WELLAND – Everyone knows that children do not come with an instruction manual.

And if you have kids, have been around kids or ever was a kid — you can appreciate that parenting is hard work and not always easy.

Add to the equation other factors beyond your control, and parents can easily become overwhelmed and struggle to parent effectively.

Strengthening Families is a parenting program offered by Family and Children’s Services Niagara in partnership with other community organizations, that works with the whole family to strengthen family bonds and help families find their own solutions to their parenting issues.

“Many of our families identify communication as a major issue,” says FACS employee and program facilitator Sanya Velemirovich. “They often say ‘I just want my kids to listen.’ We work with the kids and the parents to identify issues and strategies to address them.”

This 14-week program includes weekly meetings of three hours each, serving 10 families with children aged seven to 11 years old. In the first hour, parents and kids meet separately in their own groups. Then they enjoy a meal together, then reconvene to talk about what they have learned.

Sometimes the solutions come from the kids themselves.

“We recently had a family who had a battle over video games,” says Velemirovich. “The child said ‘I think we need a family meeting’ to sort this out.”

Parents and children learn the same concepts: how to get along, anger management, the power of praise and appropriate consequences for their actions.

“We are just facilitators,” says Velemirovich. “We let families find what works best for them.”

And it seems to be working.

The program has an 89% attendance rate and parents report feeling more confident, less overwhelmed and better able to cope with the demands of parenting and other stressors in their lives.

“We have a dad whose special needs son recently experienced a major tantrum. Dad was calm and confident and was able to bring his son under control. All the parents applauded. It was amazing,” said Velemirovich.

The program itself offers a sense of community to the families — mutual support, less isolation and the confidence to tackle their parenting issues. Community is key to this program as it is offered in partnership with a variety of agencies such as the school boards, Contact Niagara and the John Howard Society.Joanne Bovine of the John Howard Society says the agency is happy to host the program at its East Main St. location in Welland.

“We have embraced the idea of bringing community agencies together to help families in need,” says Bovine. “We have a warm and welcoming space where they can meet, and it helps families connect with other community services such as employment and education.”

This session of Strengthening Families wrapped up just before Christmas. A special celebration was held with a holiday meal, certificates of completion and perhaps even gifts.

“We are celebrating their success,” says Velemirovich. “We tried to get Santa to come, but he was too busy.”

Family and Children’s Services works with thousands of families each year. FACS believes that the best way to help children is to help their parents. FACS’ Gift of Hope Campaign supports programs that help families. To donate: call 905-937-7731 or visit www.facsniagara.on.ca.

Source: St. Catharines Standard