In the following article, I’ll give an honest review of the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) curriculum.
What the curriculum is
The Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) curriculum was created in 1976 by Don Dinkmeyer Sr. and Gary D. McKay. STEP is recognized by the legal system as an effect teaching curriculum for parenting children of all ages.Since being developed, it has been translated into multiple languages and is used in multiple countries. Since its creation, there have been multiple studies done on the curriculum to research its effectiveness.
These studies showed, not only was the curriculum effective for correcting children’s behaviors, it increased the involvement that parents had in their children’s lives. On the California Evidence-Based clearinghouse, they report that there is promising research evidence for the STEP curriculum.
Who it is for
The Systematic Training for Effective Parenting curriculum is for any parent or expecting parent that is looking to learn new skills in behavior modification to improve the functioning, and happiness of your family. Most often, this program is for families that have been torn apart and parents that are trying to get their children back, either from the foster system or regain shared custody with the child’s other parent.
This class is not just for these types of parents though. This class is for every parent that wants to learn about how to parent more efficiently. This is for the parent that might have a child that is struggling with self-esteem issues or having a hard time in school, or it seems like no matter what you do, you always seem like the bad guy.
This is for any parent that is just looking for some more skills to make parenting easier and how to be the most supportive for your child.
An in-depth look at the curriculum
STEP is split up into anywhere from 6 to 9 weeks depending on where you are taking the class. There are 7 different topics that you will learn about, discuss and practice. The seven topics, or aspects of parenting, that are covered are understanding yourself and your child, understanding beliefs and feelings, encouraging your child and yourself, listening and talking to your child, helping children cooperate, discipline that makes sense, and choosing your approach.
Each of these chapters goes into depth about these topics to get a really good understanding of what type of parent you would like to be. Typically, children are not allowed in the class so that it is distraction free, and is a safe space for parents to honestly talk about their struggles in parenting. Some groups provide child care for the meetings and others do not.
Each week you go over a different aspect of parenting, talk about how other parents are using these skills or where they are struggling. You discuss and learn from other parents as well as from the group facilitator. There are also videos that go along with the curriculum that demonstrate how to implement the skills that are being discussed that week.
There are different skills for different ages of children, therefore the courses and split up into age groups of the children you are parenting. This also is helpful in meeting and getting support from other parents that are going through the same experiences as you.
The curriculum is split up into three different classes; one for early childhood (0-5 years old), school aged children (6-12 years old), and teenagers (13 -18 years old). Most programs that are state funded will have free classes and include the parent workbook. If you are going to a class that is not funded by the state you will most likely have to pay for the class, as well as the handbook.
The parenting handbooks are readily available and can be found anywhere from 10- 15 dollars if you do not want to buy it from the group facilitator. It is not advised to buy the handbook and read through it on your own without the class unless you have a Masters level degree in counselling.
When I was facilitating the STEP classes I had many families that saw a dramatic improvement in their child’s behavior. There was one family in particular that made a remarkable improvement, not just the child’s behavior, but the relationship between the child and the parent. The parent came to the class because her child was having a difficult time in school and at home.
She and her son were fighting all of the time over homework and chores and following house rules. The child would complain about being stupid and not being able to do anything right. The mother reported that she would yell at him and get on him all of the time and did not praise him for acting the way he was supposed to act because that was the behavior, she expected of him.
After taking the class, the mother recognized that he child was struggling with self-esteem issues and learned how she could support him in building mastery in chores, school and following the rules at home. The mother learned that when she tried to understand his behaviors, listened to him, validated his feelings and learned how to support him, her son did the rest.
The mother reported that she started to praise the little things that he would do and try and to ignore everything that lead to natural consequences. The mother reported that by the end of the STEP curriculum, she and her son were working together, he was performing better in school and he was no longer being disrespectful to her at home. This is just one of many stories that have come out of the STEP curriculum parenting classes.
Benefits and downsides of the curriculum
The benefits of the STEP parenting class and curriculum is that it is based on research and is widely accepted by the government as a tool for learning healthy parenting skills. STEP is also a group class that is focused on shared experiences between families. This is beneficial because parents can come to the class to learn to be most effective with their children, but they can also find a support group of other families that are going through the same situations as them.
Other parenting classes are held as classes, where the teacher or facilitator is the person giving all of the information. With the STEP curriculum, facilitators are there to provide psychoeducation about parenting and the research data, but it is highly encouraged for members to share their experiences good a bad.
This allows parents to know what has and has not worked with other families and what might work for them. The curriculum also comes with videos demonstrating the different skills as well as “what not to do” so that parents can see the difference in action. Sometimes it is hard to see why your actions can be harmful or helpful to a child until you see it being played out.
Another great thing about the STEP curriculum is that it focuses on building relationships before correcting behaviors. This is the most important part of changing behavior in any context. If you have a strained relationship with someone and try to give them advice or ask them to change the way they are doing something, the chance that they will take what you said and make the changes is rare.
If you have a healthy relationship with someone, where they feel respected by you and you feel respected by them, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say and make the changes that you are asking for. This same concept applies to children. A child needs to feel love and respect in order to want to be willing to change for you.
The downside of this curriculum is that it was created when family structures looked a lot different. The last time that this curriculum was updated was in 1998 and it can look a little outdated in some areas. Most of the examples for the curriculum are of what the nuclear family looked like in the 1990s with a mother and a father.
This, however, can easy be accommodated for by the facilitator with updated information and example from outside of the curriculum. Some of the examples in the workbook may not apply to your family but the concepts and skills used will still apply.
Another downside to this curriculum is that research shows evidence of this being promising, but that it is not well-supported by the evidence. What this means is that there have been some studies that have not seen a statistical difference between families that have not taken the class, and families that have taken the class. There have also been many studies that have shown a statistical difference proving that this curriculum in effective.
Where to find the class or get the curriculum
If you are in the Seattle area, Family Services Northwest provides these classes as a 6 week program. If you are not in that area, you can look at the Family Law CASA website and they have a list of parenting classes that are available.
For those of you that are not in Washington state, there are plenty of ways that you can find out where STEP classes are taking place near you. The best place to start is on Google or your favorite search engine. A simple google search for Systematic Training for Effective Parenting classes will provide you with the local parenting classes that use this curriculum.
If you are having a difficult time with that, try calling the information line for mental health resources, 2-1-1. This is a helpline that will be able to connect you to services in your area. You just have to give them the zip code of where you are looking for services, your insurance if you have any, and what service you are looking for. You can ask for parenting classes in your area and they will be able to tell you where there are some available.
Where to go for family therapy
If there is not a STEP class running in your area, look for help in a family therapist. Most family therapists are trained in behavior modification and can help with family relationships. You can go to therapy to improve your relationship with your teen or child even if they are refusing to come to therapy.
The benefit in finding a family or individual therapist if you are having issues with behavior modification is that you will have a space to talk about what is blocking you from your goal of helping your children change their behaviors. You will learn how to speak to them in a way that they understand and feel validated. You will also have space to yourself where you will feel validated in your struggles to parent and have space all to yourself without judgement.
The first step in finding a family therapist that fits you and your family is to look on your insurance website to find a therapist in your insurance network. You will want to look for a therapist that specializes, or works with children and adults.
Start by making a list of questions you would want to ask a therapist before seeing them and call everyone you are interested in seeing. After speaking with those therapists, make initial appointments with two or more to see if it is a good fit before starting sessions with them.
If you do not have insurance or want to see a counselor that is based in Christianity, this is the same method. Check out the therapists at Seattle Christian Counseling to find a therapist in your city. This method insures that you will have a better chance of finding a therapist that works for you and your family.
“Tiny, and Mom”, Courtesy of makelessnoise, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Mom’s Day” Courtesy of Pawel Loj, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Father and Son”, Courtesy of moodboard, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Student”, Courtesy of Brad Flickinger, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License
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