ParentCorps is a long-running (close to two decades) program of the Center for Healthful Behavior Change, which is part of NYU Langone’s Department of Population Health. It is one of many Family Health Centers programs serving families from “communities that are not historically well connected to the healthcare system.”
In partnership with pre-kindergarten programs and school-based leaders in high-poverty schools, in what are euphemistically called “disinvested” neighborhoods, it is made up of three components:
— a 14-week social-emotional learning curriculum implemented by classroom teachers in all pre-K classrooms
— a 14-week parenting program for all families of pre-K students facilitated by school-based mental health professionals
— professional development for school leaders, pre-K teachers, mental health professionals, and parent support staff, including weekly coaching for pre-K teachers and mental health professionals to support high-quality program implementation
As of 2018, more than 50 schools and centers were implementing the ParentCorps program, impacting nearly 3,000 children and their families each year. The aim is not necessarily to reduce obesity per se, but to prevent many of the co-morbidities associated with obesity. With the teaching of behavior regulation skills, which prevent and reduce unhealthful behaviors, obesity reduction is an almost inevitable side effect.
The evening program for the whole family includes a meal, and care for any siblings who happen to come along. The kids and their parents each have their own activities in different spaces, but there does not appear to be any mandatory separation. It seems to be set up so that an anxious child can stay with the grownups, or vice-versa. A very short (2:19) video clip provides a window into how it works, and emphasizes the non-authoritarian, non-judgmental attitude embraced by the staff members, which is always welcomed by people who might feel like they have already been bossed around all day.
It is never too early to teach parenting skills
Several years ago, journalist Amy Norton interviewed Dr. Laurie Miller Brotman (who now directs the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development). Dr. Brotman noted that previous programs, aimed at decreasing calories, increasing exercise, and decreasing screen time, usually failed.
This recalls the point Dr. Pretlow has made many times about the children and teens who frequent the message boards at Weigh2Rock.com. The great majority of young people know about calories, and know they need to resist destructive urges. What they do not know, is how. Their need is not for additional information, but for skills.
Dr. Brotman adds that the same goes for grownups. They are aware of at least the general guidelines of what needs doing, but lack specific skills — and therein lies the effectiveness of the ParentCorps program for financially struggling urban families with children at high risk for behavioral problems.
Parents learn, among other things, how to reinforce their children’s good behavior and how to discipline them without physical punishment. The kids, meanwhile, play games that teach them social skills and ways to deal with their emotions. By the age of eight, the researchers found, children in the program had less than half the rate of obesity as their control-group peers did.
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Source: “Center for Healthful Behavior Change,” undated
Source: “ParentCorps,” undated
Source: “Behavior programs may cut child obesity risk,” Reuters.com, 02/07/12
Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA