Can Parenting Classes Help if My Child Has a Mental Illness?
Parenting classes designed for parents whose child has a mental illness can help families a great deal. Almost five million U.S. children and teens have a mental illness disruptive to daily life. Because of the staggering number, there are plenty of parenting courses designed to inform and guide parents, including you if you have a child with a mental illness. As you read this, you’ll explore how parenting classes can help as well as learn some of the courses available to you.
Parenting Classes Address the Types of Mental Illness Kids are Likely to Face
“Mental illness” is a broad term encompassing many mental disorders. You might notice that your child’s disorder falls into one of these categories:
Internalizing disorders are those that children (and adults) turn inward against themselves. These children often withdraw from others, isolate themselves, refuse to participate in activities, and/or self-harm.
The opposite of turning inward, externalizing disorders are those in which kids act out, often in highly disruptive ways. Kids with externalizing disorders are often impulsive, oppositional, argumentative, refuse to follow rules or instructions, and have meltdowns and tantrums.
Knowing how to address the behaviors caused by mental illness isn’t easy or natural. Parenting classes teach you how to respond effectively.
Parenting education classes typically address the most common mental illnesses in youth:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder)
- Eating disorders
- Developmental disorders (such as autism spectrum disorder)
- Behavior disorders (such as oppositional defiant disorder)
- Substance use disorders
- Trauma and stressor-related disorders (such as PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)
- Personality disorders (different from mental illness but affecting thoughts, emotions, behaviors)
Parenting Classes Help Parents Through What They Teach
Attending parenting classes can equip you to deal with your child’s illness and thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that accompany it. You can learn parenting skills to handle good times and bad in a way that’s positive for you, your child with mental illness, and the whole family.
Specific topics can include:
- How to talk to your child during an outburst or when they pull away and don’t want to talk to you
- Effective ways to discipline
- How to use positive reinforcement and praise to encourage the behaviors you want
- What expectations are realistic
- How to be consistent when your child’s symptoms are inconsistent
- Tips for using point charts, token economics
- Working with schools, talking with teachers and administrators, enlisting the help of the school counselor, exploring 504 plans or individualized education plans (IEPs)
Parenting courses differ. Not every program addresses all topics, and some teach things not listed. By discovering and researching the types of programs for parents of children with mental illness, you can find one that is the right fit for you and your family. The following list of national programs can get you started in the right direction.
Examples of Parenting Classes for Families with Mentally Ill Children
Parenting programs are similar in nature but vary in specifics. Some are taught by professionals like psychologists, while others are led by fellow parents who have been trained after completing a parenting program themselves.
Classes can be broad or tailored to age, symptoms, or severity. Typically, courses have weekly sessions for 10 or more weeks, but this can vary.
Each program has its own structure. Some involve the leader and parents in one room learning and discussing information, exchanging stories, and role-playing to practice new skills learned in the parenting lessons. Parents of younger kids attend without their child, whereas in adolescent programs, teens often attend classes with their parents.
Other parenting education programs work one-on-one with parents and their child. Parent and child interact in one room while the therapist watches from behind a one-way window. The therapist provides immediate feedback and instruction to the parent via earbuds.
Still others are online. While taking parenting classes online doesn’t provide the connection with other parents or role-play opportunities, online courses do offer convenience and frequently the ability to pause, replay, and revisit the lessons.
Among the prominent courses:
- The Parent Center with its Parent-Child-Interaction Therapy programs (PCITs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs)
- Parent Management Training (PMT) for parents with kids aged 3-13
- Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) designed for parents with kids aged 2-7
- The Incredible Years for a variety of parent-specific needs
- Smarter Parenting for parents of children with specific mental illnesses
- NAMI Family-to-Family for parents of children of all ages, all illnesses
Any parenting class can enrich your family life, foster a positive relationship with your child living with mental illness, and boost your own wellbeing. These classes also focus on learning balance and self-care. Perhaps the greatest benefit of any parenting class is developing the ability to create a new normal in your home.
Peterson, T. (2019, June 28). Can Parenting Classes Help if My Child Has a Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/children-with-mental-illness/can-parenting-classes-help-if-my-child-has-a-mental-illness