Support groups can be an incredible aid to parents. Whether you are a parent of a toddler, coping with elementary school issues, dealing with a testing teenager or are managing the challenges and successes of having a child with special needs, knowing there are others out there like yourself can be reassuring and empowering. Finding a support group that is the right fit and encompasses specific characteristics, can ensure a rewarding experience that you’ll want to repeat.
What to look for in Parent Support Groups
First and foremost, choosing a support groups made up of people with whom you have something in common in essential. More often than not, a parents’ biggest complaint about a support group is that too much time is spent covering topics that are irrelevant to that parent. By choosing a group with parents of other children in the same age range, or those that are having trouble with the same issue, live in the same neighborhood, or attend the same school, you’ll spend more time discussing subjects that will be helpful to you. A parent should also consider who is facilitating the group. Having a therapist or facilitator who is familiar, and experienced, with the age group or topic that brought the group together, directly affects the groups’ success.
When choosing a group, you should consider whether you would feel more comfortable in a group of friends or strangers. This is very a personal decision. Some parents feel more comfortable talking to a group of people who do not know their child or the specifics of their life situation. For others, talking with parents who know their child, and might give information about their interactions with your son or daughter, can be insightful. For some, knowing that the people they see day to day, have the same concerns and stresses, and are there to share in their successes, can make participation in a support group all the more worthwhile.
Confidentiality is essential in a support group. When a group is formed, the first session should begin with a few guidelines including the fact that information that is shared, that is specific to a family or child, must remain confidential. What happens in support group stays in support group! Mutual confidentiality gives participants a sense of security that encourages openness, compassion and empathy. It gives parents permission to be vulnerable. When support groups create safe spaces for parents, they leave feeling connected, understood, and in the best groups, educated and empowered.
Successful support groups have an agenda that is specific to the parents involved. Often, support groups begin with each parent sharing updates, current challenges and recent successes. Sometimes groups follow up on prior sessions. When discussing issues, other parents are given the opportunity to offer suggestions that have worked for them and the facilitator offers tips they have seen be effective in their own experiences with children and families. Typically, the therapist facilitating the group will come prepared with a topic that is relevant to the group. In some sessions there will be no time to cover the theme brought by the facilitator and in other sessions, this may be the subject matter that drives the groups’ discussion.
Support groups are not appropriate for all parents. In some situations, having a private session with a therapist will be more effective in dealing with a concern about your child’s development or an issue in your parenting or family. Whichever format you choose, support from a therapist and your peers can be invaluable. In support groups, you take away as much as you put in. Those who share honestly, listen intently, and support others, will receive the same.
Check out all the support groups at Kidz Central Station where you can search by support group’s location, type (new moms, first time moms, second time moms, etc.) and day and time and directly enroll.