Parent Gym coach, Miranda Tobias, spoke about how her work with the organisation has made her reassess the way she thinks about parenthood: "When we become a parent we are not provided with an instruction booklet. We learn how to become more effective by making mistakes, reflecting on them and trying out new ways of dealing with situations."
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Parent Gym, however, which runs courses on school sites in the southeast after morning drop off, is working by encouraging parents to have family meals, bedtimes and discipline.
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Claire Katzenellenbogen, director of Parent Gym, which runs parenting courses, emphasises the importance of developing critical thinking: “The biggest gift we can give our children is to help them think critically about what it all means. That the beautiful photos they see on Instagram might look real, but have often been doctored.”
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Parent Gym is a... philanthropic offshoot of [the] company Mind Gym. While Mind Gym sets out to improve people’s performance at work, Parent Gym tries to do the same at home. It has been running classes across London since 2009.
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Given that most parents sit through hours of antenatal lessons, it seems crazy that the classes stop at birth, and that there's nothing to help with the much bigger task of bringing the child up.
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If you volunteer for a parenting class, by definition you’re not a “bad” parent, merely one who knows they could do better. Parent Gym rewards attendees every week with a raffle ticket, but the truly neglectful simply won’t show up and, if forced to attend, will take nothing in.
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The school works with some of its most vulnerable families to help them develop their parenting skills via the national Parent Gym initiative. This is a series of six two-hour workshops delivered by a trained member of staff. The sessions cover things like how to communicate, balancing warmth and discipline and how to encourage learning.
“The feedback we get is that it can be transformative. Some parents, and their children as a result, have had their lives turned round.”
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In Claire Katzenellenbogen's opinion, as the director of Parent Gym, incentivising chores non-financially is the way to encourage children to help. "We shouldn't pay our children to do things they should be doing."
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Black founded the Parent Gym programme, which runs in 22 schools in the most deprived areas of London, using profits from the sale of his Mind Gym "brain workout" sessions to corporate clients. His training method has been backed by the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and involves nine two-hour sessions for parents. Themes include communication, managing relationships, play and learning, parenting styles, rules and routines, and creating a supporting and nurturing home environment.
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Groups are run by trained volunteer coaches, all parents themselves. Sessions provide new practical ideas and tools each week to help parents with communication, managing boundaries, building children’s resilience and tackling common challenges concerning eating, sleeping and sibling rivalry.
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"The group enhanced my skills as a parent and I would definitely recommend it to others."
The Parent Gym programme is delivered in a very warm, supportive and non-judgmental way and provides practical tips and techniques to help family life run more smoothly and help children perform better at school.
Participants reflect on their parenting challenges and successes and much of its benefit lies in the support and advice that parents provide one another. Parent Gym explores how parents' own experience of being parented often affects their own parenting style as well as factors that motivate children to behave in particular ways.