Parenting has a significant impact on the development of a child, affecting their behaviour, relationships and how they may go on to parent their own children. A key element of offering parenting support to a family is ensuring the social worker helps the family to reflect on their parenting style, what influences it and how this might impact on their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Importantly it also helps them reflect on how these might influence the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of their child. Implementing evidence-based parenting intervention techniques connected to the theoretical models of attachment, trauma, mentalization and social learning theory can make such a big difference to families and really improve the quality of their relationships, which is why they are a cornerstone of the Frontline curriculum.
During lockdown, I have been carrying out a parenting intervention with a family online. The grandma cares for her two grandchildren, and the relationship between her and her 14-year-old granddaughter had become really strained. Usually parenting interventions are done in person but with the support of my unit, who helped develop my action plan, I adapted the sessions so that these crucial interventions could continue to happen.
I spent time with the grandma exploring how she was raised, how this impacted her growing up and what influence it had when she became a mother and grandmother. These initial discussions looked at the ways in which her Italian upbringing had informed what she expected a family unit to look like. We also examined her daughter’s difficulties with mental health, which had contributed to her struggling to parent her child. Previous social workers had not explored these themes of attachment and trauma with her before. Discussing them gave the grandma an opportunity to think critically about her past experiences and how these may be affecting her behaviour and relationships today.
In later sessions, I observed the grandmother and granddaughter while they were doing an activity together. This can be anything from baking to playing sport depending on the interests of the child. As I have built a good relationship with the family and the grandma felt comfortable with me, the family were happy to use video calling to make sure the sessions could take place. After the observation, the grandma and I reflected on how we felt the activity went and exchanged ideas about successes and improvements. This collaborative approach made sure that the grandma felt listened to and able to identify her own solutions, empowering her rather than simply telling her what she should do.
The perspective of the granddaughter remained integral to the discussions. I used a ‘shark-infested waters’ analogy to help the grandma appreciate how her granddaughter may be feeling. When I asked how she would feel if she was in a body of water infested with sharks, the grandma said she would be scared and worried for her life. I then asked the grandma how she would feel if, after many years, she moved to a different body of water where there were no sharks. Although she would think that an attack is less likely, the grandma felt she would have a heightened sense of anxiety and may continue reacting in a self-protective way. This really helped the grandma understand that after experiencing trauma, her granddaughter may still feel unsafe, even though she is no longer in an unsafe environment. This insight has encouraged the grandmother to look at her granddaughter’s behaviour through a different lens. She now knows that her granddaughter’s past experiences can continue to affect her actions. Both the family and I feel this new sense of understanding between the grandma and granddaughter has been very beneficial and has significantly strengthened their relationship.
By centring the voices of the family, I made sure they felt able to influence their situation. This is an integral part of Frontline’s teaching on parenting interventions. Families are the experts in their own lives and their perspectives must be considered and valued. Giving caregivers the time, space and tools to reflect provides the best opportunity to facilitate positive and sustainable relationship changes.
Find out more about our parenting interventions practice model: