Miriam Pacheco admits she used to get frustrated with her 2-year-old daughter’s tantrums, which were so severe that they would often leave Pacheco in tears.
Pacheco, 36, is unemployed and moved to the United States from Spain on her own four years ago. She recently started taking parenting workshops, which she said have helped keep her calm and learn how to better deal with her daughter’s behavior.
“It’s not always necessarily kids that are uneducated,” she said. “Sometimes parents are the ones who need help figuring out how to properly tend to their children’s needs.”
The workshops are part of the Amigos Strengthens Families and Communities Program offered by Amigos for Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. Workshops are offered in Hialeah, Homestead and Little Havana. The program is funded by the Children’s Trust.
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Part of child-abuse prevention, according to Rosa Maria Plasencia, CEO and president of the organization, is teaching positive parenting skills, like building kids’ self-esteem and praising children’s accomplishments.
“The point is to use a philosophy of nurturing to create bonds that are important in families from the very beginning and throughout their lives to prevent abuse,” she said.
The workshops run for 7 to 12 weeks and are modeled after the Nurturing Parenting Program, a curriculum that includes lesson plans for parents, like understanding feelings, communicating with respect, learning how to deal with stress and anger and developing family morals and rules. Kids have a workshop of their own, too, with a special curriculum.
Fifteen mothers, all Hispanic and mostly low-income, gathered at José Martí Park in Little Havana to attend the parenting sessions pn a recent Wednesday evening. The night’s lesson plan was alternatives to spanking. While the parents talked discipline, the kids sat in a different room and drew pictures with two Amigos caretakers.
Marina Santos, 55, a marriage and family therapist, is one of the facilitators of the parenting sessions. She said for some Hispanics, hitting with a sandal is a staple for disciplining children. That evening’s lesson taught parents about the negative psychological impacts of hitting children and offered other ways discipline them, like taking away privileges for a short time or ignoring behaviors that may be irritating but are not harmful to the child or others.
“Some people don’t know better,” Santos said. “They think spanking is okay because they were spanked as kids. And who teaches you how to be a parent? Your own parent.”
Even though every session has a corresponding lesson for parents, it’s more like therapy than school. Parents share their concerns in a private setting and give each other advice, from handling tantrums to helping kids with homework.
Pacheco said she has benefitted from the lessons on dealing with anger and stress.
“I’m getting better,” she said. “I’m taking small steps. I don’t get as frustrated anymore, and I’m careful to think before I speak.”
Martina Fonseca, a single mother of two and a preschool teacher, has participated in the program several times. She appreciates the support she has received from other parents, and said the program has helped her improve her communication with her two kids and to better listen to them.
“Parents sometimes think that food, clothes and a roof over a kid’s head is enough, but it’s not,” she said. “Communication, love and emotional support are also important.”
Lina Castellanos, a parenting sessions facilitator, has been working with Amigos for about 13 years. Castellanos said the parents leave the program with friendships, strong bonds and knowledge they want to continue acquiring and sharing with others.
“Some parents don’t have any support from anywhere else,” she said. “In a community with a lot of immigrants, it’s important for them to feel like they have a safety net among themselves.”
Having a safety net has made some of the parents want to spread Amigos’ message, be more involved in the organization and keep learning.
“These parents come voluntarily,” Plasencia said. “They wish to learn and do better for their families.”
Because the nurturing parenting classes are time-limited and parents cannot participate in the same program more than once a year, Amigos wanted to look for ways to keep parents engaged.
The organization recently launched a new program, Cafecito Entre Padres, or Coffee Among Parents, so parents who graduated from the nurturing parent program can become community advocates of healthy families. The program is funded by grant money from Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine. This Saturday, parents will go to Versailles Cuban Restaurant in Miami to discuss community issues in a low-key setting over Cuban coffee.
“This program came about as a result of parents wanting to keep coming back, wanting to make a difference and wanting to do more in the community,” Plasencia said.
Fonseca has been involved with Amigos for five years and plans to continue. Her son Angel, now 12, attended the after-school care program Amigos offers at José Martí Park until he was 10. Her daughter Michelle,10, currently attends the program.
Fonseca said the program has helped her not only in her relationship with her kids, but in the preschool where she works.
“I read to the kids and talk to them and I make them feel listened to,” she said. “Parents have to set a good example.”
Parents setting a good example and voluntarily spending their time in the classes is what keeps Santos invested in the program.
“These parents are so dedicated,” she said. “Most of them walk here. They come in the rain. They give up their time to be here, and that’s what it’s all about. If you do things with love, you get a lot back.”
For more information
Amigos for kids
Visit amigosforkids.org or call (305) 279-1155