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Empowerment:
the key to parenting success?

Parenting is always a great challenge.     It can be especially difficult if parents face poverty and other disadvantages or discrimination. Such parents can easily lose heart or blame themselves.

What factors influence parenting success?

    • The quality of parents' schooling and their other learning opportunities
    • Their lifestyles, health and nutrition
    • The support they receive from relatives, neighbours and the wider society
    • Their lifetime experiences of being empowered

    Even if parents lack all these advantages, they can still benefit from their own efforts and insights, especially if they are supported in achieving their potential.

    Family services provided by the State and by many other organisations attempt to downplay parental inadequacy, in the belief that these services will compensate for disadvantage or parenting limitations. However most of the conventional forms of advice and guidance tend to reduce even more the parents' sense of control over their lives.

    Society at fault?      The added disempowerment of parents is not primarily the fault of those providing the services.  It is rather the consequence of a society which values status, wealth and professional insights more than peoples' own insights, their contributions to society or their children's development. The more effective support services are those in which the parents are intimately involved in achieving better control over their lives and the development of their children, and are encouraged to come up with their own ideas in discussion with a family support visitor.

    Finding own answers to problems.     When such visitors enable parents to think up credible solutions to their coping and parenting problems, the empowerment that results can achieve far more than top down guidance services which tend to reinforce parents' subordinate and dependent status, and rob them of the chance of finding their own answers to their problems.

    For fuller discussions of the above topic, see . . .

    Empowering parents - the CDP

    (An overall view of the Child Development Programs, their goals and achievements)

    New key to effective support of parents?

    (Society's attempts to overcome widespread parental inadequacy, and the new approach proposed here)x

    The article on the right describes some of the possibilities of this approach to supporting parents

    dad giving bath to children
    Parent support programs that
    focus on guiding and advising
    parents are likely to make
    them and their communities
    more subservient,
    more controlled and
    more in tune with
    an authoritarian ethos
    rather than a liberated one.
    In contrast, all parents, even
    those with the fewest
    resources and the least
    self-confidence, are likely to
    benefit greatly from the
    empowerment offered by the
    unique programmes described here.

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    mother playing with child on bed
    sleep cos i say so

    Finding the best ways of offering support

    There are different ways of supporting parents who struggle to cope and who may be overwhelmed by challenges, especially if they live in a less advantaged environment.

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             The least successful support methods are those popular approaches in which well-meaning support workers offer parents advice and guidance.

    empower pg2 button

             A more successful method is one where the support worker and the parent share discussions on the best ways to solve parenting problems. Both these approaches offer immediate answers rather than developing the parents' ability to think for themselves.

    empower pg2 button

             The most effective method is likely to be one in which a support worker calls on the parent in her or his home and asks about the family's life and hopes, showing empathy and interest before coming to other support issues. The visit is semi-structured to cover all the key areas of development. If the parent wants to talk about particular concerns, the home visitor encourages the parent to explore such issues in their discussion. Finally the worker asks the parent to suggest how she (or he) might overcome such problems in future and what parenting goals she might set herself in the period before the next home visit.






















    Qualities of an empowering support worker

    The worker using this approach is empathetic rather than formal and authoritative, caring but not intrusive or dominant, purposeful and open to friendly informal discussion in which the parent can be put at ease when she raises broader or more specific parenting concerns. As the worker comes to know the parent better in successive visits, the worker may suggest that other broad issues could also be explored.

    Theat aproach is based on encouraging parents to define their own concerns, and encouraging them to come up with their own answers. It takes much skill and training for a worker to hold back on offering answers, and to create an equality between the parents and the worker in which the parents learn how to find their own solutions to those concerns.

    It is this approach which forms the basis of the successful home visiting programs that have been developed by the Parent and Child Empowerment Organisation (PCEO), (formerly the Early Childhood Development Centre) in the UK and in some other countries over the past few decades.

    The great value of an empowering approach

    There are a number of reasons why the empowering approach is more successful than the conventional methods of advise and guide, in which professionals or other support workers prioritise their own insights rather than helping parents to develop theirs.

    1. Parents faced with problems often feel low and see themselves as a failure. They need to be encouraged, not criticised or advised on how they can reform their coping behaviours. Least of all do they need a discussion in which the worker concentrates on their failing behaviours.
    2. The more the parents are helped to see that they can find their own answers to their problems, the more empowered they will feel and the more effort they can put into succeeding with those answers.
    3. The empowerment of parents helps strengthen their emotional links with and understanding of their children. This is an essential key to parenting success.
    4. Interventions with parents are not usually effective if the solutions do not come from the parents themselves; ideas and advice from outsiders reinforce a feeling of disempowerment.
    5. Effective support for marginalised parents and children is not achieved through yet more handouts from authorities. For such families there has to be a balance between material assistance and the empowerment of the families.
    6. Encouraging parents to develop their parenting skills not only empowers, but also makes them aware that they can develop better ways of functioning and coping with their limited resources. This in turn helps generate greater awareness of the growth potential not only of individual families but also of the wider community.
    7. Attempts by outsiders to control failing parents' behaviours do not help them to cope, but rather encourage denial or dependency. When the next problem arises the parents again look to the outsiders to advise and guide them on what they must do next. Thus the disempowerment that is the result of advising and guiding people simply perpetuates further disempowerment.

    There is a North American Indian saying

    Tell me and I will forget

    Show me and I may not remember

    Involve me and I will understand




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