective parent education program? First, they need INFORMATION :
1.. They need information about CHILD DEVELOPMENT, so that they can know what to expect from kids at different ages. Otherwise they end up trying to get a child to do things (like clean up his room, or share her toys) that the child isn’t mature enough to do yet, and they become frustrated and upset with quite normal childish behaviors like temper tantrums or night fears. They also need information about personality and temperament, how children differ from one another, so that they can help each child develop as the unique person that he or she is.
2.. They need information about HOW FAMILIES WORK, how each family member affects each other family member, and how we repeat the patterns of the family we grow up in when we create our own present family. “Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is true for families as well as nations.
Parents also need a VALUE BASE for their parenting strategies :
1.. They need a general philosophy of DISCIPLINE, which will help them distinguish between abusive punishment and encouraging training.
2.. They need an approach to MENTAL HEALTH : What makes a healthy family and a healthy individual? What are emotions for? What kind of family life makes children grow up emotionally healthy?
3.. They need a FAMILY VALUE SYSTEM, so that they can bring up children who make a positive contribution to society.
Parents also need SKILLS :
1.. They need a variety of practical techniques for managing children’s BEHAVIOR, at all ages and in all situations.
2.. They need effective ways to deal with their OWN EMOTIONS.
3.. They need effective ways to deal with their CHILDREN’S EMOTIONS.
4.. They need effective ways to COMMUNICATE with their children, make requests, listen to feelings and negotiate family agreements.
5.. They need ways of helping their children develop responsibility and maturity.
We give credit to the other “packaged” parent education programs for some excellent information, some of which we use in our own seminars. STEP has some good ideas about discipline. “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” is full of useful principles and tips about communicating with kids. Barbara Coloroso stresses getting kids to take responsibility. What we’ve tried to do is put together a complete program which has ALL the essential ingredients for parenting success. It’s called LIFE – Living in Families Effectively. Try it! It works!