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Hope and Health

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Hope & Health
Articles and Updates from WVU Medicine Children's

03/3/2024 | Amanda Newhouse, LICSW, PCIT Level- I Trainer, IMH-E®

Five Takeaways from Empowered Parents

March is National Social Worker Awareness Month. The theme for this year’s National Association for Social Workers’ celebration is “Empowering Social Workers – Inspiring Action and Leading Change.”

I have been practicing social work and working with children and families for more than 20 years. Social workers are so much more than case managers or therapists. We are trained in a systemic approach to empower individuals, families, communities, and the larger society. Social workers strive to do this with empathy, compassion, kindness, and gratitude.

As I sat down to write this blog, I realized I have the honor to share in this same process of empowerment that parents experience on daily basis.

The meaning of “empower” is to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. Essentially, parents strive to achieve the same mission as social workers – working with one (or many) little individuals to cultivate a culture of empathy, compassion, kindness, and gratitude. You are the expert of yourself, and parents are the experts of their children. The Brazelton Institute highlights this in their principles and assumptions; parents are experts, all parents have strengths, and they are the masters of something. However, it’s hard to feel that way when you are battling a toddler to get in the tub or to say kind words. You certainly don’t feel like a master when you can’t get your child to follow directions.

Parenting is one of the most challenging and thankless jobs there is. The parents I work with strive to help their children to live balanced and healthy lives that will allow them to contribute to society in a positive way. In other words, they want their children to be good human beings. That’s a heavy burden to carry, and sometimes parents can get overwhelmed with how much work and stress that entails. It’s the same for social workers who want the best for society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a rise in homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide, meaning the pressure to ensure kids grow up to function in a positive community is now higher than ever.

I’ve practiced many successful interventions and models that are so effective with helping and empowering parents. The most effective approaches have simple, but not always easy, objectives of connection and conversation. These objectives take us back to the basics of what we are all born and hardwired to do as human beings: have interactions and connect. When we connect, we feel empowered.

When we’re parenting children, we get stuck in our own heads, judging and overthinking our behaviors, when all we really need is a little “serve and return.” A serve is when someone reaches out through interactions of eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, touch, or words. A return is simply that – those same types of interactions returned by the other person.

Again, here is another close comparison to social workers. We work with tough populations who can be exhausting and cause compassion fatigue. But a social worker’s strength is their connection and ability to have a conversation. As social workers, we try to follow the same advice we give: remember to take time for you, and remember you are making a difference somewhere with someone.

Sometimes parents need to be reminded of those same things. In a National Parent Survey, ZERO TO THREE, 54 percent of parents wish they had more information on how to be a better parent. This research also explored the top five takeaways on empowering parents to be the experts for children ages 5 and under:

  1. Learn as much as you can about what your child is capable of at each age and stage of development.
  2. Make everyday moments brain-building moments. There is no need for fancy toys or formal “teaching.”
  3. Avoid harsh discipline methods (i.e. yelling, spanking, shaming).
  4. Think about your own childhood experiences that you felt were helpful and supportive and those that were not.
  5. Support, don’t judge, your fellow parents.

Techniques for child development include parents teaching opportunities through play, learning from your own parents’ mistakes, and supporting one another as to build resiliency in families. These techniques are needed to cultivate the culture parents are striving for with children who grow up to express kindness, compassion, and gratitude in society.

Don’t forget to support the parent in your life and thank a social worker this month!

About the Author

Amanda Newhouse, LICSW, PCIT Level- I Trainer, IMH-E®, received her master’s in social work degree in 2005 from West Virginia University. She began her clinical career working with children and families. For 20 years, Amanda has worked in the realm of a clinical coordinator for children managing several programs such as Family Based Mental Health, School Based Therapy, Crisis Services, and Infant Mental Health Development. In 2010, Amanda went back to school to receive her Infant Mental Health Certification from Chatham University in Pennsylvania. In her current role, she is a member of the clinical social work faculty at WVU Medicine in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, teaching and conducting research. Amanda continues clinical care working closely with children, families, and with pregnant/ post-partum women struggling with a substance use disorder.

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