The Parenting Toolkit Series is an eight-week interactive workshop in the fall that has been held for many years. Led by Director of Psychology Dr. Clare Cosentino and Director of Early Childhood Rebecca Jurow, it is geared towards parents of children aged three to ten to help them explore valuable tools and techniques to foster positive behavior in children at home.
We sat down with Dr. Cosentino to discuss how the toolkit series started, and why it is such a valuable resource to the parent community.
How did the idea for this workshop series come about? Did you see a need in the parent community?
When I started here, I was really blown away by the teachers, and the Early Childhood Program in particular. I felt as though I learned more from them, to some extent, than I learned from my supervisors at Columbia Presbyterian where I had interned and trained. I thought that there was a lot to learn around some of the behavioral management strategies that were being used in the classroom. We also felt that at the preschool level, the idea of a home-school partnership was so critical, and that what we were doing so effectively in school could and should be utilized at home so that the children felt the consistency in the approach. So the goal of it was really to bring out the best in the children through tools that the parents could learn that the teachers were already employing to focus on positive behaviors.
How did you come up with the topics? How do you go about gathering the information and materials for each talk? Are there resources you use?
Dr. Alan Kazdin at the Yale Child Study Center is really the grandfather of positive behavioral management techniques. He developed a course called the Kazdin Method, and these are standard methods in behavioral management for children, particularly positive strategies. So what I did was take from his work, which is evidence-based and has a whole body of research behind it, and developed a course for our parents. As far as resources, there’s Alan Kazdin and his course, and then also his book, so I really used his work. The other thing I did to illustrate some of his techniques is I videotaped clips of our teachers implementing different strategies with our students, and I embedded them in our lectures. Parents got to hear about Kazdin’s work, they got to see how the teachers were implementing them, and then I’d give them homework to practice at home.
Why do you think these workshops are beneficial for the Gaynor parent community?
It gives them a window into the classroom in a very particular way, which is showing them what the teachers are doing to be effective in teaching children behavioral expectations and behavior change. It allows parents in our community to utilize the same techniques that are effective in the classroom. And the nice thing is, it gives parents a forum to talk about challenges they’re having and talk about day-to-day difficulties, and then we brainstorm not only with Rebecca and me but also with the whole cohort of parents, and share ideas and exchange methods and exchange creative solutions.
What do you enjoy the most about the Parenting Toolkit Series?
I love videotaping our teachers, because I think they’re awesome. I love collaborating with Rebecca and working with parents. It’s a wonderful forum and such a vibrant community. People have so many ideas, and are so open and receptive and willing to talk about things that can sometimes feel difficult to acknowledge.
What is something you want people to know about the Parenting Toolkit Series?
That the techniques are effective even with adolescents. These techniques are tried and true, and they really do work, and you have to utilize them effectively. You can’t just walk in and start a behavior checklist. You have to look carefully at the context in which a behavior occurs, what you may or may not be doing to inadvertently reinforce the thing that you don’t want. Parents have to look at what they’re doing or not doing to set their child up for success. How do you think proactively and intentionally to teach and emphasize the behaviors you want to see? We focus on the positive opposite, which is: We don’t focus on what you don’t want, we focus on what you do want. We don’t focus on what a child can’t do, we focus on what a child can do, and we build and shape that. Punishment does not teach a child what to do, it only teaches them what they can’t do. Praise and positive reinforcement gives you an infinite range of options with a child. Punishment really limits your options when it’s used exclusively.