Promoting Positive Parenting

This story was gathered from David Snyder's visit to Kansas. David reports on CDC programs in action for the CDC Foundation.

Settled comfortably into a plush sofa in his family living room, three-year-old Aciano Martinez draws quietly in a small coloring book as his mother Ada prepares dinner in the adjoining kitchen. It is the picture of family peace in suburban Kansas City, Kansas, but it was not always this quiet in the Martinez household.

“I have an older son and a 3-year-old, and I was having some struggles with the children,” Martinez said. “So I wanted to learn some techniques.”

She sought that help through the Promoting Positive Parenting Program, a unique program run by the Juniper Garden Children’s Project as part of the University of Kansas Center for Research. Through a CDC Foundation partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, family coaches working for the PPP program are able to use cell phones to reinforce parenting lessons taught during weekly in-home coaching sessions with families of limited resources. A team at CDC will analyze results from several parenting programs around the country to determine if using technology like cell phones improves results.

Through the coaching sessions mothers like Ada Martinez, who asked that her real name not be used, receive simple parenting lessons derived from a Planned Activities Parenting Manual, designed to offer concrete and simple steps parents can take to set rules and encourage positive behavior in their children. Through in-home sessions lasting about an hour, parents learn such things as how to plan for an upcoming activity with their child, how to explain that activity to their children, and the importance of offering choices to children. For a select group of program participants, cell phones are provided during the five or six weeks of their course. Using these phones Family Coaches can send twice-daily text messages to reinforce the home lessons with texts like “Try turning the TV off tonight and having a play night,” or “Remember when giving rules to only give a few. Keep it SHORT or you will lose their attention.”

“The tips I received through the text messages were helpful,” Martinez said. “Like when I take the boys to bed I read to them. Before I never read to them.”

During today’s visit with a Family Coach, the last of her six sessions, Martinez works on preparing 3-year-old Aciano for mealtime, an area that has been problematic for her son in the past. By setting a small kitchen timer for five minutes, and explaining that she needs that time to make dinner while he plays with his coloring book, Martinez sets the rules and allows herself the space she needs to prepare the meal. By the time the alarm sounds, she has been able to prepare dinner without any misbehavior, making the process smoother and more stress free for both herself and Aciano, who eats happily when he finishes his coloring.

More quality and personal time with her sons, learned through the program, has had a dramatic affect on their behavior, Martinez said.

“The communication is better now,” Martinez said. “Aciano is learning more because I explain more to him. He is more focused.”

While evenings were often spent in front of the TV before, Martinez says she reads to her children often now, and shares more quiet time with them throughout the day. Though she turns her cell phone back in at the end of today’s session, assessors working with the PPP program will conduct follow up visits for one year to ensure that the lessons learned through the course are still being applied. For the Martinez family, one of 148 families currently registered in the program in Kansas City, the lessons learned have had a dramatic impact on their home life, and on the quality of the time her family spends together, especially her youngest son.

“He enjoys more the time I am interacting with him,” Martinez said of her son Aciano. “In the past he had only video games. Now he spends more time playing cards and things with me, and he enjoys that time.”

Terri Heyns, MA, is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.