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Teaching parents new tricks

Parenting: Workshop focuses on the positive to change behaviors

Posted: February 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia-based marriage, family and child psychotherapist Dilyse Diaz illustrates how to water a positive relationship with children during an Effective Parenting with Challenging Children workshop at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Like parents everywhere, Chris Avenessian, of Valencia, would often get frustrated with his children, especially the teenagers.

“It seemed like there was this constant battle, with the siblings antagonizing one another,” he said.

Avenessian’s oldest son has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, leading to even more challenges.

“He has such a rigid black- and-white outlook on everything and would be hyper-focused on his siblings, pointing out everything they did wrong whenever he was in trouble, saying that I wasn’t fair,”  Avenessian said. “It was like an endless storm in our home.”

For the most part, the storm of strife has now passed after Avenessian took part in an Effective Parenting with Challenging Children workshop taught by Dilyse Diaz, a Valencia-based licensed marriage, family and child psychotherapist.

“The most powerful way to change your child’s behavior is to change your own behavior, and learn how to communicate and set appropriate boundaries that express love instead of anger,” Diaz said. “You can mold your child’s intensity into a strength with the skills and tools learned at this workshop.”

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital offers the six-week courses at its Valencia hospital campus at the rate of $240 for an individual parent or $360 for two. The courses are offered to parents of children ages: birth to 5, 5 to 10, 11 to 15, and 16 to 20; children do not attend the workshop.

“We were getting feedback from a community survey of the need for parenting classes for children these ages,” said Sally McGann, director of women’s services at Newhall Memorial. “Parenting can be very challenging today, with busy schedules and blended families. Everyone needs to be on the same page. It’s about how to be positive and not so negative.”

Watering the garden
Diaz, a parent herself, modeled her workshop on the book “Nurtured Heart: Transforming the Difficult Child” by author Harold Glasser.

“To me, this approach is clean, firm and consistent. When kids know what to expect, they tend to be less stressed and more cooperative,” she said.

During the 90-minute classes, parents are first given the opportunity to talk about their challenges in a supportive setting. Diaz then launches into practical exercises and metaphorical examples.

“Plants are our visual for today,” she told the parents, holding up a leafy, green plant. “When you’re watering your garden, do you want to water the weeds or do you want to sew the seeds, cultivate and reap the harvest? ”

Focusing on the weeds sends the wrong message, Diaz noted. Many children act out because it’s a way of getting noticed, especially within a hectic modern-day household.

“It’s not just the attention; they want the energy of a parent that’s fired up, because that’s where there is a connection,” Diaz said.

According to Diaz, her approach is about pulling out a child’s strengths and shining a light on positive behavior, which if looked at realistically, is generally the norm.

“When we’re mad at our kids or resentful of their behavior, we forget all the good things,” she said. “When they’re acting out, it’s just a sliver of who they are. ”

Practical application

This was a new concept to Avenessian, who said he was always reacting to problems in the past — rather than trying to find good behavior.

“The workshop taught me my kids are not acting out all the time; it changed my perspective. There may be a 10 minute outburst here and there, but the rest of the time is fine,” he said.

Avenessian began to notice positive things his children were doing — and more importantly — began commenting on their behavior.

“I’d say, ‘Wow, for the last half-hour, you’ve been focusing on your homework. That’s great,’” he said. “It’s genuine and it’s huge. The truth is, the vast majority of the time, my kids are fine. They’re being good kids.”

The Avenessian children weren’t let in on the secret, but quickly reacted.

“It caught them by surprise. By reprogramming my attitude toward my kids and being a positive example, the outbursts decreased,” he said. “The tension and static in my house has ratcheted down from a seven or eight to a five or six.”

More skills
In addition to documenting the good, how a parent reacts during stressful times, such as a heated argument, is just as important.

For example, instead of chasing a fleeing child down the hallway during a heated discussion, Diaz suggested giving both the parent and child time to process the situation.

Then a healthier spin can be placed on how the child reacted.

“You can say, ‘You know it’s really great how you knew you needed to walk away and regroup. Now you’re calm. That’s good self-care,’” Diaz said. “When words are delivered in a neutral tone, without negativity, you’re quickly getting positive. It‘s like pushing a reset button.”

This technique can be especially valuable for parents who are in the middle of a divorce or a re-marriage, which can be particular difficult on children and cause them to act out.

Many of the participants in Diaz’s workshop are in such situations.

“They wonder how it can work if the other parent is feeding negativity, but it can. I encourage them to stick with the process,” she said. “It can’t help but envelop the whole child, so you don’t need to focus on what the other parent is doing. It builds a child’s foundation for solid self-worth and confidence.”

It also builds a stronger parent-child bond, said Diaz.

“When we slow down and pay attention to the positive, that’s where the relationship becomes connected,” she said.

The next round of Effective Parenting workshops are scheduled for March 24 (for parents of children ages birth to 5 and 5 to 10), March 28 (for parents of children ages 16 to 20) and March 30 (for parents of children ages 11-15) and are held in the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Pavilion conference room. Info: (661) 253-8607, option 8.


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