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"LEADER" Online: Fall/Winter 1998

Veteran leader adds personal touch

Zandra Wilson makes sure parents get the most out of their Active Parenting experience

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 parent education.

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 of teenagers.

"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.