Northampton Press

Saturday, November 18, 2017

New column offers parenting advice

Friday, September 29, 2017 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

Editor’s Note: ”The Family Project” is a new column in the Focus features section that brings together a panel of experts to address parenting questions.

Q. My 11-year-old son is out of control. He has bullied kids at school, refuses to listen to me or his teachers, and has been suspended from school multiple times. I don’t know what to do with him, and I am afraid that he is going to end up in jail by the time he is 13 or 14, or I am going to end up dead because I can’t control him.

Once the problem has reached this level there is certain involvement by the school, if not other organizations and resources. One of the services the school psychologists or the guidance counselors can provide, according to the panel of experts, is a functional behavior assessment to help determine the kinds of behaviors that are present, and if these behaviors occur all the time.

“It is also important to find out when these behaviors don’t occur, when is the student is not engaged in bullying behavior, to try and establish a pattern, and determine what might result in these behaviors,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said.

According to panelist Pam Wallace, “I would also want to pinpoint if there was a time when the behavior started, to relate it to something that might have happened in the child’s life that could have caused him to be so angry.”

Every school is mandated to have a Student Assistance Program (SAP), and an assessment would trigger a referral to SAP, Stefanyak explained. “So, we are able to get input from all the teachers the student works with in various settings, as well as from the parent. We are getting input from multiple sources in various settings at multiple times of day to try and establish patterns and identify triggers that cause the behavior.”

“It is important to determine if the behavior is related to something that happened, when he started the behavior, and if there was something that triggered it,” Wallace explained. “The school’s Student Assessment Program can try to establish patterns of behavior, certain triggers that are evoking the boy’s behavior, and if there are environments when this behavior occurs.”

One of the things that often happens when children are referred to SAP, panelist Erin Stalsitz said, is that the study is done, there is an outcome and there is a game plan put in place. “It means that the parent has to follow through. If she is not hearing back from the school, the parent needs to call the school counselor and ask ‘Where are we at?’ Be a team player. It is going to take everyone.”

“She needs to follow through with the recommendation, which frequently is outside counseling,” Stefanyak said. “When I read that a student has been suspended numerous times, obviously suspension is not a deterrent. So, let’s get creative on what is going to work for this student.”

There are also community resources through insurance where the mother can get evaluations and therapy for her son, and parenting education, according to panelist Denise Continenza.

The mother also seems to be concerned about her own safety, and that needs to be dealt with. She can make a referral through Lehigh County Children and Youth’s Child Line at 1-800-932-0313.

“Anything that involves a child can go through Child Line,” Stalsitz explained. “If we don’t accept the case, we will refer it to the appropriate service. We can give parents skills to deal with the situations, connect them to agencies that can teach them and provide them with the specific tools they need for their child’s individual problem, and we’re able to provide the services for free.”

Topic Team

The team of parenting experts and guest panelists for this column are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Erin Stalsitz, Casework Supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth, and Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State University Extension.

The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Leigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child. If you have a parenting question you would like answered in this column, contact Project Child at projectchildlv.org.