Parenting in Kansas
It’s not often that I photograph projects here in the United States. Here I am in Kansas, however, shooting photos for the CDC Foundation at a project site in Kansas City.
In short the project, called the Promoting Positive Parenting Program, is aimed at reducing stress in lower income families in the Kansas City area. In this day and age we could probably all use some help de-stressing, but the families I’m seeing here are different. Many are headed by single mothers, and many of them are Hispanic, often far from the traditional support structures of their families. All are on some sort of public assistance. What the PPP program does is help them to open lines of communication with their young children, teaching them simple techniques to head off potential problems before they become actual problems.
What this looks like on the ground is really quite interesting. Participants, mostly young women, use simple lessons like how to set rules and how to reward good behavior in their children, to help give their kids some form of structure in the home. That might mean that the mom provides a coloring book to her child while she makes dinner for 5 minutes so she can complete that work without hindrance while her child remains creatively occupied. Others reward their kids for small acts of good behavior with stickers or balloons, or make check lists that hang on the refrigerator door detailing helpful contributions the kids could make to the household, like small cleaning jobs or keeping their bedroom neat.
It may sound simple, but if what I’ve seen this week is any indication, this program is really onto something. With the support of the CDC Foundation, through the Doris Duke Foundation, a select group of these mothers are receiving cell phones through which their Family Coaches in the program can send supportive and reinforcing messages throughout the week. With the constant refresher, these mothers say they are able to much better manage their kids, and are seeing dramatic improvements in their behavior.
I’m not a parent, so it’s always easy to find fault in other people’s parenting styles. But I’ve always thought that kids needed structure in their lives, and seek that structure by pushing on the adults around them to understand where their boundaries are. What struck me most this week was not only how well behaved the children were that I saw, but also how eager their mothers were to help their children find that structure – not even so much for the peace it brought to their homes, but because of the good it would do for the kids themselves. This trip has really provided as fascinating glimpse behind the closed doors of America to find that we all have challenges to face, and that while kids are for many parents a part of that challenge, they are also wonderfully adept at adapting to the world around them, with just a little bit of guidance from the adults in their lives.