The Atlantic

Welcome to Parent College

Can parenting classes help end America’s disgraceful child-abuse epidemic?
Source: Sara Wong / The Atlantic

The woman was young and thin, with shiny long hair and a European accent. Sitting in a parenting class at the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center last fall, she described what she had done to her son recently.

The scene would be familiar to many parents: She picked up her 6-year-old after school. The boy wanted to keep playing, so he started crying and yelling and pretending to hit her. She took him home and began preparing a snack. He went to the bathroom and, afterward, demanded his mom pull up his pants for him. She told him to do it himself. He refused and wandered about the house, trousers around his ankles.

“I reminded him about two times,” she recalled to her parenting classmates. “‘Please pull up your pants.’”

Instead, he grabbed a full gallon of milk from the fridge and clumsily toted it to the kitchen table.

What did he think he was doing? She snapped. She yelled, and he startled. He dropped the milk on the floor, where it exploded and seeped into the thick carpet. “Sorry! sorry! sorry!” the boy cried, in the way kids do when they’re searching for a real-life undo button.

She fought the urge to yell again. Controlling her temper had been one of her goals in the class. The milk took two hours to clean, yes. But she realized the mess was both their faults.

“He’s scared of me,” she told the group.

Molly Jardiniano, the class instructor, reassured the woman. “I like how you caught yourself, you realized the emotions going on there,” she said. Later in the class, she explained how the boy was just misbehaving for attention. “For him it's like, ‘I can make a connection. She's constantly going to talk to me because my pants are down.’”

The class included parents who had been suspected of child abuse as well as those who were simply at the ends of their ropes. This particular mother had come voluntarily for help dealing with anger.

Cracking open a workbook, Jardiniano explained how parents could avoid similar meltdowns. “If you want the behavior that makes you happy, you've got to praise it. I want you to track your praising. P-R-A-I-S-E. Praise your child.”

Praising is a core tenet of Triple P, the Positive Parenting Program, which is the curriculum behind the parenting class at the San Francisco center. Triple P is a prominent player in a little-explored corner of the healthcare realm: Programs that aim to teach parents how to be parents.

For most of human history, parents have relied on tradition and ancestral wisdom for parenting help. A major shift came in 1946, when a pediatrician named Benjamin Spock published , a bestseller programs strive to curb child abuse through good parenting.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic2 min read
Free Solo Is Not a Life Lesson
Alex Honnold’s historic climb is too extraordinary to become a story of motivational-poster determination.
The Atlantic2 min readPolitics
Chris Christie’s Debate Tips
Few Americans know what it’s like to stand onstage for a nationally televised presidential debate. And the few who do have strong partisan biases. With both of those things in mind, I listened Monday as Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
The Shaky Underpinnings of Trumpian Diplomacy
When he ran for president, Donald Trump said he wasn’t going to telegraph his moves to America’s adversaries. He’s been doing just that. He said he wouldn’t draw “red lines” and then ignore them. That’s happening too. He vowed the United States on hi