RACINE COUNTY — Positive Solutions workshops not only teach parents how to facilitate better social-emotional health in their children, but they also give parents a place to share their struggles and successes.
The Racine County University of Wisconsin-Extension recently began offering the free, six-week Positive Solutions workshops for parents and caregivers of children ages 6 and younger. The workshops are funded through a nearly $70,000 grant from the United Way of Racine County. The grant funds the extension’s School Readiness and Early Learning project, of which Positive Solutions is a part.
“It’s a program for all families,” said Pam Wedig-Kirsch, school readiness and family resiliency educator for Racine County UW-Extension and workshop facilitator. “It’s helpful to strengthen any family. We aren’t targeting that there’s a certain type of parent that needs this.”
During a session of the Positive Solutions workshop at Julian Thomas Family Center on Monday, parents shared their small successes with the group. A father had allowed his children to help him with dinner. A mother had waited out her son’s tantrum and discovered the cause of his behavior after he calmed.
The extension is in the process of hosting its fourth and fifth workshops, which each consist of six learning sessions. The program has already reached 41 families, but Wedig-Kirsch is hoping to reach more.
The six sessions each have a theme: building relationships, the importance of play and social skills, routines and expectations and emotional vocabulary. The last two sessions are focused on addressing challenging behavior.
The Positive Solutions workshops for parents complement the Pyramid Model for social-emotional learning used in Racine Unified’s 4-year-old kindergarten classrooms. Unified adopted the model approximately four years ago, according to Joleen Carlson, Unified’s 4K coordinator.
While parents are at the workshops, their children are being cared for and do an activity related to the topic their parents are learning about.
The Pyramid Model
The Pyramid Model is an evidence-based framework developed by the Center on Social and Emotional Foundation for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University.
Through the model, students learn about “Tucker Turtle,” who shows them how to manage anger.
“Tucker Turtle teaches them how to take three deep breaths, tuck into their shell,” Carlson said.
Students also learn the importance of building friendships, and how to solve their own problems. The lessons are based on what’s developmentally appropriate for children, Carlson said.
In addition, the kids learn how to put their emotions into specific words like frustrated and lonely.
“If they can’t tell us what’s wrong, the problems will just continue to grow,” Carlson said.
The Positive Solutions workshops help parents carry on these practices at home.
Carlson first led a Positive Solutions workshop around two years ago with Unified’s Peacock Program, a parent-child oriented classroom for 3-year-old students, which parents are required to attend one day per week.
“We got such a tremendous result, we decided to try to do it more often and reach out to other parents in our community,” she said.
The grant from United Way allows the extension to offer the program to more parents and to offer the sessions at more times that might be convenient for parents. The workshops are offered for English and Spanish speakers, with the help of a translator. Unified teachers invite families that might be interested.
Jackie Hartley, a Racine resident who has three children, ages 17, 9 and 4, said she went into the Positive Solutions sessions thinking that it would all be informational but was surprised at how it allowed her to connect with other parents. The parents who went through the six sessions together supported each other through challenges and shared their successes, she said.
“The things that I enjoyed about it are that it’s very practical and provides useful strategies presented in a supportive and non-judgmental way,” Hartley said.
Katherine Holmes and her husband, Fritz Holmes, participated in one of the Positive Solutions workshops in March. The couple has two daughters, ages 3 and 5.
During the workshop, Katherine Holmes learned the benefits of turning negative commands into positive ones. For example, instead of telling her girls to “stop hitting” she tells them to “keep their hands to themselves.”
Although this practice takes some patience, Holmes said it’s worth it.
“They’re both really receptive to positivity,” she said.
Holmes praised the program and said it’s not about chastising parents, but bringing them together to discuss the problems they all face.
“I would recommend it to anybody, whether they’re an expert parent or not,” Holmes said.
The workshop series is the result of partnerships between the United Way of Racine County, Racine Unified School District, Kindergarten Readiness Network of Higher Expectations for Racine County, Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health, the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program and the Racine County UW-Extension.
Carlson has taught 4K for more than 30 years and said she believes strongly in this program.
Interested parents can visit csefel.vanderbilt.edu to read articles and find more resources and information about the Pyramid Program and Positive Solutions. Many of the resources are available in English and Spanish.