Talking about Triple P

On Tuesday 18th September 2012, I presented at the Triple P Practitioners Development Day in Sydney NSW.

For the past 12 months I have been facilitating Triple P groups (Positive Parenting Program) on a regular basis and exploring the support needs of parents during the group programme and after completion of the group.

Below is my presentation, and the presentation from one of the parent co-facilitators I work with…

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Presentation – Narelle Smith

I was trained in Levels 2 and 4 group Triple P in March 2009.

I ran a few groups, and for reasons within the organisation I work for I found it difficult to continue to offer the Triple P group.

Mid last year, I was starting to get phone calls and enquiries from people interested in attending Triple P. They couldn’t find a course in the area. I looked on the Resourcing Parents website and rang around and there wasn’t much being offered.

I started thinking about running Triple P again. But if I was going to run it. my gut was telling me that I had to give it a really good go. Run it once per term every term. Make it consistently available to folks. There were a few hurdles to jump within the organisation but my manager made the way clear for me to offer Triple P.

So I started facilitating group Triple P again in October last year, and it has bloomed. This is the story of what works for me.

1. Don’t restrict yourself to your own patch.

I run Triple P in a very middle class suburb in the Penrith area called Glenmore Park. Not the suburb of hardship and heartbreak where I do my community hub work.

If you work in a small community like I do (1300 homes), you will know from experience that there is value in anonymity.

Who wants to be sitting in the same room as their neighbours? You can’t say things like “I don’t yell at my kids” when the neighbour is there to say “I heard you screaming at them on the street last Thursday, what are you talking about?”.

I have found that many low-functioning parents communicate a projected narrative. They talk about how they want to parent as if they are already doing it. And they can do that in the company of strangers.

Also, the facilities in the community I work in are not great. The streets are not the most welcoming. The facility we have at Glenmore Park is beautiful and people come from all over the Penrith LGA to attend Triple P, including people from the community I work in who would not come to a parenting group if I held it there.

2. Deliver at a heart level rather than a head level.

Since October last year I have been running Triple P at a heart level.

The night before the Triple P course started I sat down to prepare. My stepfather had died that week, and his death hit me really hard. I hadn’t had any time to prepare and I hadn’t run Triple P for 2 years. In that moment I discovered the heart level of my Triple P practice.

I wasn’t going to deliver Triple P within the context of discipline or behaviour management. I was going to deliver the programme with a focus on connection, belonging, relationship, and guidance. The most important aspect of parenting is relationship. Children won’t listen or do as you ask if there is no relationship.

All of the feedback I get from Triple P parents who come to my group – written or verbal – emphasises how the relationship between them and their children has improved.

3. Consider a parent cofacilitator.

That October group was such a dynamic group, and what a journey it was. One of the highlights of my career. Almost all of the parents were in need of a clinical level of support. There was a sense with this group, that they had got about as low as they could go, and the only way was up. All of the parents spoke about how lonely and isolated they felt as parents.

This group asked many questions. They challenged me on every thing I said. They squeezed me out and wrung me dry.

One of these parents was Meagan. She asked many, many questions and put lots of scenarios to me.

But do you know what else she did?

She went home and put it all into practice. And then she came back to the group and reported her progress. She was special.

At the end of the Triple P group, the participants wanted to know more, and I did some extra workshops with them. I’d never had a group who wanted so much to stay in touch, to remain connected. But it made sense, because we had spent weeks talking about connection and relationship in our Triple P group.

At the end of the extra workshops, Meagan asked “what do I do now?” and I think I replied “go home and enjoy your kids”.

But she got me thinking.

When I worked in foster care, the training for new foster carers (Shared Stories Shared Lives) had an experienced foster carer cofacilitate the training. It was a highlight of the training. I was very familiar and comfortable with this process.

I asked Meagan if she would like to come along to Triple P to talk about how the strategies worked for her. I offered her a $150 gift card for her efforts. She said she would love to.

In February this year, I started a new Triple P group with Meagan as parent co-facilitator. Once again, I pitched the material at a heart level – connection, belonging, relationship, guidance. I would talk about the strategies and Meagan would give her examples. We had synergy and the feedback from participants was very positive. Meagan became the hero of the programme, the participants talked about how great it was to have a parent talking about how Triple P worked for her.

In that February group was Mal. He appeared to really enjoy the material and beamed when he spoke of the strategies he used to make connection with his kids. I knew Meagan was heading back to work in July, so I asked Mal if he would like to replace Meagan when she was no longer available. And he said he would love to.

And this is the crux of it – I will not have a parent co-facilitator just for the sake of it. I need people who are passionate about their parenting and who speak from the heart and who are not afraid to be vulnerable. I need people who operate from the same heart space as myself. Meagan and Mal take their role seriously but don’t believe they are better than any other parent, and as such they communicate at a heart level and with humility.

4. Offer catch-up sessions for participants who miss a session.

Those participants who miss sessions, I offer a 1:1 session to catch them up on the information they miss out on.

5. Offer extra sessions for participants who are struggling.

Acknowledge the struggles. Speak to and acknowledge people’s pain.

People really respond to this. They appreciate feeling heard. They take a risk in being vulnerable if they know they are going to be given respect, time, and space.

In almost every one of my groups, there is a Dad who has spent time in gaol for violence. They have all had terrible childhoods.

Session 1, a Dad said that it was OK to smack kids, and it didn’t do him any harm. He had served time for domestic violence. I did some extra sessions with him and his partner and by the end he said to me “you’ve got me with this different way of parenting of yours”. He asked for a referral for his anger and domestic violence.

Another Dad had an awful childhood and had spent a lot of time in gaol for violence. He came to the group saying he wanted a better life for his children. He is a single Dad with full-time custody of his children. I have spent a lot of extra time in conversation with this man listening to and acknowledging his pain and stayed in touch with him after the group through the early intervention programme he was involved in. He talks about how Triple P has changed his life. He moves people to tears with his story.

I offer extra sessions and extra time for those parents who are struggling, to help tailor the strategies for themselves, their children and their family.

6. Acknowledge the strengths.

Make it genuine and heartfelt. Parents are so full of shame and guilt they don’t see the good stuff they do. A little bit of descriptive praise goes a long way.

7. Follow-up on participants who drop out.

I never did this when I started out in Triple P.

Earlier this year, there was a young couple in a Keeping Children Safe group that I was running. I recognised the woman, and said to her I knew her from somewhere. She said they had attended a Triple P group I ran years ago. I remembered that they didn’t attend after the first session. She said they got sick and missed the second session, and felt they couldn’t come back. I asked how they were going. She told me that their children are in foster care now. I asked why they didn’t call me, I could have caught them up on the session they missed. She said “I didn’t know how to ask for help in those days”.

These days I offer help whether people ask for it or not.

8. Encourage parents to adapt the Triple P strategies to their own children and families.

I am constantly amazed and inspired by the ideas that parents generate.

One day I said to the group that a clear, calm, and direct instruction is like asking for the tomato sauce. You usually ask for it clearly and calmly without any emotion. Parents started talking about using their “tomato sauce voice”. If you ever hear someone talking about the tomato sauce voice chances are they come from Penrith.

We have little sayings like “you’ve got to live it to give it” when we are talking about self-care. A lot of parents have reported they are much better at self-care now.

In other words, we make Triple P our own.

9. Email participants after each session.

Something that I did differently with the February group was after each session I sent an email to the participants outlining what we discussed, questions the participants had, and aha! moments. The participants really engaged with this. It was another way of staying connected and being enriched by the group experience.

10. Set up an online forum

Every group speaks of the isolation of parenting, how they felt judged mostly by family and friends. I thought family and friends were supposed to offer support not criticism. I didn’t really understand it but in an effort to provide another layer of support, I started an online forum through Yahoo Groups for parents who had finished the Triple P groups I had facilitated.

Ours has closed membership and is private. I post links, photos, articles, podcasts – anything about positive parenting. Staying connected in this way reminds parents of what they learnt in the Triple P group.

11. Monthly get-together

We also started a support group that meets once per month during the school terms. We just meet up, have a chat, and the kids play with each other. There is real value in this listening forum for some parents.

12. Get some clinical supervision.

You need support to do this work.

At least 50% of the parents coming to the groups are in need of a clinical level of support.  It can be as high as 80%. The most presenting problems are domestic violence (past or current), depression, and parent mental illness (bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder).

Brian Cade, a brief solution focused therapist says “extinguish the need by meeting the need”. In the groups, I encourage parents to be physically and emotionally available to their children, and thus I feel that I need to role model the same. Whatever the level of need, I offer to walk alongside a parent to support him/her to grow and change with the aim of transferring them safely into therapeutic services that will continue the work.

One of the biggest complaints from parents in the group is that the partner is stuck in old ways. We talk about being the role model, being persistent, and communication. Many parents report that coming to Triple P has led them to couples counseling or better communication. Some have reported that they have left their abusive partner.

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You know the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child”?

Where is the village?

Where is the support for parents as they go out into the world and try to do their Triple P?

Parents tell me that they can’t rely on those closest to them to support them. That it’s too easy to fall back into the “old way” of parenting under the critical gaze of partners, parents, relatives, and friends.

In this heartful way of doing Triple P we are creating a supportive community until people feel confident enough in their parenting to withstand the criticism and judgement. People can come and go, stay a while or a little, and they take what they need.

And it has all grown organically in response to what parents say they need.

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Presentation – Parent Co-facilitator

My name is Meagan, I am the mother of 3 little treasures and this is my story.

In July of 2011 we welcomed our third child. A beautiful baby girl. I hoped she would bring balance to our family and help settle the rising chaos that is life with 2 boys aged 4 and 3. In the weeks that followed I realised a new born baby combined with a change from fulltime work to full time mum is not going to reduce chaos in any way. But I was blessed with a relaxed attitude, a strong commitment to making it work.

Predictably, our boys began to act up. At pre school they got in to trouble. My husband, not having experienced criticism of his children before, was mortified and very angry. The boys were afraid. They were in a great deal of trouble at home and at school – there was no place for them. On advice from the pre school the boys were separated and went to school on different days. This worked perfectly for school but at home the crazy behaviour returned. They were becoming uncontrollable.

Our 3 year old had always been difficult. From birth he was difficult to settle, difficult to feed and for the first 10 months of his life he refused to be held by any other person – including my husband – no matter how hard I tried. Consequently, there was no relationship between he and his father. He is a very clever child and very intuitive but was very angry and completely irrational. He would throw tantrums lasting 4 or 5 hours over minor issues and would debate and question everything “I just don’t think you’re right Mummy”.

One day we had a battle over a mandarine. I had put my foot down and so had he – from here it was anyone’s guess as to who would crack first or how long it would take. 22 hours he persisted without food. This was an impressive 3 year old but to my husband there was something very wrong with him. My husband declared he had autism. I did everything I could. I took both boys to doctors, naturopaths, councillors, community nurses and they were assessed for everything. One nurse even implied that my 3 year old had the makings of a serial killer and not to worry because every serial killer had to have a mum. No one could tell me what was wrong with my children.

I’d heard about this Triple P course but was convinced it would be of no use. Apparently it was all common sense stuff. Also I didn’t think as a mum of 3 children I should be taking a course on how to be a parent – clearly I should know what I am doing by now. But with no where else to turn and tension in our home reaching fever pitch I put my name down for the next Triple P. Finally a life line – I received a call from Narelle.

I asked my husband if he wanted to come along and he said “No. I don’t have a problem making the kids do what I want. I don’t need a course to learn how to parent – parenting should be natural – if it’s not you shouldn’t be doing it”. Granted the kids do tend to fall in to line when their dad is around but they are terrified of him. To me that’s not parenting, that’s dominating and with domination comes rebellion.

I went along to Triple P and saw all these other parents who were obviously admitting to failing at parenting, at least that’s what I thought I was doing. I knew there was nothing wrong with me but there was something very wrong with my kids. Soon after I began to realise most of these other parents were just like me – there was something wrong with their kids too.

Narelle taught us about descriptive praise – clearly that wasn’t the issue at my house I always said “Good boy” to my kids … or was that the dog … but they got plenty of praise, they were rewarded when they were really good – they just weren’t good very often. I spoke to Narelle after the class and explained that there was something wrong with my child and I kept explaining how hard it was trying to do simple things like read to the boys with a baby crying and boys jumping around the room and she praised me. She praised me for still making the effort each night to read to the boys. It stopped me dead in my tracks – I don’t think I’d ever been praised before for simply trying.

I went home armed with this technique and I gave it a red hot go. I picked up the boys from pre-school and with my best positive attitude I praised and praised. The boys responded – one was like a sponge soaking it all up and doing all he could to get the next piece of praise, the other was wise to it. Something had changed. Mummy was different and so began the challenge. “I really like the way you put your plate away” “No you don’t” “Thank you for getting undressed for the bath – that makes it much easier for Mummy” “No it doesn’t”.

I returned to Triple P and declared it works for the good kids and it’s great for that but that’s not what I came to fix. There’s something wrong with this child and no amount of praise is going to fix that. A funny thing happened that day. Narelle said “OK”. She didn’t argue that she knew better, she didn’t tell me I was doing it wrong she just listened and said “OK”.

At that moment I realised she was different. Triple P was different. Each time she gave us a tool I took it home and tried to apply it. Some things would work some things wouldn’t but what it gave me was options. She talked about building relationships and investing in that relationship. She taught me to be affectionate when you couldn’t touch. She taught me to be calm and quiet. She taught me to be realistic. She taught me that there was nothing wrong with my children and there was no one answer. She taught me to look at things through my child’s eyes and listen to them – I mean really listen to them. She taught me not to fight, that I didn’t have to win, she taught me to meet the need, she taught me to be a better person – to be a better parent – to be a better example. She taught me Triple P.

At the end of the course I had so many options but I wanted more. I returned to do more work with Narelle, anything else she would teach me. At the end I was a little lost … what do I do now? Narelle said “Go and enjoy your kids” and that’s exactly what I did.

Now these days, our family’s not perfect, we wouldn’t suit a cheesy family sitcom, my husband still yells, the boys are still afraid of him and he would still never attend a Triple P course however he sees how things have changed. He recognises that the boys are better behaved and they are much more manageable when we go out … he thinks they just grew up but that’s ok. What’s important is our home is quieter and happier. Our home is a healthier environment. And those 4 – 5 hour tantrums … gone! Replaced by me meeting my son’s needs and being so deeply connected to my child that I can predict and prevent them without anyone else realising what’s happening.

When I received the call from Narelle asking me to be involved in the next Triple P group I was really excited. I have a BA in Social Science and majors in Psychology and Criminology but after university I couldn’t get a break. Maybe this was it.

That first day when Narelle introduced me to the group and I told people my story it was amazing. I had this incredible opportunity to reassess. I realised how far I had come. I looked back through my Triple P book at the goals I had set and realised I’d achieved them all. I told people what had worked for me and how I’d tried things repeatedly and at different times. I was honest. At the end of one of the sessions a lady came up to me and said “It’s so wonderful to hear your stories. You’ve inspired me to really give this a go. You’ve come so far and seeing you makes me think I can do it too”. I told her we’re all on the same path, heading in the same direction – I’m just a little further down the road.

Revisiting Triple P every few weeks allowed me to keep the techniques in the front of my mind. It reinforced what I had learnt and built on it. I was able to share my experiences with other parents and approach them from the same level. People didn’t see me as a teacher or someone who has had training in Triple P but I was making it work and they could too.

With my return to full time work I am no longer able to attend Triple P courses with Narelle. If she would run one at night I’d be there in a heart beat. I miss going to Triple P but I have gained so much through this experience. I will be forever grateful. Thankfully I can keep in contact with Narelle through the forum that she created. I spend hours reading the resources. Every time things get a little scratchy at home I go to the forum. It puts my mind back on track. The articles reinforce Triple P principles and allow me to remain connected with it. It is yet another tool, another option I have available to me.

Triple P changed my life, my family and our future. Triple P will continue to be part of my children’s lives and they will take this way of parenting with them when they become parents. Triple P not only changed me but changed my family for generations to come.

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About Narelle Smith

Child & Family Worker

One Response to “Talking about Triple P”

  1. Excellent tips and from the heart too… Good work! 🙂

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