By Deacon Tom Picciano
BINGHAMTON — Parents don’t have all the answers for raising children. But there is some help for the formative early childhood years in classes offered by Catholic Charities of Broome County.
STEP — Systematic Training for Effective Parenting — is in the 14th year of operation. The classes, offered in conjunction with the Mothers and Babies Perinatal Network, meet in January and February and again in March and April.
Shelly Kaminsky, supervisor for the Pregnancy, Parenting and Adoption Program for Catholic Charities, has been with the classes since the begining. Kaminsky said the focus is on toddlers, a time when people have the biggest struggles. The goal is to help the parents understand basic child development and how to parent with respect.
“We talk about understanding your parenting style, the ways you were parented, what you would like to take with you, what you would like to leave behind. Sometimes that opens up some pretty serious wounds,” Kaminsky said. “It’s not a support group: it’s a parent education class. If we find that somebody needs counseling, it’s great because we have the service right here.”
Kaminsky said that the STEP book offers charts on how to handle misbehavior. “It says when a child does this what are you feeling? [Does the parent feel anger, frustration…],” she said. “You understand what you are feeling, what you are dealing with and are able to redirect it, versus acting out in anger, frustration.”
The book also looks at “eye messages” between toddler and parent. It’s a skill that can help with other relationships.
Kaminsky said many of the participants have been referred to the classes by the Department of Social Services or Family Court, which can lead some to go on the defensive. She has heard messages such as being poor or young means they don’t have parenting skills.
“I tell them they have more skills than someone who is 32. Because they’ve [the 32-year-olds] never been exposed to children and you have, you have more skills. That doesn’t mean you don’t need a class. I had a degree and I had a child. And I needed a class,” Kaminsky said.
Kaminsky said STEP offers tools to use beyond what has been learned from experience or observation.
“This is taking a class and learning other tools, learning other ways of doing things. It might work this time with your child because the other stuff isn’t working. It might not. But it’s really to give them more tools. But the biggest thing is to realize that your child has feelings. The child has needs,” she said.
Building respect between parent and child leads to better communication. Kaminsky said parents lose when they’ve yelled at a toddler. It’s not the kind of relationship parents want with their child, she said.
Catholic Charities STEP Parenting Classes are aimed at parents with children from birth to age 6. About 135 people start the classes each year, with 90 completing the all six sessions. Kaminsky has been surprised by evaluations at the end of the course. When asked if the course was what the participants expected, Kaminsky said the many write, “No, it was much more than expected.”
Kaminsky said much of that has to do with the team which teaches the classes.
“They see the realness of the facilitators. We’re parents; we’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned from teaching the class. They’re not up there acting like ‘I’m perfect and do what I say because I know all the answers,’” she said.
The STEP Early Childhood Classes started on Tuesday, Jan. 18 and go through Feb. 22. Another six-week session begins March 15. The classes are held at the PAL Center on 457 State St. in Binghamton. The cost is $10 and participants get to keep the book. Funding for the program comes from the United Way of Broome County, Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation, Inc. and the Community Foundation South Central New York.
Catholic Charities also offers other programs using the “Happiest Baby on the Block” series. They are one-on-one sessions for soon-to be parents or those with infants. Parents interested in either program may call (607) 729-9166 to register.