Parenting can be difficult – there’s no rulebook or step-by-step guide when issues arise. Raising children to become responsible and productive members of society without pushing them away is a skill that can be learned though.
Boys Town, a local nonprofit with a mission to strengthen struggling families, works to teach this skill through its Common Sense Parenting classes. The organization was founded in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1917 as a residential home for orphaned boys. Providing services at 11 sites around the country, it has since grown to include girls. Boys Town opened in Central Florida in 1986 and now includes campuses in Oviedo and MetroWest.
Justin Colson, a Common Sense Parenting supervisor and instructor, says the six-week course teaches a new basic parenting skill each week. Topics include describing behaviors to children in a positive way, using effective praise and correction techniques, teaching children social skills, correcting problem behaviors, teaching anger control and managing emotions.
“[The program] is broken into weeks because parents should go home to practice the skill, come back the next week and talk about how it worked,” Colson says.
Once parents become involved with the classes, Colson says they see that changing problem behaviors doesn’t have to be a challenge. “Outside of the evidence-based skills, they’re going to get and have more tools to work with their child,” he says, adding that when a parent’s style isn’t working, he or she has these extra tools at their disposal to better communicate. “What you’re doing isn’t wrong, but here’s another tool.”
While many participants are parents, Common Sense Parenting classes are open to anyone who wants to take them. Grandparents who have guardianship have been involved as well as teachers who are fulfilling requirements for Florida Department of Children and Families hours. Each class has a minimum of five participants and a maximum of 15.
Classes have been held at facilities across Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, including Primrose School at Avalon Park, Three Points Elementary School and East Point Church. With the help of funding from the O’Neill Foundation and the Ounce of Prevention Foundation, classes for parents in Orange County are free of charge.
Jackie Nitti, the community engagement coordinator for Boys Town, says the organization offers many other programs that provide an integrated continuum of care to help families in various stages of need. An outpatient behavioral health clinic with two doctorial-level psychologists on staff is located at both campuses. In-home family services connect consultants who are available 24/7 with struggling families in their own homes to help them deal with any challenges they’re facing. An Intervention & Assessment Center and a Family Home program house youth from all over the state who have been removed from their homes.
These vital Boys Town programs are offered to the community with the goal of helping children and families stay intact as they heal.