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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Offers Parenting Classes in Albuquerque and Northern Counties

ALBUQUERQUE - Yvonne Gallegos, 56, thought her parenting days were over 15 years ago, but in 2002 life turned upside down after her daughter moved back home with her children to escape domestic violence.

Amie Green, una educadora con el programa universitario "Fortaleciendo a las Familias", enseña técnicas positivas para criar a los niños a padres que asistan a una clase en el centro comunitario del Departamento de Salud de Nuevo México en el noreste de Albuquerque. De izquierda, observan Monica Justice, Michelle Neubauer y Deiandra Cole. (02/27/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"The kids were always fighting--yelling and screaming at each other--and teachers were calling to say they were disruptive in class," Gallegos said. "There were communication problems between my daughter and me, and we weren't addressing the children's problems."

Last fall, mother, daughter and two grandchildren joined a parenting class in Albuquerque offered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Three months later, home life is peaceful again.

"My daughter and I understand the kids much better now, and we work together to meet their needs," Gallegos said. "There are less tantrums and fewer calls from school. We all get along a whole lot better."

The class is part of NMSU's Strengthening Families Initiative, a nationally recognized program that teaches parents healthy ways to raise children while encouraging them to take better care of themselves and their kids.

"We help people learn to be better parents by teaching positive nurturing skills," said Charolette Collins, program coordinator for northern New Mexico. "So many parents desperately need this kind of program."

The classes began in 1999 in Doña Ana County with federal and state funding, but last year they spread statewide thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the New Mexico Human Services Department. Nearly 125 parents are currently enrolled in 11 classes in Bernalillo, Valencia, Torrance, Cibola and Sandoval counties, Collins said.

Classes are free and open to anyone in a parenting role, including single parents, expectant parents, teen parents, grandparents and other care-giving relatives. However, program coordinators particularly reach out to high-risk parents, such as incarcerated mothers and fathers, teen parents and parents referred by social services, Collins said.

"Most people who have really serious parenting issues were raised the same way they're now raising their kids, so we want to break the cycle of abusive or neglectful parenting," Collins said. "When children aren't nurtured well it can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties, poor social skills and other problems. Our goal is to teach parents positive nurturing alternatives."

Classes run for six months and usually include 10 to 15 parents. The group meets weekly for two-and-one-half hours.

"It's a sharing experience, like a support group," said Gallegos, who learned to set goals and routines for her grandchildren. "Before, they wanted to watch TV at bedtime, and they delayed going to school in the morning, but now we make sure to do the same things each day. The routines make things calmer and less scattered, and the kids are much more cooperative."

When the kids fight, Gallegos and her daughter each take one child aside to talk about their feelings and how to communicate better, Gallegos said.

In class, parents learn to nurture themselves as well as their children, said parent educator Amie Green.

"Adults need to take care of their own needs," Green said. "By nurturing themselves, they become better parents."

The first half of each class focuses on parents' issues, such as handling stress and anger, communication skills, healthy relationships and substance abuse. Educators also review life skills, such as goal setting and money management, and nutrition issues such as food safety, stretching food dollars and healthy eating.

The second half focuses on nurturing children, including information about child development, positive discipline techniques, family rules and establishing routines.

"We help parents develop reasonable expectations of their children," Green said.

While the parents meet, the children participate in a separate class. "They learn about feelings and getting along with others," said Luis Soto, who works with children. "We provide educational games, and we do role playing with the older children. The goal is to work with the entire family."

At the end of each class, children and adults come together for family nurturing time, which includes a healthy snack and a fun parent-child activity.

After attending two classes, Michelle Neubauer said she's learning to spend more quality time with her daughter and son. "When we get home at night now I talk with them about the day's activities, or I read with them instead of me just getting on the computer and them doing something by themselves," Neubauer said.

Caroline Enos said she's learning to avoid the mistakes her parents made. "My parents were not the best parents, and I don't want to repeat the things they did with my daughter," Enos said. "I want to be the best parent I can be using positive parenting skills."

Gisela Perez, a mother of two from Chihuahua, Mexico, said the program fills a void. "Nobody teaches us how to be parents, we just do the best we can," Perez said. "But I want to be the best mother I can be, and this class helps a lot."

Classes are available in English and Spanish. For more information, call Collins at (505) 332-3765.