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Circle of Parents accentuates the positive

CABIN CREEK, W.Va. -- "So, how has everybody's week been?" asks LaCrisha Rose.

It's another gathering of the Circle of Parents group that meets at the Upper Kanawha Valley Starting Points Center at Sharon Dawes Elementary in Cabin Creek. The topic is the holidays and holiday stress.

"It's been OK. I got almost all my Christmas shopping done," says Angie Slater.

"Oooh, well you go, girl!" says Rose. "Along with the holidays comes stress. So what are some of the things that stress you guys out in the holidays?"

Answers tumble out from the six other parents around the table.

Families! In-laws! An autistic child! Scheduling! Meltdowns!

The talk turns to child meltdowns, the kinds that happen in the most public of places.

"When my first son started having meltdowns, I felt like I was the only mom whose kids had meltdowns, embarrassing me in the middle of the store," says Rose.

"When I saw other kids doing it when I was a first-time mom, I thought, 'They don't discipline their kid.' Until it happened to me and talking to the other moms and seeing all the other meltdowns, it's a normal thing. I kind of thank God for this group, because it makes me feel normal!"

In one fell swoop, Rose encapsulates one of the missions of the Circle of Parents idea: a parent-led, self-help group where the challenges of parenting can be examined in a supportive, confidential and confidence-inspiring fashion.

The Cabin Creek group is part of a statewide network of such groups that receive support from the TEAM for W.Va. Children through a grant from the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources. The West Virginia groups are part of a national Circle of Parents network in more than 20 states. Some groups are targeted to specific populations like parents with teens or parents with children with Downs syndrome.

"It doesn't take the place of getting professional services, but it's some added advice on how people deal with different situations," says Julie Pratt, who co-facilitates the network with Rose. "It's not always problems; you just have to be a parent who wants to share ideas about parenting."

For Rose, the group is "parents helping parents because nobody's an expert on your child better than yourself."

Meeting to meeting, the group might have guest speakers, a CPR or nutrition class, crafts and other topics. But it all comes back to raising their children better and to avoiding what might be called parental meltdowns.

Rose has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old and, through the group, has learned better, more positive ways of disciplining her children.

"The group's model is to promote positive parenting," she says, "and that's something that has really helped me along the way."

It's also friendship in the trenches, say parents in the Sharon Dawes school group.

"I'd say the biggest thing I've gotten out of the Circle of Parents would be the friendships," says Jamie George, seated beside Sarah Mullens, who picks up the theme, referring to her seatmate.

"I get pressured and feel overwhelmed, and I can call her anytime and she just comes and talks to me and I feel a whole lot better afterward," Mullens says. "We've been through a lot, and it's very helpful. I'm the mother of three boys -- an 8-year-old and a set of twins, age 4. Your opinions count here, and everybody listens and it's confidential. It doesn't go throughout the school or neighborhood."

For Melissa Dotson, a mother of four, the group offers an essential something.

"Adult conversation," she says. "I don't ever have adult conversation. That's basically the best thing for me."

The talk turns to stress-management choices and the possibility of taking some group yoga classes in Charleston.

"Well, you know I usually do things with you, but I'm not doing that," says a grinning Rick Hodges. "I just don't want to pay to make myself be sore."

"I do arts and crafts; that's what relaxes me" says Angie Slater. "I have an arts and crafts room. I go sit in my room -- 'Don't talk to Mommy. Don't bother Mommy. Leave Mommy alone' -- I make something."

Rose says, "This is my little home away from home with friends in the community. The Circle of Parents lets me feel like I'm not alone in parenting with my parenting issues."

For more information, click on the Circle of Parents link at www.preventchildabusewv.org.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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