April 29, 2016

What I Do for a Living: Teaching Nurturing

As the last work day of the month of April, which just so happens to be the National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it would be a great time to introduce what my new job is all about.

Sidebar: I love CASA--look into how you can become a volunteer.
If you're on social media at all (which I assume you are if you've managed to find this blog), it would be hard not to see one of the Journal of Family Psychology-based articles that's been floating around this week concerning the research conducted by the University of Texas at Austin (and the University of Michigan). They've spent the last 50 years studying the effects of spanking, and the outcome? It isn't pretty.

Not only do children not "learn their lesson"/show long term compliance, which is the goal of spanking (even if they perhaps cease the behavior in the moment), there are unintended negative outcomes... the very same mental health and behavioral outcomes an abused child might experience, only to a lesser degree.

This is where I come in.
The goal of my program is to teach positive parenting and reduce the number of children coming into foster care (because I don't know how aware you are, but there's a serious crisis in the shortage of available homes). There's a few criteria our clients must meet:
1. they must have an open, non-court-involved protective services case;
2. they must have a child between ages 5-11 in the home (the age group most at-risk);
3. the family meets some construct we address (inappropriate family roles, lack of parental empathy, inappropriate parental expectations, use of physical punishment, oppression of personal power--chances are, if they qualified to have a PS case opened, they already meet at least one of these).
The parent must meet for 16 weekly sessions, during which a parent educator meets with the parent(s) to teach them our curriculum while a child program specialist works with the children separately, using activities that break the same information down on their level--plus, there's always family nurturing time they get to spend together and home practice assignments.

One of the most key points of nurturing parenting is that hands that nurture cannot hurt you. This means no spanking. Sadly, I've even heard of DCFS family service workers explaining to parents how they can spank their child legally--but you're all bright enough to know that just because something is legal doesn't make it right (nor does something being illegal necessarily make it wrong--not saying I condone illegal behaviors).

As you also know, I'm from southwestern Arkansas, in a corner against Texas and Louisiana. The public school I went to still uses corporal punishment (paddlings). It is a mighty difficult challenge to change the hearts and minds of parents who come from generations of spankings, if for no other reason than, "look at me, I was spanked, and I turned out just fine."

What they're saying, though, isn't that spanking was the reason they turned out "fine"--they're saying in spite of being spanked, they turned out fine. It obviously matters the degree to which a person was spanked--the more frequent the hitting, the more likely: "rejection of pain, suppressed anger, low self-worth, inability to form meaningful lasting relationships, and uncontrolled fits of violent anger" and other consequences occur, per Dr. Bavolek, founder of the Nurturing Parenting Program.

Another couple of tropes parents rely on are "this hurts me more than it hurts you" and "spare the rod, spoil the child." The first one is incredibly dangerous: we do not want our children to associate love with violence. Then perhaps anyone could benefit from a good slap/punch/beating, and they'll carry this belief for the rest of their life. The second is a highly misquoted one...first of all, they're quoting writers Ralph Venning (Mysteries and Revelations, 1649) and Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1885), not the Bible which actually says: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son. But he that loveth him chasten him betimes." This is certainly implying an encouragement of a father utilizing a rod to chasten his son. But what is meant by rod and chasten? Chasten/chastise can mean to beat, but its most basic meaning is to scold, reprimand, lecture to purify behavior. Rod also has a lot of meanings--including (1) a hooked staff that a shepherd uses to guide his sheep back in (he uses the hook to pull them, not to beat them) or (2) even just guidance itself: a symbol for leadership and discipline.

Many religious scholars agree that this proverb is about a father guiding his son's behavior--without violence. At the end of the day, though, the Bible condoned a lot of things like virgins must marry their rapist, stonings, etc. At the end of the day, spanking is just a specific type of hitting, and hitting is abuse. This is why we teach positive discipline--and "any discipline worth acquiring cannot be beaten into anyone." Discipline should "empower children to take responsibility for their own behavior." Rewarding good behavior is far more effective than punishing bad!

This is a great quick read for anyone!

So this is basically my life's mission: to help children and families flourish. If you know me personally, you'll know my first few years since college have already had a fair share of exploring--Teach for America corps member, university janitor/graduate student, mental health paraprofessional in foster care, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program specialist, and now here. But I finally feel right at home. When I look back at my story of self, which was written the summer after graduation, this is what I was talking about--not being a teacher or a counselor, but an activist, going right into biological family homes and helping them heal and succeed.

It will be a challenge, and it will undoubtedly get more stressful, but I know the fulfillment it will bring. I'm so pumped to be here. I can't wait to help the families of Northwest Arkansas bloom.

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