Agency offers guidance for local parents

Every new parent has wished at some point their baby had arrived with an instruction manual.

Due to the around-the-clock nature of childcare, parents feel overwhelmed, and it doesn’t seem to help that so many others have been through the same thing at some point in their own lives.

A manual, of sorts, does exist in the form of the Parenting Place, a division of Bremerton-based Kitsap Community Resources, which offers a wide range of classes designed to help parents cope with issues from birth to the time the kids finally leave the nest.

“Parents think they’re the only ones experiencing this issues,” said program supervisor VernaRae Oraker. “Actually, everyone is going through the same thing.”

Parenting Place does not represent a new concept. KCR has operated the service for five years, taking over from the 25-year-old Project Family. But current events — including the fact that Kitsap County has the highest instances in the state of child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence and divorce — have increased the visibility and importance of these services.

“We provide the only formal parenting workshops in the county,” Oraker said. “We’re giving parents something they can participate in, and providing them with positive tools they can use in any situation.”

Recently, local civic group Leadership Kitsap embarked on a campaign to “market Parenting Place in a more upscale, positive way,” according to director Lynn Lance.

This includes the creation of a video to be shown to civic groups that lets the public know of the program’s existence and who can use the service.

Classes are open to Kitsap County residents who have any parenting issue. They must also pay for the classes because, as Oraker notes, “People who pay the tuition tend to complete the class.”

This isn’t a deal breaker, since scholarship discounts are available to those who need the classes but cannot afford them. (Tuition isn’t prohibitive in the first place, with a $100-per-couple maximum cost for a seven- to 12-week class.)

Some class members are subject to court-required attendance because of first offenses of mild abuse or neglect. In any case, the classes have a diverse membership. Many attendees are low-income, but the classes also have a percentage of people who could afford private services.

Oraker said the diversity helps, and everyone can learn from each another due to the universality of parental experiences.

“Whatever the income level, a lot of families have common problems,” Oraker said. “It may have to do with appropriate discipline or self-esteem issues. We need to be able to nurture our children and make sure they don’t burden themselves beyond what they can handle.”

“Many of the classes provide an education for the family where everyone is included,” Lance said. “Some classes separate the parents and the kids and they each express their frustrations. Later, when they meet together, everyone understands where everyone else is coming from. It mends the family in a holistic way.”

A lot of the material covered in the classes is designed to correct past child-rearing fallacies. Family Services Coordinator Pam Rhodes, who teaches many of the classes, tells of how her own father put whiskey on her son’s gums “to calm him down.” While this treatment once represented conventional wisdom, it is no longer a healthy alternative.

Another outdated disciplinary tool is the use of soap or pepper on the tongue as punishment for uttering a profanity.

“Parents need to learn other techniques,” Lance said. “Today, putting pepper on a child’s tongue is a form of child abuse. If a child says a dirty word, then a parent needs to tell them that the use of these words is disrespectful and they won’t tolerate disrespect. You can’t control how they talk with their friends, but you can let them know that the words are unacceptable at home.”

In turn, parents need to give their children respect and responsibility while maintaining a certain amount of perspective.

Parents cannot lose control if their 8-year-old leaves a coat at a friend’s house because that’s simply what 8-year-olds do. And it’s unrealistic to tell a 5-year-old to be home in an hour because kids of that age have no sense of time.

“A lot of parents don’t understand age-appropriateness,” Rhodes said. “You expect different behavior from different developmental stages. For instance, a 2-year-old thinks that everyone else sees the world from two feet off the ground, and that everyone else had the exact day as they did. Parents need to understand these developmental stages and know what to expect.”

Oraker said better childcare eventually improves how people interact.

“Our communities will become healthier as families grow stronger,” she said. “In this sense, we’re all cogs in a wheel.”

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