My Family Links journey started in November 2010.
I was fortunate to go on a residential to Hull for a week. I was very nervous, pulled up outside a peaceful place after a four-hour car journey. I was welcomed by the group facilitators and they took my bag off me, sat me down for breakfast and asked if I was ok; as well as finding out how my journey was. I quickly felt at ease and looked after.
There was a lot of positivity radiating around me. For the first time I felt that someone was taking an interest in people and quickly I started talking to others. I met the group that I was going to spend the week with, all with similar backgrounds to myself, working with children, youth and parents in varying capacities.
We sat in a circle, we played some games, asked which chocolate bar we would be and why? I thought, what have I come to? There were balloons being tossed around and people writing on paper and putting them into baskets. I quickly thought, I am meant to be at a parenting programme, being told how to tell parents to look after their children better and deal with their behaviour. This was not what I signed up to.
On day two, I reflected on the activities and introduction around nurturing. It was a new concept that I didn’t know much about. However, staying in a place on your own gave me some time. Time that I wouldn’t normally have within a fast-paced environment like children’s services. I was able to sit and reflect and to think about what had been discussed on the first day.
So, I googled the concept that they went through called the ‘Four Constructs’. It didn’t really mean much at this point but one thing that stood out for me was around empathy and building self-awareness. It quickly became apparent that these made perfect sense.
I never once sat back or believed in myself and had previously suffered with low self- esteem. This was an area that I needed to strengthen personally. The group gave me a chance to be able to be confident to discuss such issues.
Empathy was something new to me. I didn’t think about it too much and neither did the people in the group. I thought I practised this on a daily basis. So, at the end of the week, I learnt what nurturing was all about. How the Nurturing Programme would help the children and parents that I work with. It instilled something into me. It gave me an appreciation, awareness, a buzz to want to be positive and also try and give families and children an opportunity to be listened to.
Ten-Week Parenting Programme
I think The Nurturing Programme helps parents develop empathy. By developing empathy, it allowed parents to be able to understand their children’s behaviour and deal with behaviour in a different way.
After returning from my training with Family Links, myself and a colleague set up a ten-week Nurturing Programme. We had all the kit, including books, posters and DVDs to give out to parents.
This was a group setting which allowed us to cover topics such as family relationships, child development, empathy and much more.
What happens within the groups is something special. Parents and yourself enter an opportunity to work collaboratively, discussing clear areas for development, but the most powerful in any of the groups was allowing parents to develop a sense of empathy and work on their self-esteem.
It became apparent without these positive outcomes that you aren’t strong enough to develop the other two constructs.
This is my own interpretation and not something that was specifically taught, or referenced, on the course. In no way was I stating to any parent that they need to ‘parent’ in a certain way. This was in fact the opposite approach, whereby lots of the activities within the group and discussions allowed parents to learn from each other and pathed their own way to reflect on parenting skills and the children.
However, what The Nurturing Programme gave to me was much more than delivering the Parenting Programme. It gave me a sense of stepping into a person’s shoes; imagining what it is like to walk in them, but, also giving people reason to continue being a parent for positive outcomes for their children.
I delivered eight Parenting Programmes in my capacity as Children’s Centre Co-ordinator and it has never left my side to date.
How has it changed me as a person?
We all know the challenges we face in Children’s Services and the ever-changing landscape of the sector for children and young people. At the time of delivering this, some local authorities were able to see the benefit of Parenting Programmes and welcomed these as part of their early help offer.
This was a positive move towards parents and families being supported to manage day-to-day struggles through attending a 10-week Nurturing Programme, whilst enjoying opportunities as a family.
The programme’s ethos has never left my side. So much so I still incorporate the approach into my lectures. At times I have used some of the examples within my teaching, which has resulted in opportunities for students to be able to walk in the shoes of the family and the children they care for.
The reason behind my post is to support and offer helpful advice to many practitioners, as those that I work with have now picked up much of the family support role within Early Years Settings.
There is a real skill in managing parents worries and stresses about their children and daily lives and many of them are doing a grand job. My part-time students are practitioners within Early Years and they find many parents need some extra support to deal with day-to-day life and managing a fulltime job, children and keeping their heads above water with the current financial issues that they face.
I have shared many sessions outlined within the 10-week programme and also given them opportunities within the lecture to have a go at delivering a session. Many students have stated that they feel more confident within the approach of working with parents and they have not had any training on how to support parents with empathic practice.
We have covered many aspects, such as positive discipline, using the ‘I statements’ and giving praise – all small things that can have a huge impact on family life.
I practise what I preach and I have kept my passion for the Family Links Nurturing Programme ever since I took part in that first session in 2010.
I use the concepts within my every day practice. I sometimes ask the students what they get from my lectures. They always talk about me being positive, turning negative aspects into a positive, using positive language and always getting them to take part and being empathetic when needed.
I always start my lectures with a smile and good morning, afternoon and evening to every single student. Yes, this might seem a lot when you have a large group, but I make sure that I am there beforehand and welcome every single student through the door.
Many students have stated that they feel welcome, engaged to learn and already there is a barrier that has been broken between student and lecturer.
One aspect that still stays with me from the group parenting training in Hull is that we are facilitating together and learning from one another. To understand children we must firstly see them as an equal. There is no need for hierarchy as this comes with being parents anyway.
Family Links has so much to offer and so I suggest that you make every effort to read their programme, ethos or even better attend the training. This has definitely made me a more inclusive, reflective practitioner.
Make every effort to get involved, utilise the opportunities that nurturing plays within your settings for all including; children, parents, families and colleagues.
Imagine yourself in the position that I was in at Hull. Not knowing anyone, feeling nervous and not knowing what to expect is how many parents feel when they enter your setting on a daily basis.
Think about what could have happened the night before, ask questions and empower parents to think that they can continue to be a parent for the best outcomes for their children in an inclusive non-judgemental environment.
You can find Aaron’s original blog post on his website: