Strengthening Families Provides Hope and Knowledge to Parents

December 20, 2022

12-week Program Helps Families Develop Positive Behavior Strategies for School and Home

“He is such a kind-hearted person,” Demarques Largin says as he watches his son Liam interact with another child. “He will go out of his way to be kind.” Liam’s mom, Samantha, agrees, “He’s a big jokester and loves to make people laugh.”

Liam’s parents watch him move about the Norman Smith Elementary cafeteria and share funny stories about their son. They are part of the first Strengthening Families graduating class. For the past 12 weeks, the family has been attending the program hosted by CMCSS and TN Voices. A program, which they say, has completely changed their family.

“I love it. I wish I would have had this sooner,” said Samantha Largin. “It’s been a game changer in the way I discipline, reward, and how I view certain behaviors. Instead of identifying him as the behaviors, I realize it’s separate and how to handle those moments a lot better.”

Brittany Ballard, a coordinator for TN Voices, says this type of outcome is the driving force behind the program. TN Voices is a mental health agency that serves families statewide. Through a partnership with the district and a grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health Substance and Abuse Services, families could sign up for the 12-week program. “This is a program that’s unique in that we work with the whole family unit,” said Ballard. “It’s not just the parent. Our motto is, ‘In order to change a child, we have to change the whole family.’”

“What happens in the home carries over to the school and vice versa,” said Matt Slight, CMCSS director of social and emotional learning. “Parents must understand that when they send their children to school, they’re sending their family to school. Whatever took place in the house prior to, or the last words that are said, really impact the students learning for the entire day.”

Knowing a change needs to happen, and learning how to change, are two different things. Through Strengthening Families, Matt and his team hope to change the behavior patterns and invest in a positive path forward. “Helping parents learn how to strengthen that connection with their child has helped how the child comes to school and be prepared for learning. When the child comes home from school, it helps the parents receive that child as well. Helping them adjust and regulate. We are really seeing the connection.”

Brittany Ballard explains that by decreasing the risk factors and putting protective factors in place, the result is strengthening the family unit. “[We’re] going back to the basics of connection and communication,” she said.

Families meet once a week for 12 weeks. In an effort to reduce barriers, childcare and dinner are provided. Montgomery Central High School students enrolled in the Early Childhood Development courses assisted with the childcare efforts. During the first hour of the program, groups are separated into children and parents. Matt Slight and a team of social workers lead discussions and group activities. At the end of the night, everyone comes together to work on family goals and planning.

For Kristain Copeland, the process has changed her entire outlook. “This week has been amazing,” she said, referencing the family agreements and planning. She has seen a difference in both her elementary and high school children. With the tools and resources she’s learned, Kristain realizes the way she grew up is not the way she intends to parent her children. “When things happen, I can parent better,” she explained. “Listen more. Be patient. I don’t have to be overbearing or controlling.” The program has shown her how to respect and trust her children more. For her son, the results have been tremendous.

Kristain shared that Maakel struggled with behavior issues for several years in and out of school. “Since this program, he’s had a huge change in his behavior. This year, it’s been a 360.” The Largin family has seen the same positive impact during the school day. “We went from struggles every day to minimal two or three things we’re working on. As he’s learning, he’s growing and developing,” said Samantha. They worked with the school to develop strategies around letting him take a jump rope or jogging break if needed. The partnership between the family and school has positively impacted Liam’s school experience. Enrolling in the program was not easy for Samantha and her family. “I was nervous and unsure. But I am glad we took the opportunity to see what it’s about. People don’t realize their lack of know-how to handle certain situations. Instead of thinking, ‘I’ve tried this, and it’s not working, what else am I supposed to do?’ Now we have the tools and options for him. It’s been a game-changer for him.”

Demarques could not attend the first few sessions, but after witnessing its impact on his son, he knew he had to join. “When she was telling me about the progress and seeing the progress, I was like “Okay, I definitely need to get on board and see if I can strive and make it a better process for him.” He explained that before he had a “my way or the highway” approach to parenting. “Now I better understand how I can communicate with him and make it easier for him,” he said. “He’s only eight. I need to stand back and have context clues. Give him space and try to bring it back. Instead of just saying what’s wrong, allow him to open up and be a person too.”

The families now hope to inspire others. The second Strengthening Families sessions are set to begin the second semester in the Liberty, Woodlawn, and Minglewood school zones. Sessions will be held at Minglewood Elementary. Families interested in learning more can speak with their school or the CMCSS Learning Centers and register using the link provided by the school.

Change can begin at home for families who want to create a better future for their children, and Strengthening Families can provide the tools. Kristain Copeland knows the future is bright for her kids. “They’re both caring, loving, and affectionate. I don’t have any major problems I have to be concerned about. I’m grateful for that,” she said. “It’s taught me a better way of parenting and understanding my kids on a different level.”