Battle for control: Parents As Teachers program brings calm to family

“Look at this, mom!” Eleanor exclaimed after she stacked some colorful wooden blocks to resemble a train.

The 3-year-old then grabbed a shoelace and carefully poked it through a hole in the middle of a wooden bead. After successfully getting several beads through the shoelace, she asked her mom to hold onto the shoelace so it wouldn’t fall while she added more blocks to make a necklace.

“That was good, she asked you for help without screaming or crying,” Parent Educator Brittany Kenerson told Patricia Wright, Eleanor’s mother.

Patricia and Eleanor have made a lot of progress since beginning Parents As Teachers, an in-home program that provides parents with information on child development and involves parents in learning activities with their child.

When they started the program about six months ago, Patricia and Eleanor were constantly battling over control, which meant a lot of screaming, crying and stress for the single mom and her child. Just simple tasks like getting dressed in the morning could turn into a screaming match between the two.

“I would go into the bedroom and scream into a pillow,” Patricia recalled. “I was so frustrated and tearful. It was a hard time. I was trying to learn how to be her mom but continue to be myself, too.

“As a single mother I have no down time, so if she’s throwing a fit I can’t say to someone, ‘Here, take her.’”

Through Parents As Teachers, Patricia has learned different strategies to use when she and Eleanor both want to be in control. Patricia now gives Eleanor choices rather than telling her what to do, makes sure Eleanor has more time to do things she would normally do for her, and uses a chart that rewards Eleanor for goals she accomplishes. The chart includes such tasks as kind words, helping hands, friendly sharing, and listening ears.

“I no longer go into the bedroom and scream into a pillow,” said Patricia, a physician assistant at Crittenton Hospital. “If she is having a hard time, I ask her if she needs to go into the bedroom and have some time to herself. She usually says ‘yes, I do.’ Before I was a screamer, and I didn’t want to be a screamer. I needed to be in control. I know now that even though she is a child, she needs to have her independence too.”

Brittany said she has seen the progress the two have made.

“Patricia has been able to adjust her own needs in order to make the relationship better with her and her daughter,” she said.

The Rochester Hills woman learned about Parents As Teachers through Oakland Family Services’ Early On, a program that was helping Eleanor with a speech delay. Patricia learned ways to help improve Eleanor’s speech, such as pointing at objects and naming them as they walked through the house and saying the sounds of letters when talking to Eleanor. It wasn’t long before Eleanor caught on and started talking.

Patricia said she doesn’t know what she would have done without the help of Oakland Family Services.

“When Eleanor was the way she was before, I was so crabby,” Patricia said. “I felt I was snapping, short-tempered and tired. I was exhausted.

“I’m much more patient now. I know I have to give up some control to her and allow her to make decision she needs to make. Brittany helped me figure out what I needed to do to help Eleanor, yet still have some control. She helped me relax.”