What Do They Teach in "Parenting Classes"?

Sometimes a parent, or parents, will lose custody of their kids for some reason- abuse, neglect, whatever- and will have to attend parenting classes (among other requirements) in order to get their kids back.

What happens at these classes? Do you sit in a classroom while an instructor teaches diaper changes, time-outs, and, you know, not beating or starving your kids?

Good question.

Are the classes more educational/didactic in nature where the emphasis is on filling in knowledge and skills gaps that could have led to previous problems (e.g. maybe your parents never taught you about the unique nutritional needs of kids under 5 and you were giving them a diet more appropriate to a 10 year old, or maybe you learned how to change a diaper from Great-Aunt Suzie who lived through WW2 shortages and taught you to change diapers only twice a day, which is no longer considered to be a best practice by 9 out of 10 pediatricians)?

Or are they more therapeutic and/or confrontational in nature, more along the lines of jail anger management classes, sex offender treatment, “John School”, or alcohol safety classes (i.e. DUI school) where the emphasis is more on making you admit your guilt, express remorse, and admit you are out of control and need help? E.g. “I’m sorry for letting Ann go to the park unsupervised like my little sister used to do when she was Ann’s age, I’ve been a bad daddy and need help controlling my bad behavior. My bad attitudes led me to make the poor choice in assuming that what my parents did must be ok, I understand now that I need to follow Williamson (2005)'s the Big Book of Responsible Parenting and not trust my own distorted beliefs anymore. Please forgive me, allow me to ask Ann for forgiveness, I’m so sorry <cries>.”

Since social services vary by state, and requirements and procedures of child protective agencies vary by state law, this question cannot be answered without first knowing what state you are talking about.

Here’s an article discussing a recent proposal for mandatory parenting classes for all parents in New York, regardless of whether they have been identified by “the system” as deficient in any way. Obviously, there’s a controversy over whether or not the classes would be primarily informational in nature, giving parents more skills and knowledge that they could evaluate themselves and decide when and if to use, or whether they would be “thought reform” type classes.

The ones that are for people who need to get their kids back from social services focus on non-contact discipline (sending a kid to his room, or taking away TV privileges, instead of whipping him), and ways to care for a kid that reduce frustration, like getting clothes ready the night before, instead of rushing in the morning. There’s also stuff about child development, and what are reasonable expectations for children at different ages, some of which will include nutrition.

There’s question and answer, which uncovers myths that some parents hold: for example, some parents still think you should be very sparing with affection with small children in order not to spoil them. If parents have religious reasons for using corporeal punishment, they may be told to talk to their minister about whether what they are doing is actually appropriate, because few ministers, even “spare the rod” types, think it’s OK to beat a kid until their skin breaks, they have welts, internal bleeding, or broken bones. Frankly, the country is full of parents who spank, but don’t lose their kids to social services, because the “spanking” needed attention in the emergency room, and that will be spelled out.

There may be a little group therapy aspect, where the parents get to talk, and they will be told about “parents anonymous,” a group for parents who feel they may lose control, but don’t want to abuse their kids, that is modeled on 12-step groups.

Honestly, it depends a little on the issues that parents bring to the group, but social services does try to put people together who have children around the same age, so someone with “teenage” issues doesn’t dominate a class where everyone else has toddlers.

Usually, people in the class are a little skeptical of what they hear, but they want their kids back, and are willing to jump through hoops. If they have to tell their kids to write sentences, instead of whacking them for an infraction, they’ll do it.

In my experience, you get two kinds of people: people who had harsh childhoods, but don’t consider themselves abused, and don’t “get” why everyone else thinks what they are doing is so wrong-- you have to explain to them that we know more about child development than we used to, and yes, they did turn out OK (even if they clearly didn’t), but maybe they could have been happier as children, and still turned out OK. The other is people who just aren’t very bright, like borderline retarded, or maybe actually retarded. They have an easier time accepting what they are being told, but a harder time putting it into action. You have to figure out a way to get them a support system. It’s hard for them to plan nutritious meals if they can’t read very well. They might actually need someone to go shopping with them several times until they get in the habit of buying nutritious food.

How are parents evaluated with respect to “passing” or “failing” the class? E.g. if a parent is willing and able to memorize and regurgitate on an exam the fact that the Kansas Department of Child Health, Welfare, and Education recommends that a child receive a diet that includes at least 10 milligrams of folic acid a day, but they (the parent) indicates or admits that they personally believe that 5 mg is enough, could they fail the course for that, or is learning the “book learning” material enough? I think these kinds of “attitudinal” or “belief” issues are what makes people upset. It’s similar to the old “Goals 2000” program for high school reform in the US that got a lot of flak in the late 1990’s - the fear was that schools would start holding back or flunking kids for Failing to Appreciate Diversity or things like that, even if they knew their times tables, could do the Quadratic Equation, and could write a coherent essay on a major historical figure.

There’s a different kind of parenting class that you can take on a purely voluntary basis. Our medical group offered it to all first-time parents, so we took it before our son was born. It taught basic things like nutrition, how to put a baby to sleep, how to give a baby a bath, etc. The bath was the most useful thing as otherwise we would have been clueless about that.

I’m not sure what your point is in relation to mine. Yes, people propose all sorts of stupid shit. The specific stupidity of their shit varies by location, just like the law. As a New Yorker and an employee of a child protective agency, I can promise you that there is no danger of this propsal actually happening.

Classes which actually exist vary by state and by the goal to be achieved. There is no universal type of “parenting g class” that can be discussed. Severe neglect is monitored one on one, not through “parenting classes”.

In some states, when you divorce, if you are going to have custody of your own children after the divorce, sole or joint, the State requires each parent take a parenting class. My state required this when my ex-wife and I split. The class was about 4 hours on a Saturday, and could have been condensed into about 30 minutes. Mostly common sense stuff about not blaming your kids for your divorce, and then the standard anti child abuse stuff.

Haven’t taken the mandatory kind of parenting class, but prospective foster parents (and those who would be babysitting overnight for foster kids in this state) take a parenting class that covers a lot about what behaviours in kids are acceptable, how to discipline, how to establish guidelines and rules and structure and expectations, why kids will react in a given way to various situations, etc. It’s pretty informative and can be helpful dealing with difficult kids, which typically are what you’re dealing with in the foster care system, whether you’re the foster parent or the one getting them back eventually from the foster parents.

As a fellow New Yorker and former employee of a child protective agency , I agree and go even further. That headline is not really accurate - it should read “Two senators are proposing legislation that has been proposed before and never passed”

These classes teach nanny state horseshit. I’m a lawyer who practices in family court. I have told judges that these classes teach nanny state horseshit so much that if all married couples in the state were forced to attend that there would be armed revolution.

But rich white people don’t call the police and get themselves involved with the family court system so they don’t have to go to these classes which teach, as mentioned above, nanny state horseshit.

That’s usually called a co-parenting class and are usually required in custody matters whether patents were married or not. Because of jurisdictional issues, I got to take two classes in different states. It was mostly common sense stuff like you described but I lucked out and both teachers were pretty cool and funny.

There are a lot of little tricks to it, things you should have learned a long time ago. Such as, if you leave milk out, it can go sour. Put it in the refrigerator, or, failing that, a cool wet sack.

And put your garbage in a garbage can, people. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t just throw it out the window.

Yeah, that’s the one we took too. It covers babies up through about 1 year.

It would be nice if they had classes on how to manage 2, 3 and 4 year olds. That’s when it starts getting more difficult from what I can tell. (1st son’s nearly 3 and is a PITA a lot of the time)

They mostly pass by showing up. It’s difficult to fail if you show up for every class. There’s usually a test, but it’s pretty easy if you went to every class. What they are looking for is commitment. Also, someone who is still drinking misses a lot of classes. Someone who is serious about getting their kids back isn’t drinking, if that’s a requirement, and therefore is showing up for classes, because they aren’t drunk when they are supposed to be in class. Someone who has lots of excuses, like his car broke down (and he couldn’t be assed to take a bus, or find a ride with someone, or call the teacher, and try to get a make-up class) one week, and he had a headache the next week, and then had overtime, and didn’t bother to try to explain to his boss how important the classes were, isn’t making his child a priority.

There are also red flags that may show up in class. A parent who gets into shouting matches with the teacher, or uses a lot of profanity in class, or gets into heated arguments with the other parents is going to get a recommendation to take anger management, or get a psych evaluation, or something, before he gets his kids back.