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UAMS Medical Center
UAMS to Help Teachers Expand Parenting Education
Program Includes Focus on Involving Fathers
LITTLE ROCK – A team of early childhood experts from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will soon equip preschool teachers to help new parents, particularly fathers, with issues ranging from discipline to nutrition.
Regular parent-teacher interactions offer a new method for providing parenting education in small doses as opposed to a formal multi-week parenting course, said Patti Bokony, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Bokony and colleagues in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics have received a five-year grant worth more than $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to develop and expand parent education programs that focus on teacher-parent interactions.
“These teachers have daily contact with parents, so we can prepare them to be parent educators on many topics that concern parents of children from birth to age 5,” Bokony said. “When a parent expresses a concern, the teacher will have the opportunity to share research-based parenting information with the parent.”
The parenting information for teachers is based on more than 30 years of research into parenting issues to be converted into short 5- or 10-minute briefings. “By getting good parenting information to parents in friendly, brief contacts, we can improve physical and mental outcomes for children,” Bokony said.
The effort will begin later this year with a training session for 55 teachers of infants, toddlers and preschoolers in the North Little Rock School District. Other schools will be added in the future.
As part of the program, teachers also will be trained to seek opportunities for reaching out to fathers to promote their involvement, especially in situations like divorce, when the father is not in the child’s home.
An estimated 27 percent of children live in single-parent homes, while more than half of the nation’s children spend a significant part of their childhood apart from their fathers, Bokony said.
“Research findings indicate that children who live or have regular contact with their biological fathers are more likely not to be poor, less likely to use drugs, less likely to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, less likely to be victims of child abuse, and less likely to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live without their married, biological or adoptive parents,” Bokony said.
In a study of 108 fathers of children in the Arkansas Head Start program, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) researchers found that it was primarily the father’s personal characteristics (e.g. feelings of parenting worth and personal delight in the child) that predicted how much the father read to a child or told the child stories. Involvement by both parents was shown to positively impact a child’s preparedness for entry to kindergarten.
Developing the parenting resources as part of the grant are Bokony, Nicola A. Conners, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Robert Bradley, Ph.D., a professor in the Center for Applied Studies in Education at UALR and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at UAMS.