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STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting)

by Don Dinkmeyer, Sr, Gary D. McKay, Don Dinkmeyer, Jrroad tested by Carrie Krueger



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She was only two years old. I'd gone to the ends of the earth to adopt her, and my world revolved around her. But there were tantrums, demands, and then, of course, there was the whining. What's a first-time parent to do? Just when I felt at wit's end, a neighbor told me about a class being offered at our local elementary school. That class, called STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting)--and the books that go with it (one for toddlers, one for kids, one for teens)--gave me a parenting plan that I'm still using ten years later. My family is bigger now, a pre-teen daughter and two little boys, but this plan, based on listening to your child and helping him learn to behave responsibly, continues to serve me well.


STEP starts by helping parents understand the reasons for misbehavior. Knowing why a kid is doing something is awfully helpful! With STEP, I learned to distinguish between a real problem and normal behavior to ignore. For example, I used to think it was a "problem" that my child liked to dress in zany ways. STEP helped me see that it was her choice, and that in taking it on, I was simply creating a problem for myself.


Along those lines, there's an explanation of the "good parent" versus the "responsible parent." A good parent wants to look pulled-together and smooth--say, by placating the child rather than facing a public meltdown. A responsible parent is one who does what is right--like saying no to candy in the grocery store--even if it means facing an embarrassing public display of emotion. Over the years, I have come to see the folly of parenting based on how it makes me look--and the benefits of parenting based on what is right for my kids.


A Respectful FamilySTEP teaches that we gain our children's respect by showing respect for them. For adopted children, the issue of self-worth is critical. STEP shows parents how to encourage a child in ways that are genuine and lasting. I find this very helpful with my third child, who joined our family at an older age and is particularly insecure. STEP helps me see that I need to help him take risks and have experiences that allow him to learn for himself how great he is.


With STEP, I have learned "active listening"--to repeat what I am hearing, empathize, and give words to hard feelings. I often react to my children's problems with "Wow, that sounds hard. What are you going to do?" I joke that when they grow up, my kids will complain, "My mom never told me what to do. She always made me figure it out on my own." It's not really as bad as that. STEP encourages you to help your child find solutions.


What if your child just plain acts up? STEP relies on natural consequences as the best response to bad behavior. Parents learn to craft consequences that are truly natural or logical, not simply knee-jerk or based in anger. When children see the connection between their action and the result, they are more likely to take responsibility for their behavior--and change it.



Raising Responsible Children
I love this method because it never shames or hurts the child. Parental responses are genuine, not canned, as I've found some parenting methods to be. And I don't feel I have to set my children up for failure just so they can learn from it. STEP encourages me to act as a trusted advisor to my kids, not an outsider watching as they stumble along.


I highly recommend that interested parents take a STEP class. Working through these principles with other parents is a great way to understand them. Role-playing situations helped prepare me for the real thing. Through the years, the STEP method is the one I've always returned to. No magic solutions, no tough love or prescribed dialogue. Just solid techniques for understanding your child, building respect and communication, and helping him or her grow up to be a responsible person.


Carrie Krueger is single mom to three kids, all adopted.

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