February 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW2
Incorporating Parental Goals in Parenting Programs Through Collaborative Relationships with Parents
This article makes a case for including parental input, specifically parenting goals, in parenting programs. Research indicates goals directly influence parenting practices. Collaborative discussion about parent goals can better involve parents in the parenting education process, and, through the connection with practices, improve outcomes. Three categories of collaboration are described.
Parent education has been identified as an important national priority (Kagan, 1995). However, parent educators commonly say that programming does not reach the audience it most needs to reach (DeBord, Roseboro, & Wicker, 1998). DeBord and colleagues (2001) show that a collaborative approach increases the reach of a program.
Research suggests that effective parent education involves assisting parents to meet their goals (DeBord & Matta, n.d.; Martinez & Velazquez, 2000). Collaborative discussion of those goals helps parenting, because parent goals influence parenting behavior (Fox, 1999; LeVine & LeVine, 1988; Kohn, 1979). This article details evidence of the influence of goals on parenting practices and provides suggestions for incorporating parent goals into parenting programs.
Parenting Goals and Practices: What We Know
Over several years, Robert and Sarah LeVine (1988) watched the Gusii of Kenya change their parenting goals and change their practices to match their new goals. The Gusii, traditionally agrarian, changed their goals from wanting children to farm to wanting children to get jobs in the growing cities. They realized that the best chance for their children to be successful would be found in the cities. As a result, Gusii parents began sending their children to formal schooling for longer periods of time and more often. This change was difficult; parents relinquished traditional control over their children and had less labor for their own livelihood. The Gusii's changes in the face of problems illustrate the power of parenting goals.
In the United States, Melvin Kohn (1979) demonstrated that class influenced parenting goals. He found that parents in middle class families valued independence, while parents in working-class families valued conformity and obedience. Similarly, Luster and colleagues (1989) found that working-class parents used more physical punishment, restrained children's actions more often, and put greater emphasis on enforcing rules as a means of guiding children than did other parents.
Further research has replicated and extended this work. Parents from south-central Virginia who endorsed more authoritarian goals for their children engaged in more authoritarian practices (Fox, 1999). Examples of these practices include physical punishments and not allowing children to question decisions (Fox, 1999). Parents who endorsed goals of independence used parenting practices that encouraged independence. Examples of these practices include respecting the child's opinion and allowing the child to make decisions for themselves (Fox, 1999).
Suggestions for Practice
There are a number of ways in which collaboration can be used to include parental goals. The following describes some common issues and three possible ways to make parenting programs more collaborative.
Clear, jargon-free, speech helps parents to understand and to feel included (Smith, 2001). As well, careful listening and asking about cultural differences also communicate acceptance and interest (Ferguson & Towsend-Butterworth, 1996; Martinez & Velazquez; 2001). Another common issue is that all collaborative approaches must recognize that parents have unique knowledge about their child (Ferguson & Towsend-Butterworth, 1996).
The facilitator asks parents to elaborate their goals; she may also assist with clarification. She then can demonstrate how a program can help parents meet those goals. One goal may be success in school. The parent educator could then indicate the benefits for school performance of an authoritative style (e.g., Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994). Gordon and Miller (2003) found such an opportunity to contribute substantially improved parental satisfaction in creating Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs); similar outcomes should occur in a parenting program.
A more involved collaboration involves modifying a parenting program to better fit goals. Such collaboration is particularly important when implementing pre-packaged programs such as STEP (Dinkmeyer & McKay, 1989) or the Nurturing Program (Bavolek & Comstock, 1991). Independence from parents is valued in both programs but is not valued in many cultures, such as Chinese-American (Fuligni, Yip, & Tseng, 2002; Stevenson, Chen, & Lee, 1992) and Italian-American (Rubin, 1994). Acknowledging family goals instead of individual would be more culturally congruent and improve outcomes. Similarly, Snell-Johns, Mendez, and Smith (2004) report on an effective collaborative family therapy model. Parents chose their own goals and used workbooks and telephone conversations with family therapists for assistance in meeting those goals.
Another example of modifying a program is the creation of an IEP. Parents, teachers, and other professionals collaborate to create a plan for the child's education (Smith, 2001). Parents share their expectations of the child and indicate how they can help achieve those expectations (Smith, 2001). Such a process represents a modification because most of the outcome is still determined by experts.
A third degree of collaboration involves inviting parents to co-create the program. In this example, parents and educator work together from the beginning to construct an experience that is tailored to the needs generated by parental goals. Such a program may begin with, "How can I, as educator, help you meet your goals?" While the educator remains a source of knowledge, that knowledge emerges in service of parental goals, helping parents to both be more effective and exercise greater control.
An example of this approach is Comer's School Development Program, in which parents are involved not only in the program's daily work, but also in governance (Ferguson & Towsend-Butterworth, 1996). Parents thus decide on major issues of the program, rather than having a pre-defined role (Ferguson & Towsend-Butterworth, 1996). This level of collaboration, however, may have limited applicability. A group of parents who are overwhelmed by the tasks of parenting may feel less able to be so involved.
Parents actively construct their children's environments (Bronfenbrenner, 1990). Collaboration can help parents become true partners in parent education and harness that active processing to improve program outcomes. Such work validates family diversity and focuses attention on the primary goal: improving children's lives.
Bavolek, S. J., & Comstock, C. (1991). Nurturing program for parents and children 4 to 12 years: Parent handbook (2nd Ed.). Park City, UT: Family Development Resources.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1990). Discovering what families do. In D. Blankenhorn, S. Bayme, & J. B. Elshtain (Eds.), Rebuilding the nest (pp. 27-38). Milwaukee: Family Service America.
DeBord, K., Bowers, D. Goddard, W., Kobbe, A. M., Kirby, J., Mulroy, M., Myers-Walls, J., & Ozretich, R. (2001). Preparing parenting educators: The complexities, the competencies, and the challenges. Rochester, NY: National Council on Family Relations. Cited in DeBord, K., & Matta, M. A. (2002). Designing professional development systems for parenting educators. Journal of Extension [On-line], 40(2). Available at: http://joe.org/joe/2002april/a2.html
DeBord, K, Roseboro, J. D., & Wicker, K. M. (1998). Creative approaches to parenting education. Journal of Extension [On-line], 36(5). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1998october/a1.html
DeBord, K., & Matta, M. A. (n.d.). The challenges of parenting education professional development: The North Carolina parenting education community survey. Retrieved October 25, 2002 from http://www.ncpen.org/challenges.html
Dinkmeyer, D., & McKay, G. D. (1989). STEP: Systematic training for effective parenting (3rd Ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Institute.
Ferguson, S. & Townsend-Butterworth, D. (Compilers) (1996, April). A new understanding of parent involvement. Proceedings of the Family-Work-School Conference, New York, New York. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED405446. Retrieved September 5, 2004, from the ERIC database.
Fox, G. E., Jr. (1999). Parent goals and practices: To what extent do parental goals for socialization relate to their practices? Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.
Fuligni, A. J., Yip, T., & Tseng, V. (2002). The impact of family obligation on the daily activities and psychological well-being of Chinese American adolescents, Child Development, 73, 302-314.
Gordon, S. M. & Miller, H. L. (2003, April 21). Parents as active team members: where does accountability for a child's special education rest? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED480124.) Retrieved September 5, 2004, from the ERIC database.
Kagan, S. L. (1995). The changing face of parenting education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED382406). Retrieved September 5, 2004, from the ERIC database.
Kohn, M. L. (1979). Class and conformity: A study in values (2nd Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago.
LeVine, R. A., & LeVine, S. E. (1988). Parental strategies among the Gusii of Kenya. In W. Damon (Series Ed.), R. A. LeVine, P. M. Miller, & M. M. West (Volume Eds.). New directions in child development Vol. 40. Parental behavior in diverse societies (pp. 27-35). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Luster, T., Rhoades, K., & Haas, B. (1989). The relation between parental values and parental behavior: A test of the Kohn hypothesis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 139-147.
Martinez, Y. G., & Velazquez, J.A. (2000). Involving migrant families in education. ERIC Digest. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-RC-00-4) Retrieved September 5, 2004, from the ERIC database.
Rubin, L. B. (1994). Families on the fault line: America's working class speaks about the family, the economy, race, and ethnicity. New York: Harper Collins.
Steinberg, L., Lamborn, S. D., Darling, N., Mounts, N. S., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1994). Over-time changes in adjustment and competence among adolescents from Authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful families. Child Development, 65, 754-770.
Smith, S. W. (2001). Involving parents in the IEP Process. ERIC Digest E-611. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-EC-01-6.) Retrieved September 5, 2004, from the ERIC database.
Snell-Johns J., Mendez, J. L., & Smith, B. H. (2004). Evidence-based solutions for overcoming access barriers, decreasing attrition, and promoting change with underserved families. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 19-35.
Stevenson, H. W., Chen, C., & Lee, S. (1992). Chinese families. In I. Sigel (Series Ed.), D.B. Carter & J. Roopnarine (Vol. Eds.), Advances in applied developmental psychology: vol. 5. Parent-child socialization in diverse cultures (pp. 17-33). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.