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Parent Project’s Message Simple But Effective

Susie Wallace’s son was home just a month from the Idaho Youth Ranch for out-of-control kids when trouble started.

“I thought we were losing him again,” Susie says, and she was skeptical of the probation officer’s suggestion that she take a parenting class. She’d already tried Tough Love.

Still, she desperately wanted to reach her son, so she signed up for the Parent Project in Coeur d’Alene. Now, she’s one of the program’s most ardent cheerleaders.

“It’s been a blessing. I’ve told so many people about it,” she says. “I found out I have power.”

Susie learned to tell her son she loves him and not to ground him for months at a time. She found out that out-of-control kids don’t always have losers for parents and that other parents can be a huge help.

She was so impressed with the common sense tips she picked up that she plans to repeat the class.

“We’re not giving up. My son’s made great strides,” she says.

The youth ranch brought the Parent Project to North Idaho. Social agencies, juvenile justice and law enforcement are making sure it stays.

The 10-year-old program has raked in awards in California, where it began as the brainchild of a teacher, a law enforcement officer and a counselor.

It’s aimed at parents of strong-willed, incorrigible teenagers who run away, use drugs, get drunk or abuse or defy their parents.

Kids who fit that description often land at the youth ranch or Anchor House, the ranch’s North Idaho branch. Paula Neils, Anchor House’s director, went to California to train as a Parent Project teacher.

“We get calls every day, from mothers especially, with worries about their kids,” Paula says. “Now I feel great when I can say, ‘I have just the class for you.”’

Seven parents signed on for Anchor House’s first course. They committed to 16 weekly three-hour classes and paid $20 for a textbook.

Parent Project lectures last two or three minutes. Activities and brainstorming fill the rest of the time. The lessons couldn’t be more basic.

Lesson One urges parents to tell their children they love them. It sounds simple, but most parents show rather than tell. The Parent Project advises hugs, kisses and the words, “I love you.”

“They practiced, and some were very awkward at first,” Paula says.

Parents were astounded at the punishment lessons. The class advises keeping punishments short and severe. Take away everything - phone, stereo, freedom, dessert, etc. - for one to three days.

“Discipline is to teach kids, not for revenge,” Paula says.

Patty Laam took the class as a precaution when she noticed warnings of trouble in her kids. She’d ground them for weeks at a time, but learned from Paula that such long sentences leave teens hopeless.

She tried the short and severe approach. Her son hated it at first, but he’s more open with his parents now.

“It’s much more effective,” Patty says. “They don’t feel so threatened and they’re not afraid to tell the truth because they know they won’t be punished forever.”

Paula taught parents not to punish in a fury or allow arguments over the punishments.

“We’re trying to stop very destructive behaviors that will get kids killed,” she says. “There are times when parents can’t compromise.”

Patty learned to show she listens and find out where her children are and who they hang out with. She learned to stay in touch with school and that emotion, not reason, drives kids to misbehave.

The parents in Paula’s first class grew close after 16 weeks of sharing problems about their kids.

“At the beginning, there were a lot of very sad parents,” says Cheri Howell, who took the class to improve her relationship with her son. “At the end, everyone was laughing, positive. We decided we’ll keep meeting once a month.”

The people who work with unruly teens were so impressed with the Parent Project they invited the program’s trainers to Coeur d’Alene. Local, county and state agencies chipped in to pay the $20,000 bill for a weeklong class on how to teach the course.

Fifty counselors, social workers, foster parents, police officers and probation officers came to Coeur d’Alene last week from as far away as Boise for the training.

“We want to be able to keep the classes going,” says Shirley Schopp, who works for Juvenile Corrections. “We don’t want to tell worried parents they have to wait four months for the next class.”

Paula will start a new session of the Parent Project at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, at Coeur d’Alene’s First Christian Church, 610 N. Fourth St.

“That class is the best thing that ever happened to me and my kids,” Patty says. “You can read all the parenting books in the world and they don’t give you the answers. This class gives you the answers and shows you how to follow through.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NEXT CLASS A new session of the Parent Project begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Coeur d’Alene’s First Christian Church, 610 N. Fourth St. For more information, call 667-3340.

This sidebar appeared with the story: NEXT CLASS A new session of the Parent Project begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Coeur d’Alene’s First Christian Church, 610 N. Fourth St. For more information, call 667-3340.