by Colleen O'Brien
Teaching has always been Zandra Wilson's calling. After 30
years of teaching kindergarten to master's-level work and everything
in between, Wilson made the difficult decision to retire about
five years ago. Since then, "I have learned that there is
a life after teaching," she says. And Active Parenting programs
are an integral part of that new life.
Wilson was first introduced to Active Parenting ten years
ago while teaching learning disabled children in the Irvine,
California, school district. "I knew that the parents of
the children in our district needed help," says Wilson.
"But we weren't sure where to turn for that help."
She did a nationwide search of parent education programs before
deciding to implement Active Parenting programs.
"I chose the Active Parenting programs largely because
they are video-based," she explains. "It is so important
for parents to be able to watch these videos and be shown exactly
what to do in a certain situation. Leaders can generate discussion
and entertain parents but it doesn't do any good unless they
can actually see for themselves what we are talking about."
Wilson initially conducted three pilot Active Parenting classes
at her school. The classes proved so popular that the programs
quickly expanded throughout the district. Today Wilson leads
Active Parenting Today, 1, 2, 3, 4 Parents! and Parents
on Board programs at least four times each year through the
Irvine Presbyterian Church.
"I like the church environment because it gives me more
of an opportunity for follow-up and allows support groups to
establish more easily than the school setting," she explains.
Parents attend for a nominal charge and the church does provide
scholarships as well as on-site baby-sitting. Wilson estimates
that she has already reached over 400 parents, and with plans
for church expansion, she anticipates an increased demand for
As a veteran leader Wilson has successfully modified some
aspects of the programs to optimize the learning experience for
parents in her groups.
"One of the most helpful things I have done is move the
Family Council Meetings from the sixth session of Active Parenting
Today to the beginning of the program," she explains.
"It had always frustrated me to teach the Family Council
Meetings in the final session because once the class ended, I
would have very little follow-up with the parents. Those parents
who returned to take the course a second time would confess that
they had not been using the Family Council Meetings because they
didn't have enough guidance. I wanted to remedy that situation
because I believe that Family Council Meetings are an integral
skill for effectuating change in the family."
Wilson now introduces the Family Council Meeting in either
the first or second session of the program. She recommends that
parents begin by using the "Activity of the Week" within
the structure of the Family Council Meeting-with the family convening
to decide what activity to do that day. Wilson emphasizes the
particular importance of the family council model for parents
"I stress to parents that this is really a family council
and that every member of the family has an important role. Parents
have to give their teens a chance to say what's on their minds
and then be willing to respect what their teens have to say."
By introducing this concept early in the course, the communication
process is started and by the fourth or fifth session, the family
is more prepared to begin problem solving.
Wilson attributes the success of Active Parenting programs
to the emphasis that they place on familial relationships. She
finds with every new group that parents want to immediately jump
into discipline. "I explain to them that we have to first
have something on which to build that discipline," she says.
"Discipline without respect and relationships is ineffective.
The programs teach skills that build positive relationships.
They allow parents to work alongside their children rather than
in conflict with them. Once parents and children begin to communicate
and parents understand why their children feel the way they do,
they can begin working with discipline and logical consequences.
"The programs are very honest," she continues. "The
message is not 'take this class and everything will be okay.'
Rather, the programs concede that being a parent does have its
difficulties but present the message that 'we will all get through
this together.' Parents no longer feel alone and helpless. Once
they acquire the skills, they can stop guessing how to handle
a situation. Only then are they truly able to enjoy their children."
It is not surprising that Parents on Board is this
teacher's favorite program to lead, and she often extends the
course to six or seven weeks. "I love that program,"
she exclaims. "It tells parents exactly what their role
is in their child's education, how to help with homework, how
to encourage. And the program is so visual. I can't tell you
how many parents have said to me 'Oh my goodness, that's me!'"
Wilson believes that the most crucial aspect of Parents
on Board is that it gives parents permission to allow a child
to fail. "Children have to make mistakes in order to learn,"
she explains. "The program teaches parents to let the children
work through a problem on their own and learn how to succeed
independently in that area."
Active Parenting has had a pervasive effect on Wilson's life,
and she laughs as she describes her very own "Wilson Active
Parenting Group," comprised of her husband, daughter and
son-all of whom lead Active Parenting groups. In addition, Wilson
co-facilitates her classes at the church with Linda Roberts,
the pastor's wife. As the mother of a three-year-old and a five-year-old,
Roberts has experienced personal success using Active Parenting
with her children. "It is so wonderful to see how she and
her husband use Active Parenting principles with their children,"
says Wilson. "Her real-life experiences make her a wonderful
Active Parenting leader."
Wilson herself has experienced many Active Parenting success
stories in the past 10 years. She particularly recalls one couple
who had a very difficult, explosive son who became involved with
drugs as a teenager.
"Because they had been through Active Parenting Today,
they knew that consequences were really important," she
recalls. "They confronted him and sent him to rehabilitation.
I am happy to say that he did return to school. Although their
problems didn't just disappear, they had the tools to deal with
the them without falling apart."
Wilson's one piece of advice for other leaders is to instill
in parents the importance of actually experiencing the concepts
they learn in class. "We need to make sure that parents
are doing the activities. They benefit the most from a program
when they become comfortable using the skills. They achieve that
comfort level only through practice.
"I tell parents to just get started and get into a program,
any program," she continues. "Parents usually come
around to Active Parenting because the programs make it so easy
for them to see what they are supposed to do. Active Parenting
has done a wonderful job of pulling all the concepts together
and presenting them in a fashion that is easy for parents to
visualize and comprehend."
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1998 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.