‘Children don’t come with an instruction manual’ - isn’t that what they say?
And while that, sadly, is the case, Sheffield City Council have, in recent years, made it their mission to give mums and dads in the city a leg-up, helping them to develop their parenting skills with a series of free classes and workshops.
The Evidence-Based Parenting programme hosts sessions all around the city on a range of different topics, designed to help mums and dads develop a parenting toolbox to better cope with common issues - everything from dealing with disobedience, and enjoying hassle free outings, to coping with teenagers’ emotions, and reducing family conflict.
Today, I - along with five other Sheffield mums - am at Shortbrook Primary School, in Westfield, for a Positive Parenting class on ‘developing a good bedtime routine.’ As the mum of a three-year-old, I have come armed with lots of questions and am keen to soak up all the information I can during the two hour discussion group.
I have a momentary flashback to my own school days as I first set foot into the small room, which is complete with a projector, name tags for all the mums, and even workbooks. My brain’s already scrambling for excuses as to why I haven’t brought my homework, when one of the sessions leaders, a warm lady with a welcoming smile, thrusts a hot mug of tea into my hands, and I relax.
In reality, it’s nothing like school, and any fears I have that someone is going to start berating and instructing me on how to be a better parent are quickly allayed. What’s really quite pleasant, I quickly realise, is being surrounded by other mums whose children are all of a similar age to mine, and who often find themselves encountering the same issues I do. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliche for a reason, and before long we’re all swapping stories like old friends.
Our session for the day is led by two ladies, Anne and Karen, each a parenting specialist, working day-in and day-out with families across the city.
“Being a parent is extremely rewarding and enjoyable, but it isn’t always easy,” Anne tells us, as she kicks the session off, and many of the tired, but smiling, faces in the room nod in agreement.
“There are some common challenges all parents face as their children grow, and the our discussion group series offers suggestions and ideas on dealing with these day-to-day challenges, and promoting your child’s development.”
After introducing ourselves, and a quick chat about each of our paticular problem areas - in my case, getting my daughter to stay in her own bed, rather than sneaking in with my husband and I in the middle of the night - we dive into our orange workbooks. For the next couple of hours, Anne and Karen’s words are punctuated nicely with different thought-provoking written exercises, and short videos shown on the big screen.
This particular course - and in fact all of the Triple P Positive Parenting Programme seminars, which Sheffield City Council has been running for the past two years - are evidence-based, and tried and tested. Each one has been written by professional psychologists who have conducted years of research into what works when managing behaviours and difficulties. These large one-off information sessions cover positive parenting techniques for parents and carers who simply want some basic information and advice to take home and try. Triple P’s seminars are delivered in 25 countries all over the world and, impressively, research has shown that in areas where Triple P is widely available, children have fewer behavioural and emotional problems, and that parents are less stressed and depressed.
“Our parenting practitioners are not there to tell you how it should be done,” explains Candi Lawson, who runs Sheffield City Council’s parenting service, that has been supporting parents in the city for over ten years.
“But they are highly trained in their respective areas, and also work in the city every day, spending time with local families. They are a fountain of useful information, hints, tips and ideas.
“As well as Triple P, my team of 12 practitioners run a variety of different parenting programmes in Sheffield, focusing on all areas of childhood, from babies to teens.
“We have one-off discussion groups, as well as more intensive courses, like our 15-week The Incredible Years programme. We really want Sheffield parents to take whatever suits them best from our programme, we’re here to support them fully.
“We’ve also been really delighted by the number of dads that have attended sessions, as well as, or instead of, the mums.”
In fact, since seminars and workshops began back in 2016, hundreds of local parents have attended around 200 groups.
“Our practitioners are able to follow some families right through, from babies to beyond, which is really nice,” says Candi.
“And our service is always growing and adapting to the needs of parents in the city, offering support where they tell us they need it.”
And as the final bell rings on my session, I’m excited by the ideas buzzing around my head, and scribbled in my workbook. I’m reassured by the things it’s clear I’m doing right, and encouraged by the strategies I’ve learned. The most important take-home from the class for me, is the idea that when it comes to parenting, consistency is key, and as that’s something that is soley in my control, I feel supported and ready to take on the next challenge.