Angela Caruso needed help connecting with her 5-year-old daughter Analee, who had difficulty communicating due to hearing loss.
Living in Sierra Vista when the COVID-19 pandemic started, Caruso enrolled in a free, virtual parenting class offered by the Arizona’s Children Association, funded by the First Things First Cochise Regional Partnership Council.
The six-week class offered a research-based curriculum to help parents learn about early childhood brain development, positive discipline and effective parenting for children under age 6.
The online format of the class made it easy for Caruso to attend. “I didn’t have to find a sitter,” she said. “When I took this parenting class, I was dating a man and together we had six children. I was doing all the parenting and some of what I was doing as a parent wasn’t working. I needed other options.”
With Analee, Caruso knew that she didn’t respond well to loud noises or angry body language. From the class, Caruso learned to get down to Analee’s level and make eye contact.
“I learned about brain development,” said Caruso. “And how girls need face-to-face communication. I also learned about flight or fight responses. If I would come to her angry, then she would be defensive and more difficult to redirect.”
Caruso learned to create individual behavioral strategies for Analee and each of her children. Caruso learned how to not impulsively react, instead, take five seconds to do some deep breaths and help her children through the moment.
“Sometimes kids need their minute to have their meltdown,” said Caruso. “Analee needs 10 minutes to get out her feelings, then I sit beside her on the floor and ask her to sit in my lap. She likes to be held and have face-to-face conversations. Before, I would have put her in the corner and got upset myself. There would have been more yelling and screaming.”
Now Caruso says she doesn’t get stressed anymore. She uses her strategies and her children are learning to regulate their own emotions.
“The class has helped me to not get all worked up,” said Caruso. “I’m having more fun with my kids.”
Dominica Aquino, parent educator for Arizona’s Children Association, said part of the class is to encourage positive interactions with children by providing parents with puppets, blocks or books.
“The class helps parents to understand positive parenting and creating quality time with their children,” said parent educator Dominica Aquino.
With Analee, Caruso plays dolls, board games or card games with her for an hour each day.
Now after the classes, Caruso sees a change in her children’s behavior and her home atmosphere. “It’s not as tense. We also go out more. I would never take them in public, because they wouldn’t listen,” said Caruso. “Since I took the class, I can take them out. Every Friday night, we go to a local basketball game, and we have fun.”
Now, Analee has a better understanding of boundaries and rules and the ability to regulate her behavior, which has set her up to be ready for kindergarten, Caruso said.
“Knowledge is power. If you have the knowledge, you have different ideas to try,” she said. “If you don’t have that knowledge, you’ll be stuck. I felt like I was parenting wrong for so long, but now I have confidence and my kids are benefitting from it.”