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Stigma holds parents back from seeking advice and help. But what can we actually do to de-stigmatise parenting programmes? 

Parenting programmes
Matt Buttery CEO Triple P UK Ireland

Matt Buttery

Chief Executive Officer at Triple P (UK) Ltd

When my children were younger, it often felt that other parents simply didn’t have any of the same parenting struggles as I did. As multi-tasking mums and dads swanned into the playground for pick up, looking relaxed and well rested, it was hard to believe they were anything but chilled out. When it looks like everyone else is coping, it can be uncomfortable to admit you’re not. The pressure of social media has no doubt added to this, projecting unrealistic expectations of perfect family lives. The reality, of course, tends to be rather different. 

Parenting is not an easy job. However serene a family might appear in public or online, all parents are experiencing their own trials and tribulations, even if they manifest in different ways. Whether it’s dealing with your child’s tantrums or your own feelings of stress or self doubt, it can be hard to address these situations all on your own. Ignoring them and pushing through is sometimes the easier option – but it often means storing up more problems down the line.

Despite many families experiencing the same difficulties, conversations around parenting struggles are not easy. Research carried out by Triple P earlier this year found that three quarters of parents worried about the stigma associated with asking for help. 

Much progress has been made to have open conversations around mental health in recent years, but we don’t see the same level of acceptance around the very real challenges of parenting. That stigma must be broken – and the new Family Hubs initiative has the potential  to provide the perfect mechanism to do that. 

In recognising the pressing need for more support for families, the Government has rolled out Family Hubs in 75 local authority areas around the UK. The first job of these hubs will be to actually get parents “through the door” – a task that is not as straightforward as it sounds. The fear of being judged, concerns about social services intervention, limited time, and the perception of ‘failing’ at what many deem to be the most important role they will play, all contribute to a negative perception of parenting support. It puts parents off even speaking to their GP. 

Family Hubs, dedicated to supporting parents across the country, have the potential to offer a crucial step forward in the battle to destigmatize what it means to do a parenting program or course. Based on our 35 years of experience working with parents around the world, we know the sorts of practical steps needed to take away the stigma of seeking support:

  1. Offering group sessions.

Parents are often reassured knowing that others are in the same boat. On the whole, parents struggle with similar problems – managing temper tantrums, disobedience, bed time, anxiety. The likelihood is that whatever the problem, you’re not the only parent experiencing it. Encouraging parents to talk together about their child’s behaviour will quickly demonstrate they are not alone and their problems are less embarrassing than they thought. We know when parents have attended a programme, they are more likely to return, and even a single one-off group session could be a non-intimidating introduction to parenting advice. 

  1. Provide evidence based parenting programmes.

Our conversations with parents about where they go for help reveals a great deal of frustration. They feel that the advice their friends give them only goes so far, and that their parents just ‘did things differently’. Many parents turn to the internet or online blogs, but aren’t sure what to trust, or whether the advice is backed by research. What we have heard from parents is that they want advice that is proven to work by other parents, offering the ‘tried and tested’ strategies and approaches, that crucially are grounded in the very best research and evidence. Making clear that the programmes on offer in Family Hubs are evidence-based can really encourage uptake. Programmes without a trusted evidence base are a false economy, and risk wasting parents’ time – not to mention potentially ‘poisoning the well’ for both that family and their friends around future engagement if “it was nice, but just didn’t work”.    

  1. Actively engage and encourage conversations about parenting programmes.

The chance to spread the word about parenting programmes should be taken at every opportunity and will require a joined up communications strategy. Our experience is that GPs surgeries, nurseries, schools, playgroups, word of mouth as well as the media are all important to normalising and destigmatizing parenting programmes. Some parents are too nervous to ask about the options available – so having a professional proactively raise the topic might come as a relief. Seeing the same programmes advertised via playgroup/schools, social media and hearing it on the local radio can all help reinforce a parents’ help seeking behaviour – and get them to sign up. For those who do try out a Family Hub, encourage them to tell their friends about any positive experiences they have had as well.

  1. Offer online options

For some, physically attending a Hub might be too intimidating at first – or they simply prefer being able to log on at home and access support at their own pace and time. They might wish to remain anonymous, or have busy lifestyles so need to schedule help around times that work for them. Offering online parenting programmes – either virtual or parent self-directed online – gives parents the flexibility to seek help from the comfort of their own home. However, we’d suggest it is still really important to ensure these programmes are evidence-based too!

Final thought

Without breaking down the stigma around parenting support, the Hubs will not be the success that they could so easily be. In recent weeks, the Australian government has rolled out Triple P’s Online programmes to every family in the country – a gold standard of support that we can learn much from. With help available to everyone, the stigma of seeking help is hugely minimised. The UK has the opportunity now to do the same and to make parenting advice just as ‘normal’ as antenatal classes.

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